Life in Sabah not worse under Warisan, but analysts say not better either 12 months on

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal had made it his main agenda to spur the economy with increased foreign investments. ― Picture by Miera Zulyana
Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal had made it his main agenda to spur the economy with increased foreign investments. ― Picture by Miera Zulyana

KOTA KINABALU, May 14 ― Sabahans are divided on positive changes the ruling Warisan-led state government has made to their lives since being voted into power 12 months ago.

But on the plus side, analysts Malay Mail contacted said the new regime has not made life any worse since the Barisan Nasional’s drubbing in the May 2018 general election.

The biggest public complaint concern the unfulfilled pledges on autonomy and healing the local economy made by the ruling Warisan-Pakatan Harapan joint government, with similar promises by the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

“Both made the same promises but the restored rights remain unfulfilled,” Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun said in a recent interview.

“I think Sabahans are willing to give the Warisan-led state government a chance to perform, but federally with Dr Mahathir back in charge, it is the same old, same old again of Sabah often accorded with false hopes of autonomy,” he said, referring to the federal Pakatan Harapan (PH) government under Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Oh said that where time is concerned, voters are willing to be generous considering the excesses suffered under the previous regime, but added that both the federal and state governments need to do more to stimulate the local economy in order to regain public confidence.

Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal had made it his main agenda to spur the economy with increased foreign investments, particularly those that would boost downstreaming activities and provide jobs for the youth.

Universiti Teknologi MARA academic Tony Paridi Bagang said 12 months is still too early for locals to evaluate the performance of the people they voted into power.

“But we have seen efforts taken by the government such as to fight continuously on the state's position in line with MA63, land issues and proactive move to bring more investments to the state  some decisions have been made by the government but yet to see the significant outcomes,” the  administrative science and policy studies lecturer said.

“I think they are trying their best to meet people’s expectations. It just that, not many translated into outcomes. The government must now move from rhetoric to action,” he added.

Sabah’s thorny issues

Warisan’s delay in appointing Development and Security Committees and village chiefs upon taking government meant they did not get off to a running start, on top of high living costs remain the biggest public gripes post-GE14, Bagang said.

Murmurs of discontent remain with the public, even though data on local businesses show employment opportunities are hard to come by in a flagging economy affected by a worldwide slowdown.

Another issue that continues to be a thorn in their side is trying to solve the perennial illegal immigrant presence in Sabah, known locally as Pendatang Tanpa Izin or PTI for short.

“The pemutihan is a pragmatic effort but people still want something that is more firm ie enforcement,” said Bagang, referring to the government’s effort to legalise stateless children born to one local parent as well as keep track of foreigners working in the plantation industry.

But any effort to solve the illegal immigration problem will meet hurdles as the Warisan government continue to be hit with claims they are awarding citizenship to illegal immigrants ― a long-standing social phobia in Sabah after Projek IC, a controversial naturalisation project that began during Dr Mahathir’s first time as prime minister under the BN regime.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah lecturer Lee Kuok Tiung said that any action taken by Shafie, who is Warisan president, is overshadowed by PTI issues.

“He is continuously overshadowed by the PTI issues as we all know that today we're living in a social media driven world and cannot control the content. He might have done something that is important to Sabah but there are still negative perceptions and a lot of skepticism when it comes to the PTI,” Lee said of Shafie.

To complicate matters further, efforts to address the problem is often scrutinised heavily by detractors who sometimes play the race card.

Even before the May 9 polls last year, the BN state government and other Opposition parties linked Shafie to the immigrant Suluk community, descendants of the southern Philippines seen as derogatory by other native races.

When Shafie became chief minister on May 12 last year, allegations of misconduct and illegals “suddenly obtaining” documents grew more rampant.

Lee also said that there is also the problem where criticism is trained on Shafie and very little on the rest of his state Cabinet despite the chief minister’s bid to be more inclusive by creating  nominated assemblymen and representative of more races.

“During the previous state government administration, the coverage among the Sabah's state government seemed more spread out and equal. In Shafie's Cabinet, the visibility among its members is imbalanced giving the public the impression that some are performing while others are not,” he said.

Lee also said that a few members of Shafie’s Cabinet have been tarred by rumours of corruption and cronyism, adding that such speculation has coloured the public’s perception of a clean “Malaysia Baharu” state government.

Malay Mail polled people between the lower to middle income bracket, responses ranged from disappointment to indifference and satisfaction among those who have found favour with the new government.

Some have remained optimistic that the state government could pull up their socks and affect change but have to be mindful not to take on undesirable characteristics of the previous government.

The most common denominators in the conversations have been increase of racial sentiments, the progress with reinstating the state’s rights and no difference in the burden of the cost of living.

The Sabah government consists of Warisan along with PH allies DAP and PKR and local party United Pasok Momogun Kadazanmurut Organisation.