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The most shocking result after 13 years of Umno and Barisan Nasional rule of Sabah is that the Kadazandusun and Murut (KDM) communities have emerged as the new underclass in Sabah like the Indians in Peninsular Malaysia – while UMNO and Barisan Nasional leaders waxed indecently rich

Speech on the 2007 Supplementary Estimates          
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Dewan Rakyat, Monday) : Sabah is in the throes of a political crisis although it is publicly denied by the Umno and Barisan Nasional leadership, whether state or national. 

There is for instance a lot of play-acting over the shock abrupt resignation of Tan Sri Chong Kah Kiat as Sabah Deputy Chief  Minister and State Tourism Minister on Friday, with the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi fully endorsing the Sabah Chief Minister, Datuk Musa Aman, in saying that Chong’s resignation was “not really a loss” because it would not weaken  the Barisan Nasional state government. 

In other words, although Chong was Deputy Chief Minister and one of the key digits in the in the conspiracy and strategy to establish Umno hegemony in Sabah in the early nineties, he is now completely irrelevant and expendable. 

It is no surprise therefore that Chong had expressed his “hurt” at the Prime Minister’s dismissive comments about his resignation, telling Oriental Daily News today that the Prime Minister’s comment had wounded his dignity and offended the people of Sabah and the Chinese. 

Kah Kiat had maintained that he was quitting the Sabah Cabinet “as a matter of principles” – implying basic and fundamental differences with the Sabah Chief Minister. 

The media have reported that ties have been strained between the chief minister and his deputy for some time over numerous issues like Musa’s plans to develop Pulau Sipadan island off Sabah’s east coast, with Malaysiakini citing as “ the final straw” their differences over Chong's proposal to build a huge statue of the Goddess of Mercy in Kudat as a tourist attraction. 

It is clear however to astute political observers that Chong’s resignation is only the tip of the iceberg of what is politically wrong and even rotten in Sabah after Umno’s entry in Sabah and 13 years of Umno and Barisan Nasional control of the Sabah State Government and that the issues at stake are even bigger than Chong’s differences over “principle” with Musa. 

What is the cause of the Sabah malaise and crisis?  Umno has successfully made its foray into Sabah and established its unquestioned political hegemony in the state in less than a decade, but in the process, it has broken every pledge it had made on entry into Sabah. 

Umno had promised a “New Sabah”, promising political equality to the major communities in Sabah by rotating the post of Chief Minister among the three major communities. 

In the 1994 Sabah state general election, Umno also spelt out the “highlights” of this Sabah Baru -

  • To reduce the poverty level in Sabah from 33 per cent in 1994 to zero in the year 2000;
  • To eliminate illiteracy to zero in year 2,000; and
  • To eradicate corruption in Sabah.
  • To give every Sabahan a house by the year 2,000;
  • To resolve the problem of illegal immigrants in Sabah.

The utter hollowness of the Sabah Baru was tragically illustrated last month when in desperation with life in poverty which gripped his family,  a 11-year-old Std. Five Dusun pupil of SK Kinarut, Donny John Dion committed suicide and hanged himself at home at Kampung Suangon in the Papar parliamentary constituency.

UMNO Papar has been shaken up by the unheard-of suicide of a 11-year-old boy because of abject poverty to help Donny’s surviving five siblings and mother, Hina Joloni – but do we have to wait until an  11-year-old boy in modern and developed Malaysia have to commit suicide to dramatically highlight the abject of his poverty of his family before some temporary aid is forthcoming from the very wealthy and powerful people in the country?

In fact, Donny’s tragic suicide is the most potent illustration of the violation of all the Umno promises of a Sabah Baru – as 13 years of Umno and Barisan Nasional rule of Sabah has created the shocking result  that the Kadazandusun and Murut (KDM) communities have emerged as the new underclass in Sabah like the Indians in Peninsular Malaysia – while UMNO and Barisan Nasional leaders waxed indecently rich.

In fact, in many instances, the  KDM hardcore poor are even worse off than the illegal immigrants, getting better care and attention from the authorities, including issuing them with false identity cards, voting rights, hospital and education facilities. 

Lets have a quick checkoff of the “highlights” of the Sabah Baru marking Umno’s entry into Sabah over a decade ago: 

1. To reduce the poverty level in Sabah from 33 per cent in 1994 to zero in the year 2000

According to the Ninth Malaysia Plan tabled in Parliament in March last year, the incidence of poverty in Sabah in 2004 was the highest of all states in Malaysia, and was nowhere near zero incidence and higher than Kelantan and Terengganu. The incidence of poverty of the various states in Malaysia in 2004 were as follows:


 Incidence of Poverty (%)





Negri Sembilan




Pulau Pinang




Fed.Territory (KL)
















Sabah has also the worst incidence of hard-core poverty at 6.5% as compared the next three states with highest incidence, i.e. Terengganu 4.4% and  Kedah and Kelantan 1.3%.

