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MGG: Is there a Sabah issue?
By M.G.G. Pillai
8/8/2001 7:44 pm Wed
[Banyak isu dan dasar penting yang melibatkan nasib dan
masadepan rakyat negara ini tidak dibincangkan pun di parlimen.
Ia kerap tersembur secara tidak rasmi dimajlis khenduri-kendara
dan sidang akhbar pula. Itupun tidak terperinci sehingga
kakitangan kerajaan terbabit terpaksa meneka-neka pendirian
terkini kerajaan sampai bercelaru semua. Itulah yang berlaku
dalam isu hak milik negeri Sabah dan isu-isu lain.
Mahathir kerap membelakangkan golongan cerdik pandai di negara ini.
Dia memilih cerdikpandai luar seperti Salomon Barney dan Penasihat
dunia MSC yang kebanyakkannya mempunyai kepentingan diri atau syarikat
sendiri. Bayangkan berapa ramai penasihat MSC itu memang seorang yang
betul-betul bebas dan tidak mempunyai produk untuk dipasarkan nanti?
Ramai orang tidak tahu pejabat kerajaan yang berpindah ke Putrajaya
terpaksa membayar sewa lagi! Malah kosnya lebih tinggi dari menyewa
satu menara di ibu kota dulunya. Siapakah yang untung dengan penghijrahan
ini jika tidak sang kroni. Malangnya rakyat Malaysia tertipu lagi....
Chiaroscuro 7th August 2001.
This is how the Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamed, and his
cabinet, the mentris besar, senior civil servants inform
Malaysians of important government policies. They believe they
are more important than their office, and say what they want with
no concern for propriety.
Permeating this is an arrogance from long irrelevant years
in office. And a loose tongue. A sycophantic press primes it
along. So, official policy or thinking is guessed at from these
The foreign ministry often is clueless and rush to smoothen
ruffled diplomatic feathers when the foreign minister commits it
to a course it had not ever considered. It was shocked to learn,
after a cabinet meeting, Malaysia had recognised Afghanistan and
after it had counselled patience: a cabinet minister -- the
self-same Anwar Ibrahim who later became deputy prime minister and
fell from grace to be ensconced in Sungei Buloh jail -- forced
Whims and fancies
The Treasury has no policy until the finance minister talks
to reporters at a "kenduri". This is so with every ministry.
If the minister in question is not within the view of the press,
he must shout louder, often wrongly, to attract the attention.
It is, in any case, important to him that he be remembered, to
fish for votes when UMNO meetings come around, than for his often
There is, in other words, no official policy but one made on
the run. Often the basis for it is the whims and fancies of one
However desirable the Multimedia Super Corridor is, it was
set up because Dr Mahathir espoused it. The civil servants got
on board, usually reluctantly, and we pay the price for it. The
only justification is that it made some people, usually cronies,
very rich indeed. Its success is measured, officially, by how
fast property prices have risen.
It continues to be justified by its berriboned advisers, all
leading lights in IT, not for what it professes to do. Huge and
expensive projects akin to creating cities in wasteland are
stalled. And so it is with every policy espoused.
With no serious thinking, and Parliament largely ignored,
the political overview is restricted to the Prime Minister's
coterie. Thinking and discussion, in other words, is
To confuse, not explain
So, is the militant Malaysian Mujahidin out to overthrow
the government by force? Do not telephone the police or get an
MP to ask it Parliament. Wait for the prime minister after a
formal charity dinner, the Inspector-General of Police after he
opens a creche for his staff, the deputy prime minister at a
sports meet, the industry and international trade minister at the
opening of a jewellery shop. To prove whatever said is
important, other ministers take up the refrain, to confuse not
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo arrives here for a
three-day official visit today (07 August 01). She is here more
to initial the pact between her government and the Moslem
fundamentalists in Mindanao. Bilateral ties improve, but the
Sabah claim is alive in the Philippines as it is not here. It
should be left as it is.
