|What's my future, Malaysia?|
|Written by straits-mongrel|
|Sunday, 11 April 2010 00:44|
She's twelve years old. Bronzed skin, hair bleached from the salted sun. We didn't manage to get her name; she was with her girl friends - carefree and full of cheer - at the Kota Kinabalu waterfront just beside the Handicraft Market that afternoon. They came and willingly jumped in front of the camera, making hip-hop poses like teens from the 'hood. She was chatty, just like any other healthy girl except for one big difference.
She's never been to school. There isn't one where she lives. She cannot read nor write. She knows rudimentary arithmetic - simple addition and subtraction. Ditto her group of friends. Each morning the girls leave their homes in the settlements at Pulau Gaya and come ashore to the city's waterfront seeking menial work - dishwashing, food prep and packaging. Promises of the dreams of a high-income economy and the NEM would be pretty meaningless for people like them. In most likelihood, a frustration will build up as the world passes them by. And then what?
Could this be the timebomb that Project IC planted?
How fair is it that these children, innocent of any crime, be deprived of a promising future because of negligence by their hosts, willing or unwilling?
We were with Sabah activist Dr Chong Eng Leong that afternoon in mid-March before the SABM Sama-sama Roadshow. The former Sabah senator and practising surgeon had offered to explain to us at SABM what he considers one of the biggest issues facing Sabah for over two decades now - foreigners and Project IC. And the best way was to see for ourselves.
Project IC, or more pointedly Project M, refers to the "allegation of systematic granting of citizenship to immigrants (whether illegal or legal immigrants) by giving them identity documents known as IC (identity card), and subsequently, MyKad" (Wikipedia). It is alleged to be a covert exercise with its roots in the early 1990s to alter the demographics of Sabah to make it more favorable to the ruling government and certain political parties.
Much has been talked about in the warongs and kopitiams and to some degree the media, yet investigations over Project IC never reached a satisfactory momentum nor conclusion. Dr Chong believes the evidence is damning and all around in the daily life of Sabah. He self-published a book, Lest We Forget (Security and Sovereignty of Sabah), in July last year, an effort which compiles hard facts and newspaper clippings to advance the awareness of Project IC.
The Handicraft Market itself is a place filled with lively paraphernalia - beadwork, carvings, silverware and fabric. "Most of these are not produced in Sabah. They're brought in mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines," said Dr Chong, who's comfortable jumping from one local dialect to another. And the people who sell them? "Filipinos, largely," he added. "You can tell from the dialect they speak." Incidentally, the Handicraft Market was known as the Pasar Filipina until recently. The locals still call it by that name.
"Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against foreigners," said Dr Chong. "They are human beings who seek a better life; borders mean nothing to them. It is the lack of a political will in both the Federal and State governments to resolve this problem that gets to me," said the former politician. "They refuse to even acknowledge it's a problem."
Saturday afternoons at the markets flanking the KK waterfront are a casual affair. Tourists stroll the walkways toting cameras, families finish buying their day's groceries, the smell of pickled vegetables and fresh fruit intoxicates. On a cemented planter, male bonding takes place over a game of chess.
A line of tailors steal a nap during the lazy, shady hours. It's quite a delight seeing those vintage Singers still in use.
And as a solitary machine goes 'shik-shik-shik' in the background, the issue about Sabah's fragile fabric crops up again. In a territory that saw the population increase by a stupefying 301 percent in 30 years (1970-2000), it is a phenomenon that surely needs to be investigated closely. Especially since neighbours Sarawak grew by 106 percent, and Brunei 157 percent in the same time-frame.
"Sabah's borders were deliberately kept porous. You could enter and leave it like a sieve," said Dr Chong.
"They were considered a vote bank. I have collated the reports and evidence in my book," said Dr Chong. "Look, in those 30 years the Kadazan-Dusun-Murut community grew by 162 percent - a population growth that makes sense. But those classified as Malay grew by a staggering 1,552 percent. Federal government hasn't given any solid explanation for that.
"But the worse thing is the humanitarian aspect. You're brought in as a vote bank, you're offered MyKad, given Bumi status, perhaps resettled somewhere and that's it. You are expected to remain grateful. No education for your children. No proper sanitary system. No refuse collection - rubbish is disposed in the sea or burned in some common dumpyard nearby. It's an epidemic waiting to happen."
