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How M’sia is slowly ‘losing’ Sebatik
Published on: Monday, December 26, 2016

By Lagatah Toyos
Not many countries share an island that brings with it a host of unique problems.

Malaysia happens to be one of them and the island it shares in slightly less than equal proportion is located off Sabah along the southern border with Indonesian Kalimantan.

Less than half hour by boat from Tawau lies Pulau Sebatik which because of some quirk historical accident has resulted in its 452.3 sq km being carved out by the British and the Dutch under the Anglo-Dutch treaty when they colonised British North Borneo (now Sabah under Malaysia) and Indonesia, respectively, in the 1800s.

Upon independence, political ownership of the island was transferred to Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.

The island and Tawau on the Sabah mainland are separated by Cowie Bay of eight kilometres and reachable by speedboat.

It has 15 villages, including the Mini Estet Sejahtera Program (MESEJ) settlement with about 3,000 plus residents who occupy Kg Wallace Bay, Kg Sg Tongkang, Kg Sg Tongkang Lama, Kg Bergosong Besar, Kg Bergosong Kecil, Kg Pisak-Pisak, Kg Lahat-Lahat, Kg Sg Laba (Mesej), Kg Sg Pukul, Kg Mentadak Baru, Kg Sungai Tamang, Kg Sg Tamang Lama.

The three kampungs nearest the Indonesian border are Sg Aji Kuning, Sg Melayu and Sg Limau.

Over the years, Sebatik has gained notoriety as the entry and distribution point for goods smuggled from Malaysia, most notably cooking gas, fuel, cooking oil and sugar – all essentials and heavily subsidised by the Government for the benefit of Malaysian consumers.

Untold billions of ringgit are believed to have flowed out of Malaysia through this illegal channel – as well as through other east coast channels to the southern Philippine islands – throughout the 50 years of independence.

A recent two-pronged government strategy in the form of removal of some subsidies and tighter enforcement by Marine Police and Customs have helped minimise the problem somewhat.

Then there is the problem of immigrant arrivals as well as human and drug trafficking.

Just like United States President-elect Donald Trump who envisions building a wall along the Mexican border to keep illegals and would-be criminals out, Sebatik Assemblyman Datuk Abdul Muis Picho thinks only something similar would tackle the problems once and for all.

The elected representative since 2008 talks about building a concrete barrier spanning 27km from Kg Sungai Melayu, on our side, to Bambangan on the Indonesian side.

He said he would not be proposing such a drastic measure if not for the fact that Malaysia is losing territory virtually everyday on Sebatik due to silent encroachment.

“This (concrete barrier) will enable the Government to keep the nation’s border and sovereignty well protected while people enjoy harmony without fear or worry,” he said.

However, while Trump had said he would make the Mexicans pay for the wall that he would be erecting, Abdul Muis left it open as to whether the cost should be shared or borne by the Malaysian Government.

“This will be more effective in determining our areas especially the three kampungs (villages) that not only share the same land but also names – Kg Sg Aji Kuning, Kg Sg Melayu and Kg Sg Limau.”

According to him, the stone borders along the Malaysian side were being removed and thrown away by folks on the Indonesian side so that they can open up farms, plantations as well as settlements.

“Records from the Surveying and Mapping Department (Jupem) confirm these areas that are being encroached are ours.

“There must a new survey of the entire area participated by the survey and mapping teams from both nations to reclaim what is rightfully ours.

“Hence our appeal to the Federal Government to implement the concrete barrier proposal along the border.

Yes, there’s a Batu Putih with military control post (by Indonesian Govt) but having the stone border alone is not enough.

Our side is so visibly empty (in terms of border sign and security enforcement).

“Our security control seems too lax. People easily go in and go out due to the absence of our post and personnel.

We do have General Operations Force (PGA) post but it is located at Wallace Bay. They look after the sea and not the border, while our RM8 million police base at Kg Bergosong is far from the border,” Abdul Muis said.

