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THE SABAH PROBLEM: By Dr. Jeffrey G. Kitingan


Out of the 2.797.8 million Malaysian Citizen in Sabah the Kadazandusun(343.4 thousand @ 24.6%) and Murut communities(53.9 thousand @ 3.9%), hereafter to be referred to as the 'KDM Community" forms the largest( 28.5%) of the Sabah Indigenous population(Jadual 2.12). More than two thirds (or about 70%) of the KDM Community live in the rural areas of Sabah and are mostly engaged in subsistence farming.

Tied to their rural farmland and traditional cultural practices they are often torn between money-culture and cultural values, between the freedom of self employment and regulations and the requirements of modern Government. And yet, they need to change and adapt to the modern economic and political realities of modern world.

They have no better choice. Since Sabah became independent through the formation of Malaysia, the KDM Community have tried to change and adapt. The opportunities were there for them to participate and even to play significant roles in the transformation process as well as in nation building.

The scenarios were different then. KDM leaders, like Tun Fuad Stephens, Datuk G.S. Sundang and Datuk Peter Mojuntin had fought for our present generation and had shown us their concern for our people and for the people of Sabah as a whole. Some of them had truly made sacrifices for the sake of our people. They died for us.

Today, the role and status of the KDM indigenous community is in shambles. The leaders are politically divided. No one really knows where the community is heading. KDM civil servants are transferred to insignificant positions, demoted or discriminated(1). The KDM leaders are fighting among themselves and are condemning one another.

Meanwhile, the KDM community remains the poorest of the poor with little hope of crossing the poverty line.(See Table 3.6 1984-1987). At the same time the status of Sabah as an independent State within Malaysia is about to be changed with the amendments to laws transferring the powers of the Chief Minister on land, forestry, mining, Yayasan Sabah to the TYT.

The intention to scrap the Twenty Points Agreement and reduce Sabah's status in the federation to that of the 12th and 13th Sates of Malaya is still hovering over us. Moreover, we are rapidly being outnumbered (Rajah 2.2) by the illegal immigrants from neighboring countries who are quickly acquiring local identity cards and citizenship rights. Under these conditions, people are asking, what is going to happen next ? Where are we going politically and economically ?

These are some of the questions that concern us. We need to quickly tackle these issues and concerns if we are to have any future in this country. We must act. We must communicate. We must establish a common vision for our future and set up mechanism(s) to realize this vision.

This paper is prepared at the KDI workshop with the sole purpose of bringing home this message of concern as basis for shaping the destiny of the KDM people.

(1) Many Sabah Foundation KDM Managers have been removed from their position and asked to become Consultants with no specific responsibilities. Some senior KDM Government Officers and District Officers have been "demoted" and replaced by junior officers - not from KDM


Most people, especially the KDM community, are unhappy about the present political and economic situation. Why ? because:

a) We see a bleak future

b) We (KDM) are not playing any significant role presently; not in control of situation

c) We (KDM) are not benefiting from the present situation

d) We are discriminated against and treated unfairly in terms of appointments and representation in cabinet, civil service, statutory bodies etc, as shown below; {as of May 1996}

Cabinet Representation

Muslim Bumiputera 5 (4 UMNO, 1 AKAR) Non Muslim Bumiputera 3 (2 PDS, 1 PBRS) Chinese 3 All SAPP Total 11

Civil Service Representation

a) Permanent Secretaries Malay Bumiputera 7 Non Muslim Bumiputera 3 Chinese 1 Total: 11 b) Statutory Bodies and Government Agencies (including Municipal Council) Malay Bumiputera 13 Non Muslim Bumiputera 2 Chinese 4 Total 19

c) District Officers Appointments Malay Bumiputera 15 Non Muslim Bumiputera (including one Sino-Kadazandusun) 4 Chinese 1 Total 20

Legislative Assembly

UMNO Elected 22 Nominated 2 PDS 11 AKAR 3 1 SAPP 5 MCA 1 GERAKAN 1 Total BN 43 3 INDEPENDENT 1 1 PBS 4 2 Total 48 6 = 54 2.1 Political Condition

KDM people are politically divided. There are too many KDM Led political parties , e.g.;

1) PBS - Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan

2) PDS - Datuk Bernard Giluk Dompok

3) AKAR - Datuk Mark Koding

4) PBRS - Datuk Joseph Kurup

5) Independent - Datuk Dr Jeffrey G. Kitingan

Each party and party leader advocates KDM nationalism and claims to fight for the interest of the KDM community. Yet, none of these parties are KDM specific party - they are all multi-racial parties. If these leaders could see the need for unity the KDM community could be strong politically. If they have political strength they can play a significant role in the government.

