FRANCIS PAUL SIAH
COMMENT “Why is Abang Jo doing this to me?” sighed Dr Jeffrey Kitingan (above) in his late night message to me on Jan 9.
The Sabah Opposition Leader was in constant communication with me over the past 48 hours prior to Jan 9 as he was scheduled to speak at a forum on Independence in Kuching scheduled for Jan 11 at my invitation.
The forum entitled, “Independence: The Final Destination” was hosted by the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS), the NGO which I head.
On Jan 8, Jeffrey informed me that he was waiting for “immigration clearance” to enter Sarawak and was expected to be in Kuching on Jan 10.
Then came the bombshell at 11.24pm on Jan 9 when Jeffrey finally confirmed that he was barred from entering, upon receiving a letter from the Sarawak Immigration Department.
Both Jeffrey and I did not expect this. When I invited him in late November to be on the forum panel, Jeffrey had probably assumed that he was allowed to enter Sarawak. So did I.
After all, in September last year, he was allowed entry for three days to attend a meeting with Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg, during which they discussed issues pertaining to the rights of Sabah and Sarawak.
Four months later, he was denied entry. This was unexpected.
When I was asked on Jeffrey’s absence at the forum and why he was disallowed entry, I could offer no reason. Even Jeffrey himself was at a loss as to why he was barred.
I am aware that no reason has ever been offered to those barred from entering Sarawak and I will not request for any.
Taking the Sarawak government or the chief minister to court is also a futile exercise as immigration is Sarawak’s autonomy and the chief minister has the right and sole discretion in the use of that power.
As a Sarawakian, I would also want that immigration autonomy to be jealously guarded in the interests of my homeland. However, when that autonomy is abused, then it takes on a different dimension altogether.
I was glad when the late chief minister Adenan Satem placed known unsavoury characters such as Ibrahim Ali and Ridhuan Tee Abdullah on the persona non grata list in years gone by.
Many Sarawakians were also happy when fugitive preacher Zakir Naik and other known Umno rabble-rousers and PAS fanatics were also on the Sarawak Immigration’s black list.
But I recall speaking up for personalities like Clare Rewcastle-Brown (above, on left) and Ambiga Sreenevasan (on right) when they were barred. I did so too for now Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu when he was denied entry before GE14.
Today, let me appeal to my chief minister to lift the entry ban on Jeffrey.
Having known Jeffrey since my working stint in Sabah in the late 1980s, I believe I can vouch for his integrity and credibility. Jeffrey is no threat to Sarawak in any form; on the contrary, he is a friend of Sarawak.
I have never heard of Jeffrey getting involved in undesirable or violent activities. Throughout his years in politics, he has always been harping on the rights of Sabah.
Neither have I heard of Jeffrey being involved in corrupt practices. I have the utmost respect for lawmakers who are morally upright, not greedy and stay away from sleazy deals.
It is true that Jeffrey was incarcerated by Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the mid 1990s on suspicion of attempting to take Sabah out of Malaysia.
But a few years later, Mahathir also found it worthy to appoint Jeffrey as a deputy federal minister, making him a senator too in order to effect that ministerial appointment.
So, there was nothing ‘prodigal’ about the prodigal son from Sabah after all, going by Mahathir’s handling of Jeffrey.
Today, Jeffrey is the Keningau MP and state assemblyperson for Tambunan. He is also the new Sabah opposition leader as his party, Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku Sabah (Sabah STAR) has the most number of state representatives among the opposition parties.
In my article in April last year, I described Jeffrey as the most consistent Sabah politician on the issues surrounding the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) and the return of Sabah’s rights.
Even a Sarawak GPS minister responded positively then, sending me this message: “Dr Jeffrey has not only been consistent with his MA63 struggle. He has also been persistent, despite the odds against him. This is most admirable. Others only look at his weaknesses, but I share your salute for him.”
To Abang Jo (above), this is what a cabinet colleague of yours thinks of Jeffrey. Perhaps, you should seek the views of some of your ministers and rethink your decision to bar Jeffrey.
I will not be appealing to you on behalf of people who are not genuine friends of Sarawak and Sarawakians.
Sabah and Sarawak have a shared destiny in this Federation of Malaysia.
“We went in together, we will get out together”. And this was Jeffrey’s topic at the Jan 11 forum.
Although Jeffrey was not physically present, teleconferencing saved the day as it enabled him to address the audience.
In his address, Jeffrey said that Sarawak and Sabah were being treated and exploited like colonies.
On independence for the two territories, he said: “We have journeyed and suffered together.
“At the end of the day, if we decide to exit or separate (from Malaysia), I think we should do it together when we are ready. Yes, we should do it together.”
And this is exactly what I expect a real friend of Sarawak to say.
Sarawakians and Sabahans are definitely stronger together in facing the many new and difficult challenges ahead.
So, dear Abang Jo, please lift the entry ban on a good and faithful Borneon brother. This is my earnest appeal to you, as a fellow Sarawakian, to show your wisdom, foresight and compassion in handling Jeffrey’s case.
FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at email@example.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.