GLUED to their television sets, the people of Sabah witnessed Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi hand a thick blue file to “newly-minted” Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak at the nation’s seat of administration in Putrajaya, across the South China Sea.
Some saw it as a day that would go into the history books, others viewed it as a dawn of good things to come, and the not-so-optimistic were overheard saying they would wait until promises were translated into action before giving their score.
Sabah is still working at reducing poverty, bridging regional imbalances along the way; it is seeking concrete solutions to the long-standing illegal immigrant menace; and its people continue to hope for a larger slice of the economy and better positions in the public sector.
Former deputy chief minister Datuk Tham Nyip Shen said Sabah was one of the top states when it helped form Malaysia in 1963, but is now among those at the bottom.
“The new prime minister has to shoulder this. A few things have to happen for Sabah to move ahead. Business has to be more friendly and unfair pricing of essential commodities has to be addressed. Sabah must be given more opportunities.
“We have some good migration policies and yet we have a problem with illegal immigrants and stateless children. We need some real action. I hope some of the solutions offered in the past will be continued or renewed,” Tham said.
For another community leader, Najib’s “One Malaysia, People First, Performance Now” slogan holds a deep meaning for indigenous groups in Sabah who, at times, find themselves at the losing end of development.
Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia head Adrian Lasimbang said the new administration must involve communities when planning development that impacts on native customary land.
“The ‘people first’ slogan is very important and progressive. We hope that it means the government will engage indigenous people in the consultatitive and planning processes. There must be consent from communities when land they depend on is used for development.
“We are worried that the usual process of development will continue, without involving indigenous people.”
Partners of Community Organisations head Anne Lasimbang wanted Najib to recognise the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People that sets out the individual and collective rights to culture, identity and health.
About 60 per cent of Sabah’s three million population is made up of indigenous people, many of whom live in rural areas.
Institute for Development Studies Sabah executive director Datuk Dr Mohd Yaakub Johari said Najib’s pledge to meet the needs and aspirations of all Malaysians was reflective in the new prime minister’s focus in addressing divisive national issues in the face of mounting global challenges, especially the deterioration in the economy.
“What he seems to be emphasising is that for the nation to survive and scale greater heights, the task of nation-building rests on all Malay- sians as stakeholders.
“The focus should be driven by concern for the overall well-being of Malaysians, not merely by profit. There should be zero tolerance for inefficiency and procrastination,” Yaakub said.
Having seen Najib walk about Kuala Lumpur a day after his appointment to get the people’s feedback, the people of Sabah hope their voices will not be drowned out by their distance from the federal capital.
Source : New Straits Times