A nine-minute video showing the ease Indonesian immigrants cross illegally into Tawau daily via Batu-Batu, Sabindo must be like ice cold water being splashed on the faces of the top brass at the much-maligned Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom).
The video, a production of TransMedia Indonesia TV station for its programmeKontroversi7@Trans_7, strips bare the nice, beautiful picture Esscom’s public relations experts had tried to portray.
A picture that depicted the command had plugged the state’s porous eastern seaboard from illegal immigrants, smugglers, Suluk militants, kidnappers and God know who else since the private army of the so-called Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo landed in Lahad Datu in 2013 to assert their claim over eastern Sabah.
As expected, the first reaction from agencies affected was to question the authenticity of the video.
Tawau district police chief jumped to strongly deny the video narrator’s claim that “hundreds” of illegal Indonesian immigrants could cross into Tawau easily daily for the benefit of his superiors in Kota Kinabalu and Bukit Aman because there was a segment showing the longboat the TV crew were in with a few immigrants whizzed past a police boat on picket duty by mere metres unchallenged.
He’s saying it because he’s not catching them by the hundreds daily.
The figures reported are not true, ACP Fadil Marsus was quoted by local Sabah media to have said on the claims by the video.
Fadil reportedly said they — I assume he’s referring to his police force — “have never compromised on issues related to immigration offences and have continuously conducted preventive operations, investigations and detentions to curb illegal immigrants either through joint operations with other agencies or elements in the police force”.
I’m sure they are but all the good work and effort are being undone by a few dirty law enforcement officials.
Instead of going into a denial mode as they always tend to do, enforcement officials in Esscom should look at the flip side of the video as there are some good in it which they could learn something.
Well, it showed the modus operandi of the people smugglers.
It’s not too sure if this is the stupidity on the part of the people smugglers to reveal their modus operandi or a bait to lull law enforcers away from their true operation.
But that is something for the enforcers to find out.
The video claimed bribes of between RM50 and RM100 are paid to grease the hands of these dirty officials.
The video also claimed illegal immigrants, who paid up to 5 million rupiah or about RM1,600 to be smuggled into Tawau, was to meet the demands of plantation companies as there were suggestions in the video that plantation companies helped facilitate the smuggling.
The fact that the “tekong” (boatman) kept telling the TV crew and the immigrants to be inconspicuous and lie low in the boat, lay up in “safe boats” until it’s safe to continue their journey, showed there are still some enforcement and there is a chance they could still be caught.
What is worrying is that beside the claim that hundreds of illegal immigrants are flooding into Tawau daily, the video claimed that for every immigrant caught and deported back, 20 others would be heading in the opposite direction.
It also claimed that some of those deported in the morning could be on the next boat later in the day heading back to Tawau.
Millions of ringgit had been budgeted to Esscom yearly to secure the 10 districts – Kudat, Kota Marudu, Pitas, Beluran, Sandakan, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Semporna and Tawau – under the Eastern Sabah Safety Zone (Esszone).
Esscom, chaired by the Sabah chief minister, is the authoritative body that oversees Esszone, an area that covers 1,400km of the east coast from Kudat to Tawau.
The porosity of the coastline and difficulty to plug it showed during the 2013 standoff when wounded Suluk fighters and those escaping a near rout by the joint military and police counter offensive managed to sneak past the naval picket line when they made their way back to the safety of their bases in southern Philippines.
Esscom was modelled after Sarawak’s highly successful Rejang Security Command (Rascom) of the70s to fight the communist insurgency in Sibu and the Rejang River basin.
While Rascom was a huge success and played a large part in quelling the insurgency in Sarawak, the same cannot be said of Esscom so far.
Statistics showed more Malaysians and tourists alike are kidnapped for ransom from the seas and resorts along the eastern seaboard after the formation of the command than before it.
Kidnappings more or less pounded the state’s tourism industry along the seaboard.
There are a lot of claims the command was mired in inter-agency rivalry and incompetency that led it to not showing the result people in Sabah had hoped for.
If Esscom does not shape up and dirty officials weeded out and thrown into jail, maybe the government should consider other options to secure the coastline.
There are even cynical suggestions by some Sabahans that the insecurity along the eastern seaboard was not only purposely created by Putrajaya in order to make the state, just starting to reclaims and reassert its autonomy, very dependent on Putrajaya for its protection, the illegal immigrants are part of a “new wave” of voters to be registered ahead of the coming General Election.
So unless and until Esscom shapes up and there is some semblance of security, such cynicism would continue to grow and lead to other problems.
Laja Lang@The Heat Malaysia Online