Such a commission can clear the air and restore public confidence in the home ministry and the police that there was no foul play and complicity by Malaysian officials, says over three dozen NGOs.
The undersigned NGOs have called for the establishment of a royal commission of inquiry to probe the effectiveness of the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone) and hostage crisis management in Sabah, following the latest mishandling of the “Sibu 4” hostage crisis, which involves public and family contributions totalling RM12m.
While we cheer for the release and safety of the hostages, the whereabouts of the RM12m have been the subject of contradictory statements by the authorities.
- 9 June – Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar claimed that no ransom was paid;
- 16 June – the families claimed that they had handed over the RM12m to the police;
- 16 June: Deputy Prime Minister-cum-Home Minister Zahid Hamidi claimed that the RM12 million was donated to some Islamic charities in the Philipppines;
- 17 June: Khalid denied that the police had received the RM12m;
- 20 June: Abu Sayyaf angry not all ransom money went to them.
The contradictory statements have unfortunately raised questions of accountability and integrity not only on the authorities, but earlier also the families who have suffered emotionally because of the ordeal itself. One of the families even sold their two houses in order to save the lives of their loved ones.
The home minister’s “donation” claim is neither sensible nor acceptable on two grounds:
- The money was raised from the public and does not belong to the police. Hence, the police have no right to channel the money for other purposes.
- Calling the transfer of money as “donation” and channelling it to “a body in the Philippines which assists in an Islamic struggle” is legitimising the kidnapping of non-Muslims by the Abu Sayaff terrorists.
If this is a poor camouflage of payment of ransom, it shows the government has failed twice as compared to other governments who paid to secure the release of their citizens kidnapped by terrorists.
First, the government failed to assist the hostage families, leading to the need for them to raise funds publicly, thus complicating the matter. In other countries, ransom is paid by the government or public enterprises with broad consensus across political parties.
Second, when publicly raised funds are used and accountability is expected, the government left the families to answer public queries and eventually came out with contradictory statements, now leading to speculation if the ransom money has been misappropriated.
This entire fiasco is itself indicative of the weakness of our marine defence in Sabah. Clearly, the Esszone, which was launched on 25 March 2013 and has cost Malaysians RM1.3bn so far, has not been effective.
Less than half a year before the kidnapping of the Sibu 4 hostages on 2 April, another Sarawakian Bernard Thein was beheaded by Abu Sayyaf in November 2015. He was kidnapped while dining in a Sandakan restaurant on 15 May 2015.
On 6 May 2014, a Chinese national, Yang Zailin, was kidnapped from a fish farm in Lahad Datu’s Silam, Sabah.
On 2 April 2014, a Chinese female tourist, Gao Huayun and a Filipino were kidnapped at the Singgahmata Hotel, Sabah.
An royal commission of inquiry is necessary to look at both how to improve our marine security and handle hostage crises.
It needs to study how the threat of hostage-for-money terrorism can be curbed, by not just improving our military and police surveillance, but also engaging in international cooperation and religious preaching against the deviant teaching that kidnapping non-Muslims for money is acceptable. Malaysians cannot be treated as ATM machines by terrorists with some “charity body” as their agent.
With regard to the management of the Sibu 4 crisis, a royal commission of inquiry can establish facts, clear the air and restore public confidence in the home ministry and the police that there was no foul play and complicity by Malaysian officials in the management of the hostage crisis and the ransom money.
1. Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Malaysia (Aliran)
2. Anak Muda Sarawak (AMS)
3. All Women’s Action Society (Awam)
4. Bersih 2.0
5. Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4)
7. Institute for Development of Alternative Living (Ideal)
8. Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia (Ikram)
9. Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF)
10. Jihad for Justice (JFJ)
11. Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS)
12. Kumpulan Aktivis Mahasiswa Independen (Kami)
13. Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH)
14. Pusat Komas (Komas)
15. Komuniti Muslim Universal (KMU) Malaysia
16. Persatuan Bekas Siswazah Universiti dan Kolej di China, Malaysia (LiuHua)
17. LLG Cultural Development Centre (LLG)
18. Malaysian Indian Progressive Association (Mipas)
19. Majlis Perundingan Malaysian Agama Buddha, Kritisian , Hindu, Sikh dan Tao (MCCBCHST)
20. Malaysian Indians Transformation Action Team (Mitra)
21. National Indian Rights Action Team (Niat)
22. Negeri Sembilan Chinese Assembly Hall (NSCAH)
23. Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute (OHMSI)
24. Partners in Community Organising (Pacos Trust), Sabah.
25. Persatuan Masyarakat Sel dan Wilayah Persekutuan (Permas)
26. Malaysian Youth Care Association (Prihatin)
27. Federation of Malaysian Indian Organisations (Prima)
28. Persatuan Rapat Malaysia (Rapat)
29. Rise of Sarawak Efforts (Rose)
30. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
31. Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (Sawo)
32. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
33. United Chinese School Alumni Associations of Malaysia (UCSAAM)
34. Tamil Foundation (TF)
35. Tindak Malaysia
36. Angkatan Warga Aman Malaysia (Warga Aman)
37. We Are Malaysians
38. Women Development of Malaysia PJ Branch