Appendix 1-V tells the story of politics in Sabah and how the KDM community have fared over the years since independence. From our short political history, the following can be noted.

1. Two KDM community leaders - Tun Fuad Donald Stephens and Datuk G.S. Sundang played significant roles in the formation of Malaysia.

2. G.S. Sundang was far sighted by insisting that Sabah must first gained self Government(Independent) before joining the Malaysia Project.

3. Tun Fuad Stephens was considered the overall leader of Sabah team due to his speaking and negotiating skills.

4. Political parties, even at the outset, were racially based. UNKO and Pasok Momogun (NPMO) for the KDM communities; USNO for the Malay/Muslim communities and SUP Sabah Unity Party) and DP(Democratic Party) for the Chinese. UNKO and Pasok Momogun later merged to become UPKO United Pasok Kadazan Organization) so did SUP and DP to become SCA (Sabah Chinese Association).

5. Thus, there were essentially three racial political groupings: viz; UPKO for KDM USNO for the Malay/ Muslims and SCA for the Chinese

6. In the first State election, 1967:

UPKO won 12 seats USNO won 14 seats SCA won 5 seats Independent won 1 seat

7. The Chinese played a power balancing role, even till today. In 1967, the Chinese through SCA, was King Maker - they partnered with USNO to form the state Government. Thus, the first USNO-SCA Government did not include any KDM. 8. UPKO went into opposition

9. Realizing the danger of the SCA King Maker role, Tun Mustapha and Tun Fuad Stephens tried to forge Bumiputera unity by dissolving UPKO and joining USNO as a vehicle for all Bumiputeras in Sabah.

10. Many from UPKO disagreed and formed new political parties, such as:-

a) USAP (United Sabah Action Party) b) USAPP (United of Sabah People's Party)

11. Tun Mustapha later turned Dictator; political freedom was lost. USNO-SCA defeated by BERJAYA.


12. BERJAYA was formed with KL's blessing and support. To challenge and defeat USNO-SCA administration (Tun Mustapha)

1976 Election Berjaya - 28 seats USNO / SCA - 20 seats

13. Less than six months of formation of BERJAYA Government, tragedy of 6th June, 1976 truck. A number of KDM leaders, including the Chief Minster Tun Fuad Stephens as well as Datuk Peter Mojuntin and Darius Binion perished in the plane crash.

14. Harris Salleh took over as Chief Minister and promoted development but later became authoritarian. Also discriminated and suppressed KDM people, who became dissatisfied.

15. PBS was born out of BERJAYA disillusionment. Though multi-racial, PBS was KDM led and supported largely by the voting public.


16. PBS era was considered the era of the KDM community. With the support of the people, it won three consecutive elections.

PBS USNO BERJAYA PASOK 1985 25 16 6 1 1986 35 12 1 0 1990 36 12 0 1 1994 25 0 0 0---23(BN)

17. Unfortunately, KL/PBS relationship was poor. The new Sabah leadership and the defeat of BERJAYA was unacceptable to KL. KL/Federal Government intervened in Sabah Government and politics. Resisted by PBS leaders.

18. 20 points Agreement was raised. PBS Labeled anti-federal/anti- Malaysia

19. Central agencies- ACA, IRD and ISA were activated to harass and bring down PBS leaders.

20. PBS pulled out of Barisan National(BN)

Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan detained Dr Maximus Ongkili detained Datuk Pairin Kitingan arrested/ taken to court

UMNO came to Sabah, New political scenario in Sabah

21. PBS leaders tried looking for solutions


22. KDM leaders went their separate ways to look for solutions

23. KDM people and leaders politically divided(as shown in appendix V)

As can be noted from the brief history of Sabah politics, State Government's rise and fall is determined by two very important factors:-

a) The role played by the Federal Government

b) The support of the rakyat

Note: The story of USNO, BERJAYA and PBS

Thus, to stay longer in power, a political party must have the support of the rakyat as well as the central government.( figure 1). 2.2 SOCIO ECONOMIC CONDITION

a) We are unhappy because: We remain the poorest (Table 3.7)

b) Our participation in the commercial and industrial sectors are negligible(Jadual 9.5)

c) We have no national corporate players and we neither own nor control any listed company

d) We have only few qualified and active contractors (List are in compilation process)

e) Most local shops are owned and run by people other than KDM, especially the non-Bumiputera(e.g. Statistics on Keningau)

f) We depend too much on other people

g) Others are getting richer, we are getting poorer

h) The NEP / DEB has not benefited KDM When the Malays political power base was shaken in 1969 and Malay leaders realized the political-economic conditions of the Malays, they did something about it.

They came up with the NEP that gave a lot of advantage and benefits to Bumiputeras, including the KDM community, but what happened in Sabah ?

