Sabah security in fits-and-starts 

It appears that the reason why Malaysian security forces have been slow in responding to the Lahad Datu intrusion and Standoff may be more due to the fact that the PMD was solely responsible for security in Sabah. 

Joe Fernandez

Sabah security in fits-and-starts just won’t do.

We are now told that the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) will be responsible for security along the newly-created Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) stretching from Kudat in the North to Tawau in the south-east corner, past the wolf’s mouth segment on the map of the territory.

Mindef takes over from the all-powerful Prime Minister’s Department (PMD) which had hitherto been apparently responsible for security in Sabah. Indeed, it appears that the reason why Malaysian security forces have been slow in responding to the Lahad Datu intrusion and Standoff may be more due to the fact that the PMD was solely responsible for security in Sabah.

Both these items, Mindef and PMD, are news to Sabahans and probably most Malaysians. The PMD, according to 2010 figures, employed 43,544 people and had a budget of RM 3.9 billion. It was a hyper ministry but labeled Department, a misnomer.

We still don’t know whether the PMD would be responsible for security in the rest of Sabah and who is responsible for the security situation in neighbouring Sarawak which has a long border, albeit for the most part difficult mountainous terrain in jungled territory, with Kalimantan.


Nur Misuari should be given benefit of the doubt

In any case the PMD has no business getting involved directly in security matters, internal and security, except through the National Security Council (NSC) headed by the Prime Minister.

Is it any wonder therefore that the intelligence services, both Special Branch and Military, have been caught “napping” in a way on the Lahad Datu intrusion by terrorists from the nearby Sulu islands. In fact, they were not napping at all. They weren’t responsible for the security of Sabah. No wonder illegal immigrants continued flooding into Sabah over the decades as Putrajaya, by all accounts, looked the other way.

One exception was the period after the Sipadan hostage incident in 1999-2000 when Ramli Yusuff became Commissioner of Sabah from 2001- 2004. Upon the specific instructions of then Chief Minister (2001-2003) Chong Kah Kiat, Ramli formed a Special Task Force with Army Commander of Sabah, Brig-Gen Mohd Yassin, to expel thousands of illegal immigrants from the Philippines and Indonesia in particular.

On another score, we must take Nur Misuari’s statements on Malaysia’s involvement in training the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) seriously. Of course, it’s an open secret in Sabah that not only Malaysia but Libya from the days of the Mustapha regime has been arming the MNLF. But this is the first time that Nur Misuari himself has directly admitted what has been only openly talked about in the warongs for decades. Between Nur Misuari’s admission and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s outright self-serving denial, the benefit of the doubt can be given to the former.


Parliament should act on Eastern Sabah Security Zone

Taking the announcement on ESSCOM at face value, it seems that not everything is above board. It has often been said that a Government, on paper, has the power to do anything, even the “illegal” if necessary, and detractors can resort to the Court by way of an Application for Leave to secure a Judicial Review either by Mandamus (to compel) or Certiorari (to squash) any errant Government decision by administrative law – not law at all but policy in action — on any matters of state.

Questions abound!

Under the Federal Constitution, the Prime Minister has no legislative power, not even in an emergency situation, points out Star chairman Jeffrey Kitingan, for one.

Apparently, the power lies with the Yang Di Pertuan Agong and Parliament.

Under Article 150, “if the Yang Di Pertuan Agong is satisfied that a grave emergency exists whereby the security, or the economic life, or public order in the Federation or any part thereof is threatened, he may issue a Proclamation of Emergency making therein a declaration to that effect.”

Under Article 149, it is for Parliament to pass the necessary laws if there is any “action has been taken or threatened by any substantial body of persons, whether inside or outside the Federation -…(f) which is prejudicial to public order in, or the security of, the Federation or any part thereof,”


Long-term diplomatic and political solution for Sabah

The area from Kudat to Tawau involves 11 Parliamentary seats and 27 state seats. The Parliamentary seats affect the whole of Malaysia, not just Sabah.

No doubt the internal security problems and international issues facing Sabah, including the claim to Sabah or parts of it by the Philippines and/or Sulu, culminated in the Lahad Datu Standoff.

Sabah requires require a long-term diplomatic and political solution, not a military one, a point which is gathering consensus among most people in the state.

The United Nations (UN), whose Secretary-General has urged the Malaysian government to find an amicable solution in the wake of Lahad Datu, should be brought in to help resolve issues involving Sabah in Malaysia.

No Referendum was held on Malaysia in Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Malaya. The Cobbold Commission was not a Referendum of the people but a sampling survey of community leaders with only Suluk and Bajau leaders agreeing to Malaysia. The Malayan and British Governments dragged Sabah and Sarawak into Malaysia on 16 Sept, 1963 AFTER both Nations had obtained their independence on 31 Aug, 1963 and 22 July, 1963 respectively.

Security in Malaysia, for Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei, — against the crocodiles in the region viz. Philippines and Indonesia — was an afterthought when it emerged that others were reaping the real benefits of Federation and not the people in Borneo: Britain could consolidate its commercial empire in the region through Malaysia; Singapore obtained independence through merger with Malaya via Malaysia; and the Malaya-led and dominated Federal Government virtually had unlimited access to the resources and revenue of three potentially rich Nations in Borneo.

Brunei staying out of Malaysia at the 11th hour floored the argument that the Orang Asal populations of Borneo were needed to facilitate the merger between Chinese-majority Singapore and non-Malay majority Malaya.

Not surprisingly, Singapore was expelled from Malaysia two years later as the Malay-speaking communities in Malaya felt demographically threatened by Singapore despite the added numbers of the Orang Asal in Sabah and Sarawak.

However, Sabah and Sarawak were not likewise allowed to exit Malaysia.

These and other matters, including the so-called Sulu claim, should be resolved by the UN Security Council lest there be an even greater flare-up in Borneo one day when the Orang Asal react violently against their marginalization and disenfranchisement given the continuing influx of illegal immigrants into their countries.


Joe Fernandez is a mature student of law and an educationist, among others, who loves to write especially Submissions for Clients wishing to Act in Person. He feels compelled, as a semi-retired journalist, to put pen to paper — or rather the fingers to the computer keyboard — whenever something doesn’t quite jell with his weltanschauung (worldview). He shuttles between points in the Golden Heart of Borneo formed by the Sabah west coast, Labuan, Brunei, northern Sarawak and the watershed region in Borneo where three nations meet.