Four years ago, in February 2003,  former Finance Minister Datuk Mustapha Mohamad who is now Higher Education Minister issued a blistering report card on Sabah’s 40 years in Malaysia – a dismal failure in development and nation-building!  

Speaking at a public dialogue at Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Mustapha, who was at the time the  National Economic Action Council executive director and UMNO Information Chief, admitted that the management of Sabah’s resources, civil service and political situation were among the factors contributing to the state’s lackluster economic performance, reducing a “once wealthy state … a point of no return”. 

In a most telling and cutting verdict, Mustapha said Sabah was “now in the same economic league as his native Kelantan”! 

Four years after Mustapha indictment of the dismal failure of the development record of Sabah, things have got worse instead of getting better – to the extent that a 11-year-old had to commit suicide to draw the attention of the authorites to the plight of the DCM poor!

The failure of the Umno’s development record to uplift the poor and backward stratas of society is all the more deplorable when contrasted with the obscene wealth accumulated by the political high-and-mighty in Sabah.

2. To eradicate corruption in Sabah

When Umno entered Sabah, the Prime Minister and Umno President Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad promised that Umno culture will be different from those of the Sabah political parties and promised to remove any Barisan Nasional state leader who was corrupt.  In the 1994 general election, campaigning under the pledge to eradicate corruption in Sabah, Sabahans were urged to reject corrupt leaders (referring to the PBS state government of Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan).

In the past 13 years, not only have all the “corrupt” Sabah leaders whom UMNO had earlier urged Sabahans to reject have one after another joined Barisan Nasional, but not a single corrupt Barisan Nasional leader had been removed although corruption had never been more serious at any stage of its history.

Five years ago, there were the following cynical comment in an article in the Sunday Star about the Sabah politics of musical chairs which should have been  the subject of a soul-searching by the relevant authorities  about public integrity and zero-tolerance of corruption in public life: 

“Ask politicians and journalists about the rotation system, and they will jokingly say: ‘One CM took the hills, one gave away the sea, one signed off the valleys and another bet on watery deals.’ 

“They cannot help but compare what veteran politicians say about the Usno-Berjaya-PBS governments: ‘Usno took the meat of the timber, Berjaya the bones and PBS the crumbs with Barisan looking at leftovers.’” 

Everyone in Sabah knew what was meant by the cynical comment that “One CM took the hills, one gave away the sea, one signed off the valleys and another bet on watery deals”  except for the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA), which seemed to be the only one ignorant about its implications. 

That was five years ago, but today, under Musa Aman, corruption in Sabah has reached an even more rotten state, to the extent that a police report was recently lodged with regard to 25 serious corruption allegations against the Musa by a former Sabah State Minister, Dr. Jeffrey Kitingan.

The 25 allegations of Jeffrey against Musa total malpractices running into billions of ringgit but up to now no serious attention has been given either by the Sabah Chief Minister, who said he was not bothered by them, or the Prime Minister or the ACA.

Sabah and Sarawak, under Chief Ministers Musa and Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, are now the two states with the worst problem of corruption and the Prime Minister must be prepared to deal with them courageously if his pledge of making anti-corruption top priority of his administration is not to become a farce. 

3. Rotation of Chief Minister among the three communities 

When Umno entered Sabah, it promised equal political partnership in the state and in the 1994 Sabah state general elections, it pledged that  the post of Chief Minister would be rotated among the three major communities if Barisan Nasional toppled the PBS state government. 

However, this had been violated in implementation – further proof of the political, economic and social marginalization of the KDM community.

The Sabah Chief Minister rotation-system had worked unfairly and inequitably against the KDM community  – producing four  UMNO Chief Ministers to represent the Malay community, two Chinese Chief Ministers but only “half” a Chief Minister for the Kadazandusun community, as Tan Sri Bernard Dompok was only Chief Minister for ten  months! 

Now the Chief Minister is made permanent property of UMNO to reflect Umno’s political hegemony in Sabah.  Surely, before there is a change of the Sabah Chief Minister rotation system, the KDM community should have their fair opportunity to complete two terms of the office. i.e. four years, as had been enjoyed by the Malay and Chinese communities. 

4. To resolve the problem of illegal immigrants in Sabah

The problem of illegal immigrants in Sabah today is even  worse than more than a decade ago when the resolution of the long-standing problem of illegal immigrants in Sabah was proclaimed as one of the pillars of Sabah Baru 13 years ago.

In the seventies, there were 100,000 to 200,000 illegal immigrants, which have mushroomed to some one million to 1.5 million at present, to the extent that there are Sabahans who warned that they have been outnumbered as to become strangers in their own country.

At the time when Umno leaders were promising a Sabah Baru to resolve the problem of illegal immigrants in the state, they were actively involved in the racket known as Project I/C to legalise the status of illegal immigrants by issuing them false identity cards to become phantom voters determining the political  destiny of Sabah.

The political turmoils in Sabah, which Umno and Barisan Nasional leaders have refused to acknowledge, must be admitted and corrected or they will undermine the international competitiveness both of Sabah and Malaysia.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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