KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 11 — The federal opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) today slammed the ruling government's Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on Sabah's illegal immigrant issue, saying that it is "toothless" and "too late".
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had this afternoon said the RCI will have six months to investigate allegations that foreigners have been unlawfully awarded Malaysian identity cards (ICs) and included in the state's electoral roll.
DAP's Lim Kit Siang (picture) today told The Malaysian Insider that there is "an ocean of scepticism and doubt that the government is sincere with the RCI to resolve the long-standing problem", saying that the issue is four-decades-old.
"What are the areas that the RCI can investigate?" he asked. "What are the areas it can't go into?"
"Can RCI focus on Project M and call up Dr M to be star witness?" he asked, claiming that it is one of the "acknowledged causes".
The opposition has accused the government, primarily former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, of arbitrarily distributing Malaysian ICs to foreigners and registering them as voters in the electoral roll, allegedly to help BN stay in power.
Lim also asked why BN had to take six months to finalise the terms of reference, adding that this shows a lack of "real political will".
"There are doubts if the RCI is able to deal with it in six months with 1.5 to 2 million possible cases," he said, commenting on the six months given for the probe.
PKR Johor chief Datuk Chua Jui Meng mirrored his ally's lack of confidence, describing the RCI as "smoke and mirrors" by the PM to "obscure the issue and lessen the impact on the voting pattern in Sabah."
"We don't expect much from this RCI. Past RCIs have proven to be toothless," said the former Cabinet minister in a phone conversation.
"It doesn't have terms of reference to recommend action to be taken against those involved in issuance of blue IC or citizenship."
He said that this was a "cruel and evil omission", adding that it is a "gross injustice to people of Sabah."
Based on the eight-point terms of reference announced by Najib in Sabah, the panel will not identify the culprit behind the allegedly unlawful award of citizenships to foreigners, recommend any punishment or determine the reasons behind the award.
Chua criticised the appointment of "pro-establishment" figures to be part of the panel, but excluded the panel's chairman in his attack.
The five-member panel will be chaired by former Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Steve Shim Lip Kiong and will comprise four commissioners ― former Universiti Malaysia Sabah vice-chancellor Datuk Seri Prof Dr Kamaruzaman Ampon, former Sabah Attorney-General Tan Sri Herman J. Luping, Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation deputy chairman and former Kuala Lumpur police chief Datuk Henry Chin Poy-Wu, and former Sabah State Secretary Datuk Kee Mustafa.
Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Ministry secretary-general Datuk Saripuddin Kasim will act as the panel's secretary.
Chua's PKR colleague Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad also said that the terms of reference "doesn't say anything about clearing the electoral roll of illegal immigrants."
"If the elections are called before RCI itself (has finished the findings), then there would be no point," he said, referring to the 13th general elections that must be called by next April.
Two senior BN lawmakers had last month left the ruling coalition to pledge their support for PR, citing their frustrations over the government's delay in setting up the RCI.
The unchecked influx of illegal immigrants into Sabah has been a longstanding problem in the east Malaysian state, often blamed for the rise in social, economic and security problems.
According to replies provided in Parliament last year, Sabah’s populace numbered 651,304 in 1970 and grew to 929,299 a decade later. But in the two decades following 1980, the state’s population rose significantly by a staggering 1.5 million people, reaching 2,468,246 by 2000.
Media reports said that as of 2010, this number has grown further to 3.12 million, with foreigners making up a sizeable 27 per cent or 889,799 of the population.
Politicians across the divide have been lobbying for the panel's formation, lamenting that the unhealthy spike in the population of foreigners in Sabah would destroy the state's sovereignty.