‘Corrupt officials’ blamed for Sabah problems, but RCI says hands tied

Picture shows squatter houses in Lahad Datu, Sabah. In its report, the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Sabah’s illegal immigrants stated that solving the problem was not within its remit. — File pic
Picture shows squatter houses in Lahad Datu, Sabah. In its report, the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Sabah’s illegal immigrants stated that solving the problem was not within its remit. — File pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 3 — After a nine-month hearing and testimonies from 211 witnesses, the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) has admitted that although Sabah’s illegal immigrants problem deserves attention, it is powerless to solve the decades-old issue.

In the panel’s 366-page report sighted by Malay Mail Online, it said that this responsibility still lies in the hands of Putrajaya and that “all it takes is political will”.

“There is a need to take bold and decisive steps for an integrated, comprehensive and sustained policy of action.

“That of course is the prerogative of the government and the authorities. It is not a matter within the remit of this Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI),” according to the report which will be available for purchase tomorrow.

Despite admitting that the notorious citizenship-for-votes initiative dubbed “Projek IC” may have existed, the commission did not pinpoint those responsible, but merely placed the blame on “corrupt officials” who it said had in the past taken advantage of a weakly institutionalised citizenship system.

“Projek IC” is said to be responsible for the abnormal spike in Sabah’s population, where foreigners comprise nearly 30 per cent of the state’s 3.12 million-strong populace. 

The report ended with the commission denying that the RCI was “the be-all and end-all” to Sabah’s illegal immigrants issue and that this was a “misconception”.

“The RCI is bound by the Terms of Reference. We can only inquire, make findings and thereafter present recommendations to the relevant authorities. Very much depends on the authorities concerned,” it wrote.

The long-awaited RCI report was finally released today in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, six months after the royal panel presented its findings to the prime minister and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in May. It is unclear what had caused the delay.

During the RCI hearing last year, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad blamed “government officers” for the illegal awarding of identity cards (ICs) to foreigners, appearing to absolve himself from all blame over “Projek IC”, which had reportedly occurred during his reign as prime minister from the 1980s onwards.

Dr Mahathir has been repeatedly accused of spearheading the controversial initiative.

Testimonies from Filipinos and other immigrants during RCI’s proceedings which went on from January to September last year revealed how they received their blue identification cards or the MyKad — which is proof of citizenship — in just a few years after arriving in Sabah and how they had also voted in elections.

To resolve Sabah’s illegal immigrants problem, the RCI has recommended that a permanent secretariat be set up to manage the various issues concerning illegal immigrants in the state.

Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Ali Hamsa in briefing the media earlier today said that the government has agreed to the proposal and that it will be jointly headed by Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman.

It will also be supported by a management committee with “extensive powers” to conduct research on all aspects relating to immigrants.

The RCI headed by Tan Sri Steve Shim Lip Kiong, who is also former Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak, was set up on September 21, 2012.

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