And most tragic of all, it is the locals who get the short end of the stick. "You know, conditions are even worse for the natives of Sabah. Visit their kampongs scattered all over Sabah if you can. They get no water nor electricity supply. Let's not even mention schools for the moment," said Dr Chong in between swigs of coconut water. "We have many cases of true-blue Sabah natives who were denied MyKad even though they have birth certs to prove their case.
"How can a government do this to its own people?"
In the wet market, Dr Chong converses with a shy and gentle Bajau woman in her dialect as she cleans some local cabbage. "Ah Kota Belud! Sama-sama. That's my kampong too," he exclaimed happily as we left the market area. We had to move on.
From the charm of the waterfront, we drove across the scenic Likas bay to Telipok about 30 km away. Here, two government-initiated settlements have sprung up over the years. Atop a hill lies Kampung Boronuon. The residents prefer to call it Kg Penempatan - resettled. They were resettled from Pulau Gaya in 2001. Back then, the Mayor of Kota Kinabalu had assured the people of Telipok that the Pulau Gaya resettlers were Malaysians. But in this part of the world, as we were beginning to see, the meaning of Malaysian can be as hazy as smog from the annual Kalimantan fires.
In Dr Chong's book, Lest We Forget, he cites numerous cases of dubious citizenship. Here is a sampling:
• Pulau Gaya fag smuggler, admitted in Court being a Philippines-born Malaysian, but his new IC is coded 12 ie born in Sabah. His old IC number was H0558763, and is still registered in Sabah Electoral Rolls today.
• One foreigner was convicted in 1992 for possession of fake IC and he told the Court that he got his IC through Project President Mahathir (appendix 51 of book). He was jailed for two years and managed to get registered in 1995 in Sabah Electoral Rolls after release - was he deported after release but sneaked back? His old IC number was H0487096 and is still in Sabah Electoral Rolls today.
• Salman Majid - arrested in March 2005 at KLIA and detained for 199 days in Immigration Centre in Sepang... Salman stated in the Sijil Akuan that he was born in Ranau, Sabah when in fact he was born in Pakistan. His old and new IC numbers were H0352141 and 620202-12-5053 respectively.
Salman had this to say about issuance of his IC: "Pada tahun 80'an saya telah ditawarkan kad pengenalan di Sabah semasa Projek Khas. Saya telah menerima tawaran itu bersama dengan beribu-ribu rakyat Sabah yang lain."
Got your attention yet?
Down in the valley from Kg Penempatan lies a serpentine grouping of houses. This is Kg Pelarian, otherwise known as the UNHCR Settlement Scheme. It was established in the 1970s under the watch of the UN for Filipinos fleeing from the civil war in southern Philippines. Although the war has long since ended and UN funds ceased, the land continues to be inhabited. Instead of diminishing in number, more houses are being built in this area. A 2006 Borneo Post report said more than 1,000 dwellings are occupying the land and growing.
In both these neighbouring settlements, life isn't super. There isn't much in terms of amenities; there's electricity and water supply. Waste just goes into a hole or a waterway. The residents are a hardy lot. But the story repeats - no schooling.
At about 3pm that afternoon, we noticed a dusty van driving in front of us along the narrow, winding lane. It stopped not far ahead, its body listed to one side because of the potholes. A couple of young girls - no more than 15 years old and dressed in tees and jeans - boarded the van. Dish-washer girls again, we wondered? Or rather, we hoped. For it could easily be something even worse. Something like prostitution.
It is not mere imaginings. Another excerpt from Lest We Forget:
• Six girls in vice activities in Perak in March 2002 were initially said to be Sabahans but Sabah Police Chief later on corrected by saying that they were Indonesians whose Malaysian ICs were issued by Sabah NRD.
If true, Project IC is not merely about the story of a power-crazed government pulling all the stops to retain its position. It is about the social repercussions which hurt the state and the very people who were invited inside our borders. The denial of basic education is a human rights violation. And when these bubbly young children grow to be adults who have to seek a livelihood and start families, will they be bitter for having been cheated?
And it is not a Sabah problem, hermetically speaking. It is a Malaysian one. With a MyKad in hand, any person can enter Semenanjung. No New Economic Model is going to be far-sighted enough to handle that situation. We'll be seeing the effects of all this in less than a generation.
Clearly, there has to be an open, honest investigation into the Project IC allegations. Government must make this happen. We the Rakyat will make this an election issue.
And as for the young, the likes of whom we met in Sabah, let's get real. They are here and will remain here. We have but one best option...
Teach them to fish.
In our most creative ways, teach them to fish so they know they belong. It is only proper that we do.