This article was published in the South China Morning Post in February 2002.
To day, the scenario has changed.Sabah, is facing acute labour shortage in its oil palm plantations.The Indonesians have returned home voluntarily to work in their own country's plantations that is paying them the same or better wages.
Since the fall of Suharto's autocratic rule and the beginning of the 1999 decentralization and wider autonomy of the provinces given by the central government things have changed drastically at the provincial level.This otonomi daerah (regional autonomy) have given the local government better leverage to manage their own affairs and transformed the provinces and achieved far greater economic development than under Suharto.His stranglehold on the nation exerting political and economic control over the nation and its people to feed his insatiable appetite for corruption and abuse of power slowed Indonesia's economic progress in the provinces.
Indonesia hasn't looked back ever since.
The key to Indonesia's success in decentralization are the key features in Law 22/1999, the devolution of wide range of public service delivery functions to the regions and the strengthening of the elected regional councils (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Daerah -DPRD) which received wide-ranging powers to supervise and control regional administration.
Kalimantan, our neighbour is divided into four provinces,East,West,Central and South. East Kalimantan is the most prosperous among the four provinces with total GDP of US28 billion mainly for its gas and oil.
In his Ceritalah, Karim Raslan, a notable writer suggested that Sabah should open it doors to visitors and business from East Kalimantan.While I agree to most of his suggestions, I believe that isn't exactly Sabah woes.
The per capita income of Kalimantan is still lower compared to Sabah.The transient population placed heavy strain on the economic well-being of the state.Without their heavy presence Sabahans would have fared much better.It is more than obvious that the Federal government is not interested to resolve this needling issue.It is an open secret that some of these illegal immigrants have obtained Malaysian identity cards, dubious or otherwise.
Sabah and Sarawak should be given greater autonomy to manage their own affairs. Decentralisation has proven to have worked in some parts of Indonesia and Kalimantan is a model of the success story of doing away with autocracy which the Malaysia government is still deeply embroiled in due to its sense of insecurity.
The call by Kota Belud MP Abdul Rahman Dahlan for decentralization and wider autonomy for Sabah should be lauded. Sabah MPs should join hands with their Sarawak counterparts to seek better treatment and direct state supervision of state affairs including planning and supervision of federal funded projects.
Sabah has seen many federal funded projects like building of hospitals,schools and other public amenities either over or under specified, placed in the wrong locality, poorly designed and badly built. Some eventually ends up as white elephants.
Many of the problems were the result of poor planning by people who sit either in Kuala Lumpur or Putrajaya who know nuts about the actual conditions on the ground.Schools and hospitals have been known to not having enough teachers and doctors after being commissioned.Sub-standard construction of buildings and highways have rendered some of the structures to be unsafe or of wrong design.The one way flyover near the city centre of Kota Kinabalu is glaring example of such damning practice and waste of taxpayers money.
Kota Kinabalu has now joined other dysfunctional cities in Peninsula Malaysia.Such planning and construction should be left to Sabahans who probably can do better job.
I was in Kuala Lumpur 3 days ago and have to take one and a half hour agonising journey from my hotel in Raja Chulan to Bangsar at peak hours.Give KL another five years and it would be a nightmare to live in that city.Jalan Bukit Bintang is perpetually jammed and the cab drivers still haven't changed their cheating habits.So much for progress and a city of cultured people.
My apology for the diversion.
The central power should loosen its stranglehold on wanting to control the states by controlling the flow of the tap.It should concentrate what most central governments are doing... should be responsible only for foreign affairs,defence, security,justice, monetary and fiscal affairs, religion and not forgetting the collection of all federal taxes.All other affairs should be left to the states.
It's about time Prime Minister Najib gives it a serious thought if he wants to keep his "fixed deposit"