Nothing Much To Shout About Despite Big Bucks For Esscom – Terry

Machine-gun lade jeeps have been stationed in Lahad Datu ever since the Sulu army attack in 2013. - File photo
Machine-gun lade jeeps have been stationed in Lahad Datu ever since the Sulu army attack in 2013. – File photo
Terrence Siambun
Terrence Siambun

LETTER: Correct me if I am wrong but an estimated total of RM1.65 billion had been allocated to the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCom) since it was first set up in 2013, yet cross-border criminal network and kidnapping cases still taking its toll.

The people are now demanding for justification for such a massive investment that has failed to prevent the illegal activities in Sabah waters. The number of kidnapping for ransom cases has increased tremendously compared to before ESSCom exist. We do hear at times that Esscom has managed to thwart x number of cases of would be crime.

This year alone, a total of 11 people were kidnapped from April to September. Millions of Ringgit (or pesos – the Philippines currency) in ransom has been demanded by the Sulu kidnappers. Several off-shore robberies have also taken place while the coming-in and going-out of illegal immigrants is still rampant despite of the so-called tight security.

I personally have lost count of how many people has been abducted ever since ESSCom was introduced. But the point is what has the government done to establish ESSCom to a force that could prevent such activities from continuing.

Najib, white shirt, keeps announcing funds for Esscom in his annual budgets, but is the money being spent.
Najib, white shirt, keeps announcing funds for Esscom in his annual budgets, but is the money being spent.

A question I would like to ask, and perhaps which lingers in the minds of many – do we have the right men at the helm. Are they experienced enough not only to tackle the problem, but to think ahead before the Abu Sayyaf can even strike.

The Barisan Nasional government, through Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak has allocated yet another RM323 million to ESSCom in the 2017 budget. I hope the multimillion Ringgit allocation will further boost ESSCom’s capability. Many people has been talking about it and the government should justify the security investments to the people of Sabah by making ESSCom more competent.

This brings me back to a statement made by Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (then Home Minister) that the Government is set to acquire attack helicopters to strengthen the strike capabilities of security forces under Esszone. He was quoted in the Star (May 09 2014) as saying that they were looking at either the Eurocopter Tigre or Apache Longbow helicopter. The idea was to deploy such helicopters in cutting off pirate group from crossing the border. The question is, more than two years later – where are the helicopters and where are they based.

File photo of a Boeing AH-64D Apache which the Malaysian government had wanted for Esszone. - Photo credit : Ivan Voukadinov 
File photo of a Boeing AH-64D Apache which the Malaysian government had wanted for Esszone. – Photo credit : Ivan Voukadinov

The government must be more responsible to ensure people of Sabah do not live in fear despite knowing the fact the ESSCom has been spending so much of the tax payers money. Enough of feel-good statements about acquiring this asset or that, but it remains mere talk.

The recent exposure by a (Indonesian television station) video that went viral over social media, revealed the lack of security at Tawau maritime borders. The integrity of ESSCom personnel has been put into question as they can (allegedly) easily be bribed between RM50 – RM100 as shown in the video. To date, none of the officers said to be involved have been apprehended.

Checks are made on 'foreign' vessels in Malaysian waters, yet there are still leakages as immigrants are still finding ways to sneak in.
Checks are made on ‘foreign’ vessels in Malaysian waters, yet there are still leakages as immigrants are still finding ways to sneak in.

Mind you, Sabahans are not keeping quiet. The people have been complaining. Even BN component parties are also voicing out their dissatisfaction over the ‘fear’ created as a result of ESSCom’s incompetency. To whom shall the people of Sabah rely on, if not the government.

For the record, before the latest allocation, ESSCom was given RM146.9 million to set up its operations in the East Coast of Sabah in 2013. The following year, Najib increased the amount to a whopping RM660m followed by RM523m in 2015. It was claimed that various assets were purchased to boost ESSCom’s capabilities, including radar to detect moving boats in Malaysian waters.

Malaysian soldiers in an undisclosed location in Sabah's east coast. Are there enough facilities for them?
Malaysian soldiers in an undisclosed location in Sabah’s east coast. Are there enough facilities for them?

However, till this date, ESSCom has failed to formulate a holistic strategy, as well as to empower its intelligence aspect, to ensure Malaysia’s territorial waters are not easily trespassed by cross-border criminals.

ESSCom’s intelligence capability must be improved to ensure effectiveness in monitoring our long border. I do not see such move were made available to the frequently increased number of personnel of ESSCom in East Coast Sabah.

We should not be afraid to point fingers at the government if we are sincere enough with our issues. The people of Sabah have every right to query about ESSCom as it uses the tax payers hard earned money. Therefore I urge the government to ensure ESSCom is justified and not just another mega project that does not produce results for Sabahan.

TERRENCE SIAMBUN
Treasurer, Parti Warisan Sabah
Assemblyman – Moyog

  • This letter has been edited for clarity.