Kota Kinabalu (Fri):  A recent IDS online poll reveals that majority respondents are in favour of having a special new identity card specifically for Sabahan. The poll which received an overwhelming response from the general public in Sabah indicated that 92% of respondents agreed that the Sabah State Government should proceed with the initiative to introduce the new Sabah-specific identity card.


“Most of the respondents (82%) highly believed that a new Sabah-specific identity card can help reduce the presence of illegal immigrants (PATI) in Sabah,” said IDS Executive Director, Anthony Kiob in a statement today.


“As generally known, Sabah has been facing the problem of the flooding of illegal immigrants in the state for ages, and the matter seems never settled,” said Anthony.


Anthony said statistic showed that almost one-third of the people living in Sabah are foreigners and out of this only 30% are legalised while the majority are illegal immigrants. “It is not exaggerating to say that, Sabah has the highest number of illegal immigrants in Malaysia and this situation is indeed very alarming,” he said.


Anthony elaborated from the total of 3.9 million populations in Sabah, 1.2 million are foreigners. “Tawau recorded the highest number of foreigners at 180,000, followed by Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu,” he said.


“The large inflow of PATI in Sabah could be due to the existence of syndicates suspected of smuggling foreigners in to work in oil palm plantations, and some PATI being protected by locals who used them for cheap labour,” said Anthony.


“What is worrying, some PATI have managed to obtain identify cards, either fake or genuine from syndicates over the years. The sovereignty and rights of the people of Sabah have been violated by foreigners and posed a social threat that include safety, health, political and many others to the locals,” said Anthony.


Anthony said the concern for Sabah’s sovereignty and security has long been voiced by Sabah leaders and people. “The presence of the PATI has been taken advantage of by certain parties and authorities in the country so that they can easily obtain their identity cards and become citizens briefly for an agenda only known to them,” said Anthony.


Anthony highlighted the proposal to introduce New Sabah-Specific Identity Cards for genuine Sabahans was one of the recommendations in a report completed in 2014 by the Royal Commission of Inquiry on the issue of illegal immigrants in Sabah. “In fact, the report has confirmed the existence of the infamous Project IC, whereby thousands of PATI were granted citizenship systematically in the 1980s and 1990s, effectively changing the State’s demographics,” said Anthony.


Anthony further stated that the issuance of the Sabah ICs is also part of the Warisan party’s core agenda, and a proposal on Sabah Card was submitted to the State government in 2018.


“The constant calls for a Sabah IC reflect broad distrust among Sabahans on the Federal government’s approach to the State’s illegal immigrant problem and are shaped by Sabahans’ ongoing concern with issues of the state’s autonomy,” said Anthony.


“It is not just a matter of the Federal Government agreeing to allow Sabah to have a Sabah-Specific IC, but also allowing the Sabah State Government to use its own Sabah-controlled machinery to produce the new ICs using state-based infrastructure as well as issuing and circulating them as an exercise of state autonomy. This is legally stipulated under the Ninth Schedule’s State List, which authorizes Sabah’s control over the “Machinery of the State Government,” including “Exclusive State services,” said Anthony.


Nevertheless, Anthony took note that such initiative may draw different views and opinions among the people of Sabah.  “The state government has learned a good lesson from the previous attempt to implement the Sabah Temporary Pass (PSS), which was objected by majority Sabahan,” said Anthony. “A strong political will and coordinated efforts are vital to achieve the objectives of the Sabah-specific identity card’s initiative,” Anthony said.


Anthony highlighted some of the pros of having a Sabah-specific IC which include resolving the longstanding illegal immigrants’ issue in Sabah; better monitoring of foreign workers and illegal immigrants; safeguarding the sovereignty of the State and the rights of the Sabahans; safeguarding Sabahan’s rights on land ownership, scholarships, business permits and licenses, job applications in public sectors, social welfare benefits, etc: helping in screening, reducing, and solving forgeries and fraudulent documentation issues; ensuring only genuine Malaysians in Sabah exercise their rights to vote during elections; and resolving the citizenship and documentation problems among the various ethnics group in Sabah.


“While we celebrate the pros of having Sabah-specific IC, we must also recognise the cons of having such IC, which include forgery and fraud. It is therefore crucial for the government to have a strict mechanism of ID card issuance in place,” he said.


Besides this, the implementation of a new Sabah IC would require the state government to allocate a substantial cost, reorganisation of the government machinery, and a great deal of time, Anthony said. “Another challenge is to reach out to communities living in remote and inaccessible areas in Sabah. Most may not have birth certificates or MyKads and therefore special criteria must be set out before any implementation is carried out to authenticate these communities,” he said.


“A coordinated and well-planned mechanism must be in placed to help solve the decades long concerned of the communities in Sabah regarding the increasing number of illegal immigrants in the state. This is imperative as it would help outweigh the cons of this initiative, which in a long run will help to solve the prolonged problem as a whole,” said Anthony.


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