“We need integrated enforcement badly in these three kampungs and I suggest the area be occupied, especially by military and assisted by police. It must also involve Immigration, Custom and Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperation and Consumerism (KPNDKK).

“They are all related to each other and must cooperate to look after our border and minimise the illegal activities.”

Abdul Muis said the Indonesians have a border army and police post at Sg Aji Kuning which clearly show their determination and enthusiasm for their beloved country,” he said, adding “we should learn from their enforcement team patriotism spirit”.

Hence why only a concrete border and integrated enforcement post would make establishing and maintaining the boundary so much easier and is working hard to make it a reality.

His view was shared by a villager in Kg Sg Limau, Arshad Awang Tengah, 71, who admitted being sometimes worried about their safety due to no border sign or even military or police post in the area.

Arshad, who is now a Village Security and Development Committee (JKKK) for the kampung, urged the Government to install a Border Gate at the Malaysian side to ensure the village area and plantations remain protected.

Nevertheless, he said, so far there has been good relationship between Malaysians and Indonesians living there.

The JKKK chairman for Kg Wallace Bay occupied by 1,236 villagers, Abdul Rahman Sudin, 53, said they were confident of the ability of those manning the PGA post in their kampung as well as the opening of Burst Point in 2015 at Jambatan Tanjung Arang.

About 500 metres from Burst Point is the post for Tentera Nasional Indonesia (TNI) known as Pos Kaca to look after their area.

Abdul Muis’ focus for the rakyat in Sebatik since being elected as representative there is much to provide in terms of better amenities, such as access road, agriculture road, jetty, 24-hour electricity, clean water and helping them out from poverty.

The eight Sedco shophouses at Kg Bergosong cost RM3m.

Previously, Sebatik was under Sri Tanjong constituency and represented by Parti Bersatu Sabah’s (PBS) Datuk Michael Lim Yun Sang and succeeded by fellow Barisan Nasional (BN) leader Datuk Dr Patawari Patawe (Umno) in 2008–2013.

“I’m been talking about the bandar or pekan sempadan (boundary town or city) few times already.

I wish Kg Sg Melayu to be developed (considering the number of folks and bigger area compared with two other kampungs) as pekan sempadan is just like Sungai Golok in Kelantan.”

He said Sg Melayu would make an ideal border town as it is the closest to the Indonesian.

One can clearly see the red roof of their Pejabat Kecil Daerah from three mango trees in Sg Melayu as symbol of border.”

Abdul Muis said the Indonesians living near our border depend on Malaysian goods for their daily life.

“There can be barter but we don’t sell our stuff such as gas cylinders at a subsidised price.

This is why we need the post and integrated enforcement to monitor the matter.”

Abdul Muis said Malaysian gas cylinders cost RM26 plus in Pulau Sebatik and can go up to RM60 in Nunukan and Tarakan.

The price can rise to RM60 at Sg Nyamuk or even RM100.

He hopes to discuss his concrete barrier plan with Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is also Home Minister in order to strengthen border control, instead of relying on Pos Kawalan Bersama at Serudong and Simanggaris.

The posts are manned jointly by both the Malaysia and Indonesia army.

He said no less than Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had stressed that the Government will never allow even an inch of Sabah land to be intruded when the so-called Royal Sulu Army occupied Tanduo in Lahad Datu in 2013.

He said the same should apply in the case of Pulau Sebatik in order to maintain good relations with Indonesia.

During a recent visit to Sg Aji Kuning, he found some of the houses built on the Malaysian side marked with the words “RI” (Republik Indonesia) on the wall, while others had the Indonesian flag.

He said it has also become normal to see Indonesian registered vehicles come in and out of Sg Aji Kuning and Sg Melayu.

“We don’t deny the closeness of family bonds may be the reason for this situation because many Malaysians are married to Indonesians.

“Besides, many pensioners have bought land in Sebatik to earn a living but are still Malaysian.

“About 40 of them vote during elections. We take them home during polling day,” Abdul Muis said.

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