MP SPEAKS | As a former defence and home affairs minister, and head of the defence shadow committee under BN, it is my duty to highlight crucial drops in allocations towards defence and security for the state of Sabah.
Certain allocations for the Ministry of Defence’s activities in Sabah were significantly reduced in Belanjawan 2019 tabled by the Pakatan Harapan government:
Firstly, the budget for maritime security was reduced by RM583,930,800 in comparison to the previous budget. Maritime security covers the Royal Malaysian Navy’s operations to pursue defence cooperation through bilateral or multilateral efforts such as the Trilateral Cooperative Arrangement (TCA) which was established jointly under my tenure with the Indonesian Defence Ministry and Philippines Defence Ministry.
The TCA covers air and maritime patrols to ensure the Sulu Sea remains safe and is not exploited by groups affiliated to the Islamic State; and
Secondly, a RM22,607,200 reduction for operations in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone); and
-Thirdly, RM0 allocated for the forward operating bases in Labuan and Lahad Datu along with aviation systems for the protection of Sabah’s coastlines.
These reductions are very concerning especially in light of the Information Sharing Centre of Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (Recaap) report released by Marine Link on Oct 30.
Recaap had received information from the Philippines Coast Guard regarding 10 Abu Sayyaf group members, armed with pistols, rifles and grenade launchers, planning to carry out kidnappings at several undisclosed locations in Sabah.
The portal reports the kidnappers are targeting businesspersons or crews of foreign vessels, using unmarked blue-and-white coloured “motor banca” locally known as “jungkong” which are speedboats specially designed for shallow waters.
In addition, the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) commander Hazani Ghazali confirmed on Oct 31 that Esscom had received similar information from his counterpart in the Philippines and placed Esscom on high alert. It was reported that security was intensified with assets being deployed at the front control posts to boost maritime security.
With these serious developments, just days before Budget 2019 was tabled on Nov 2, it is alarming that the federal government proceeded with the budget cuts for the Ministry of Defence even when the total budget allocated for 2019 was larger than 2018. With such a huge budget, why was the defence for the people of Sabah not placed as a priority?
Also, just two days ago, the Royal Malaysian Police’s inspector-general stated that raids were successfully conducted in Sabah which resulted in the arrest of seven Philippine nationals who are members of the Abu Sayyaf group involved in kidnapping for ransom in the southern Philippines and Sabah.
Out of those captured, one was an Abu Sayyaf commander and a right-hand man of Furuji Indama (a senior leader of the group); one was a child soldier recruiter who used children as human shields during the previous battles with the Philippine military in Basilan, southern Philippines; and one was capable of producing firearms for the group’s use.
This is extremely worrying as the security problem in Sabah is clearly not limited to securing borders and stopping criminals from entering the state as many such criminals were already there, living among the locals.
For this reason, other than increasing or deploying existing assets to Sabah’s borders, the federal government must also focus its intelligence efforts in Sabah, working closely together with intelligence agencies in Indonesia and the Philippines whose links were further strengthened during my tenure as defence minister.
Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu has stated publicly that there is no serious threat in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone), that waters in Sabah are still safe, and gave his assurance that Sabah’s security is under control but this is far from the truth.
The promises and rhetoric that Pakatan Harapan continues to release publicly are not matched by reality. The threats that exist do not seem to be addressed by the Defence Ministry and if these spending trends continue, the government will seriously undermine Malaysia’s defence capabilities, especially in Sabah.
HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN is member of Parliament for Sembrong.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.