She is not about to raise the Sabah claim with Dr Mahathir:
official visits follow strict protocol, and what would be
discussed settled in advance. The Philippines Constitution has
Sabah as one of its territories. It has intervened in the World
Court dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia over Sipadan and
When President Fidel Ramos came on an official visit in
1993, it was decided to set aside Sabh to re-foster the good ties
the two countries had.
Why should Dr Mahathir insist that when they meet, the Sabah
claim would not be raised? But in raising it, he throws the
Sabah issue yet again on to the public domain. Sabah is a live
issue in the Philippines. Her father, President Diasdado
Macapagal, laid formal claim to Sabah in 1963, when it joined
Sabah is in the backburner of Philippines politics. The
Philippines, like Malaysia, points to external issues to
strengthen public opinion at home. Sabah is as important to
Phillippine public opinion as Western culture and perfidy is to
Malaysia. But not when Manila wants to settle the Mindanao
problem as efficaciously as possible.
So what Dr Mahathir has done in his offhand remarks about
the visit is raise doubts about our commitment to Sabah. There
is, in our official view, no Sabah claim. Sabah is part and
parcel of Malaysia. That is it. He should not discuss it with
any Philippines official.
When he then says he would not discuss it he devalues
Malaysia's commitment to keeping Sabah within its borders. It
raises both hope and despair, in both, and unsettles Sabah.
That surely is not what he wants. But what he would get.
Because Malaysian government leaders would not discuss their
briefs seriously, in formal press conferences or in formal
settings, the Malaysian press have grown lazy and waylay cabinet
ministes and others after functions to ask their irrelevant,
often ill-thought out questions and get answers in that vein.
And havoc in the chancelleries of the world.
An informal pecking order is in place. Who says it first
decides how important it is. Whatever the Prime Minister says is
policy, the drumbeaters who follow will vary and confuse it,
driving diplomats and others who look for clues about the
government's behaviour up the wall. If he is indisposed, the
deputy prime minister can step in, but not too often. So, when
Dr Mahathir talks of Sabah, Wisma Putra shivers.
Unfortunately, this is not about to change. Too much has
gone wrong in how this country is run for it to be resolved.
With or without Dr Mahathir at the head.
Every institution of government -- parliament, the
executive, the judiciary -- is kidnapped for political ransom.
We pay the price for that. The arrogance is insufferable, and
redounds on national respect.
To a trickle
Foreign investment is reduced to a trickle not for what we
have but for how arrogant our civil servants have become. The
bureaucracy is stiffening. The corruption has blown out of
The government sidesteps a question in Parliament, at its
current session, on why Lever Brothers moved, lock stock and
barrel, after a century in this country, to Thailand, where it
has a new skycraper outside Bangkok as its regional headquarters.
But local investment is also affected. One sees a larger
political hand in all this now. It has to get out of the
embarassment of a group of companies linked to UMNO fall by the
wayside with loans exceeding RM30 billion but mismanaged.
Two more await in the wings. It raises uncomfortable
politician questions, like what happens to the UMNO-owned Putra
World Trade Centre buildings? Can UMNO, in the present
circumstances, meet its debts?
Malaysia is no more an important sponge to soak up foreign
investment. The Thais give ten-year work permits for as many
senior foreign business men a company wants to relocate; in
Malaysia, they would have to spend endless hours at immigration
officers, and fly out often, before a token temporary extension
of stay is granted, while officials take their interminable time
to decide if the work permit of a key official must be renewed.
Besides, China now soaks up foreign investment that would, in the
past, come to Southeast Asia.
But Malaysia does not change. It would not when it believes
that it has advantages none in the region has. That was true
once. Not any more. When it should have moved with the current,
it believed it could, like King Canute, control the waves. And
pays the price.
Could Malaysia be now what it was in the past? It could, but
we look for quick fixes when bitter medicine must be taken. But
quick fixes are not what would take us out of our current morass.