The spate of kidnappings had started and this time with the kidnapping of the 10 gypsy fishermen. Luckily, they were found safe and unharmed. The incident occurred at 2.45am when the 6pm to 6am curfew in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSzone) was enforced. Although, the fishermen were foreigners and had violated curfew hours, the existence of such threats lurking in waters off Sabah gives an uncomfortable feeling.
Numerous propositions have been put forth but yet these violations continue to exist. Many reasons have been attributed to this for example lack of strategic enforcement, local communities still being sympathetic towards the kidnappers, and so forth. But the fact of the matter is if such threats continue to exist in the waters off eastern Sabah, then people would have to constantly live in fear.
As pointed out by the Fishermen Association chairman Datuk Arsit Sedit who said that “the order for no activities at sea to take place from dusk-to-dawn was meant for the safety of all communities in Beluran, Sandakan, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Semporna and Tawau”. This is a lot of districts and easily involves a population of about one million people!
Does this mean that people from this part of Sabah would have to be constantly live in fear?
The State administration may consider that matter ‘not under their jurisdiction’ and may have left security measures under the jurisdiction of the federal government. This thought must change. It is time for the State government to play a more proactive role in helping achieve the objectives of ESSzone to ensure peoples’ safety. Work closely with the Federal government if you don’t have the means to protect the people.
Why this is important? If, this matter is ignored, the local communities will face the risk of poor economic growth. Local investors, let alone foreign ones, would rather invest in far safer havens and bypass the economic opportunities in Beluran, Sandakan, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Semporna and Tawau.
Tourists would avoid such conflicting destinations. So, why should investors invest in these areas? If this perception is fixated amongst the business community, the communities would suffer. The Sabah administration seems to be slow in reacting and lacks the foresight in addressing such issues.
The Chief Minister and related ministries should initiate efforts to safeguard the safety of the affected communities in a proactive manner and relief peoples’ and investors’ concerns. Too many kidnappings, some resulting in gruesome murder have since occurred and the onus is on the state government to do more enforcement. ESSzone is important but a more comprehensive solution must be sought if Sabah intends to promote tourism in a big way.
No point blaming the federal government on any shortcomings of ESSzone. As a responsible state government, the onus lies on you to ensure the safety and the well-being of the communities to prevent future incursion of kidnappers and illegals into the state from various monitored and unmonitored entry points.