Memo to new Sabah government: Beware, you are being watched!

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Voters expect the new government to reduce poverty and improve their quality of life - Photo: srpoverty.org

Those in the new Sabah government must always remember that the people who put them where they are now can always boot them out if they are unable to improve their lot. Jem writes.

The die is cast! Hajiji Noor  was sworn in as Sabah Chief Minister in front of Sabah Governor Juhar Mahiruddin at 10.35am yesterday at the state palace.  

Throughout the weekend of 26-27 September and Monday, 28 September, the people of Sabah watched and waited. There were 73 seats up for grabs in the state election on Saturday.

With bated breath and hearts pounding, Sabahans waited and watched as votes were counted and recounted. Political pundits, bloggers and local news media provided their own views of what would happen, as speculation mounted.

Then came the announcement: the recently cobbled-together alliance, Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS), had won 38 of the 73 state seats – a small majority, but that was deemed enough to form the next government, even though no single party in the pact could match Warisan’s tally of 29 seats.  

It has only been a couple of days and already some discord has surfaced in the Sabah cabinet. Umno’s Bung Moktar Radin, who was appointed First Deputy Chief Minister, was also given the housing and local government portfolio while Bersatu’s Masidi Manjun was handed the coveted public works portfolio.

Not for long. Bung seized the works portfolio, which would handle big-ticket infrastructure projects, while Masidi becomes Second Finance Minister and Housing and Local Government Minister. 

Masidi, in a frustrated tweet, said he would tell all about the swap when he retires. Why wait? If he is unhappy about something, especially now he is an elected representative, he should say so!

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This begs the question: what kind of government does Sabah have now? Work has barely started and already the infighting has begun. Trouble in paradise!

So what’s in store for the state? Did all the people of Sabah really want this outcome? For a moment, there was this glimmer of hope: Sabah was on the cusp of attaining something extraordinary, that “I-have-a-dream” moment. That has gone now, and that brief euphoric anticipation is unlikely to return soon. Perhaps not in my lifetime?

It is sad to see how philosophical Sabahans have become. When asked for their thoughts on the recent election results and the new government, they seem sanguine about it all. The common theme in my many conversations with them is, “It’s okay. We are quite used to it!” 

We should be used to it, I guess, because we are now back to what it was like for the last 50-plus years, when little was done to raise the standard of living of the people in Sabah. Don’t get me wrong – many, many promises will be made by the new chief minister, his cabinet and perhaps even the prime minister.  We shall have to wait and see what happens.

The new state government will have to look into many important issues immediately. One of them is the influx of undocumented migrants. This began with the Barisan Nasional government and has been a thorn in the sides of Sabahans for many, many years. Will the new chief minister and his ministers have the guts to get the federal government to look into this and take proactive measures to stop the flow?

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What steps will the state government take to try to stop the worrying spread of the virus in Sabah, especially along the East Coast?

There is also the enormous question of the Malaysia Agreement 1963. During Shafie’s Apdal’s tenure as Chief Minister, he, together with Darrel Leiking and many others, fought for Sabah’s rights under the agreement: 17 out of the 21 matters discussed have been approved – four more to go. 

Will the new Sabah cabinet pursue this and defend the state’s rights regarding petroleum revenue, oil royalties, the return of 40% of revenue to Sabah and other issues under the Malaysia Agreement? Under the pre-2018 BN government, nothing was achieved despite all the chatter.

Many issues are stacked in the state government’s In tray. It must revitalise the economy, improve livelihoods and raise the quality of life of the people, especially those in the interior. It has to build proper transport links, improve internet connectivity and provide quality education for all. It must also ensure reliable electricity and water supply throughout the state. And that’s just off the top of my head!

Shafie Apdal and his Warisan party must play an effective role as the Opposition to ensure the state and federal government do not short-change the people again. Opposition assembly members must always speak for the people, as they are the people’s hope to ensure that promises made are kept.   

We have heard comments about Warisan’s inability to fulfil its election promises while in government these past two years. Several of these commenters are now in the new Sabah government for the next five years. How will they fare? Again, we shall wait and see.

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Those in the new Sabah government must always remember that the people who put them where they are now can always boot them out if they are unable to improve the people’s lot.

So beware, you are being watched!

Jem, an Aliran reader, still cares deeply about Sabah, despite having lived in the peninsula for some time

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