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Sabah Drops Plan to Introduce Special ID for Non-Malaysians

Noah Lee and Zam Yusa
Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
2020-01-23
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Villagers use boats to travel from one island to another in Kota Kinabalu in the Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah on June 14, 2015.
Villagers use boats to travel from one island to another in Kota Kinabalu in the Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah on June 14, 2015.
AFP

Malaysia’s home ministry has canceled a planned single identity card for foreigners living in Sabah because the local government said it would not implement the program after the state’s ruling party lost a by-election on Jan. 18, officials said.

The state cabinet on Wednesday decided to cancel the proposed Sabah Temporary Pass (PSS), which was to be introduced in June and would have helped Malaysia monitor its border with the Philippines, Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal said.

The card was expected to standardize documents held by foreigners in the two states in Malaysian Borneo and aid law enforcement operations, Home Affairs Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said as he announced the card program on Jan. 13. The card, to be renewed every three years, was to contain security features including the holder’s biometrics, and could be obtained for a fee of 120 ringgit (U.S. $29).

Shafie said his cabinet took into account two issues before deciding to drop the project and notifying the home ministry.

“Not only the Kimanis by-election, but the complaints from people as a whole – they said they did not want to see it implemented,” he told reporters.

Mohamad Alamin, a candidate for the opposition Barisan Nasional coalition, defeated Warisan Party candidate Karim Bujang by more than 2,000 votes in Saturday’s parliamentary by-election. Afterward, Najib Razak, the former prime minister and former chief of Barisan Nasional, said the outcome showed that the state government should cancel the temporary pass program.

Sabah has a population of 3.9 million, including about 1.1 million non-citizens, according to official statistics. Muhyiddin had said more than 136,000 people living in Sabah would be eligible for the card.

On Thursday, Shafie said the state would carry on with efforts to monitor foreigners.

“The state government will continue to carry out our responsibility in managing the undocumented migrants … we will try our best to ensure that this would not affect the security as well as the environment of our state,” he said.

The home ministry, meanwhile, said it was aware of the Sabah decision.

“The ministry wants to stress that efforts to settle issues of refugees in Sabah is the commitment of both the federal government together with the Sabah state government, which must be carried out continuously and more meticulously without jeopardizing the rights of the citizens, as well as the interests and security of the people of Sabah,” the ministry said in a statement.

‘Rebranding’

Analyst Lai Yew Meng of the Universiti Malaysia Sabah supported the action.

“The decision by the Sabah state government to not push ahead with the plan to introduce the PSS reflects its position as a democratically elected government that respects the decision of the people of Sabah, who have made clear their objection toward the newly proposed documentation during the Kimanis by-election,” he told BenarNews.

He said the state government was wise to drop the single I.D. card program for the time being because of the negative public sentiment and lack of understanding of its security function.

“The introduction or ‘rebranding’ of this security document in the foreseeable future would undoubtedly have to be preceded by more comprehensive stakeholder engagement,” he said.

Such efforts were needed, he said, “to ensure the general public be more politically literate and aware of the need for such an identification and documentation measure to address the perennial problem of illegal immigrants and refugees in Sabah.”

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