Stop blaming the long coast line and other excuses

Monday, 18 November 2013

By Yong Teck Lee

Top officials who have been turned red faced by the latest armed intrusion at Pom Pom island off Semporna that has killed one tourist and abducted another should stop blaming Sabah's long coast line.

Nobody blamed our long coast line when Petronas exploited our vast oil and gas resources at sea. No one worried about the long coast line when our fishery and marine resources are tapped to the full. With the exploitation of our marine and undersea natural resources, the government has a constitutional duty to protect the same maritime area, the islands and people from harm.

Neither the British nor the Malaya governments in 1963 said that they could not secure Sabah and its island because of the long coast line. On the contrary, security was the first and foremost reason used to convince Sabahans to help form Malaysia. Sabah's coast line is still the same as it was in 1963. The coast line has not grown longer. Now that Malaysia has been formed, the federal government cannot run away from its duty to protect our shores.

The ICJ (International Court of Justice) had in 2002 recognised Sipadan Island as belonging to Malaysia because of the British colonial acts of governance by issuing permits to collect turtle eggs at the island. Sipadan Island is even much further from Sabah mainland than Pom Pom island. Malaysia cannot now give the flimsy excuse that the coast line is too long to guard.

It is not the long coast line to be blamed. It is the complacency of officials, lack of logistical assets like speed boats and other resources, lack of materials and personnel, lack of urgency, lack of intelligence about the potential intruders. Most of all, it is the lack of being held responsible when things go wrong.

So far, the officials have been shooting themselves on the foot. The Defence Minister (Dato Hishammudin) still had the audacity to say the security has not been breached when in fact 8 gunmen armed with high powered rifles had attacked an island within 1 km from a police base and got away! The Home minister, however, remains embarrassingly silent.

The ESSCOM director asserted that "the Pom Pom shooting incident was not related to the Sulu intrusion in February" but then went on to say that the police were still investigating. Since the police are still investigating, how can the ESSCOM director say who is or is not behind the attack? Before his retirement, the ESSCOM director should speak up on the shortcomings and disappointments faced by his powerless office.

The IGP today has named the Al-Qaeda linked terrorist group Abu Sayyaf as the prime suspect for the Pom Pom attack, contradicting earlier police statements that armed groups were not responsible.

The IGP also said the Malaysian Armed Forces are being asked to beef up security in the area. This is most confusing. Because hasn't the area been fully secured in the first place as assured repeatedly by ESSCOM, by the Sabah Chief Minister and Tourism Minister, by the ministers of defence and of home affairs, by the army and police top brass?

Do not forget that Pom Pom is not a remote isolated place. From the Putrajaya location, it might be seen as a remote area at the furthest point away from Malaya. But from Sabah's point of view, it is a thriving government-licensed tourist resort providing livelihood to many Sabahans.

Datuk Yong Teck Lee, Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president.



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