Our people were at the helm of Government. Unfortunately, we failed to take advantage of these policies and special programs.

# Partly due to our failure in reaching out to the federal leaders and agencies of the central Government

# Partly due to our own ignorance

# Partly due to lack of initiatives

# Partly due to our giving too much attention and priority to politics rather than economics

Consequently, while Bumiputeras of the West prospered and became millionaires, we remained backward at the periphery.

KDM'S weak economic condition make them open, vulnerable, and dependent on others, especially the Government and politicians who can then exploit them. (Appendix 1 ; PD Concept - see KVI)


We are also losing many of our Cultural heritage and even our own cultural identity. Look at our language, for instance, and notice how few and insignificant are the writings of KDM communities in their own language; see how decreasingly our mother tongue is being spoken by our younger generation.

Just look at the forest and the jungles from which our elders used to collect plants for medicines, hunt animals for meat. They are being raped and destroyed by money hungry people with the assistance of our own community.

If we lose our forest and our elders, we lose a whole lot of the wisdom of our past and the social forces that bind us together as a community. These must be safeguarded. More aggressive stand on the environment, illegal logging, must be made. We should do more research to safeguard and develop the knowledge of the past and to find commercial values for them as well.

So we are unhappy because:

a) We are losing our identity, our language(mother tongue) and our cultural values

b) We are losing our ancient wisdom in medicine and nature and spirits destruction of burial grounds, deaths of Bobolians and medicine people.

c) We are deprived of our potential income from our cultural heritage by people from developed nations, who use their scientific know-how to steal from our natural heritage without payment.


As we look at ourselves, we begin to appreciate who we are and the conditions we in presently. These conditions call for a deeper examination of our selves as a community in order to overcome our problems of political disunity and economic backwardness.

What are the reasons for our conditions? How did we become like this? Let us examine and discuss some of the possible reasons and causes of our problems and see what can then be done about them.


There are many reasons for our political disunity and lack of economic progress. Some of these obstacles are quite apparent: disagreements, lack of skills, jealousy, self-interest, while others are inherent and go deep inside ourselves - negative attitudes, insecurity, cultural upbringing and so on. 3.1 LACK OF CONSENSUS AND A COMMON VISION Disagreements among our leaders is, perhaps, one of the most important reasons for our present conditions. Due to lack of consensus, we cannot produce a common vision for our future. We cannot even agree on what causes our present problems; what more to common vision. Yet, KDM community leaders often talk of the same thing - the same common concern; the need for unity and progress. What is it that lie behind this inability to agree - what are the factors that divide us? Quite a few.

a) Self Interest

Too much self-interest hidden at the hearts of men and women leaders often leads to disagreement and arguments. When self-interest takes precedent over common interest then views are expressed in forms and manner projecting and protecting individual or narrow concern. The larger concern for the community and for society is subordinated. Thus, the community loses out. Only the strong will survive and progress. The common people are always left out in the lurch. b) Ego and Pride

Nobody will admit it but ego is, perhaps, our strongest internal enemy. Leaders often take pride in themselves and want to be respected more than other leaders. Leaders with strong or high ego tend to be highly insecure and expects his or her opinion to be accepted over others. He or she tend to think that he/she is always right.

Such egoistic leaders discourage others from contributing. Leaders with high ego problems respect only themselves. They often refuse to see pr accept other people's point of view. Pride or ego keep leaders away from one another. So, instead of coming together and feeling enthusiastic about discussing common problems they stay away from one another and speak from a distance. c) Lack of Communication

This is the other factor. We do not talk enough to share our problems and common concern. We stay away. This is often the result of earlier problems or bad experience.

3.2 Dwelling on the past mistakes

Too often we dwell too much on the past. We tend to blame others for our conditions. We often keep looking back and dream or think of past glories rather than spend our energies doing something positive for the future. Furthermore, we often keep resentments inside of ourselves. This attitude prevents us from acquiring new ways of thinking and behaving. Thus, contributing to our present condition.

3.3 Jealousy and Crab Mentality

The KDM community tend to be jealous of the success of their own people. Though our individual desire is to succeed ourselves, we envy and often talk negatively of those who seemed to have achieve some success than ourselves. In fact, believe it or not, our own people often enjoy seeing the down fall of their own leaders and use the terms "kotoh", "kurah", " itulah", "kioh", "ino no konogi", to condemn the downfall of our own leaders in the community.

Very often, they do more than say those words; they try to bring one another down like crab pulling down other crabs to climb up a basket. In this way, not many "crabs" will succeed in getting out of the basket. The same thing happens to the KDM community. We should change this crab-mentality to that of " kilau mentality"

3.4 Overly Sensitive and Emotional

This is also our problem. KDM as a people are nice and sensitive which is good but because of this tend to be highly emotional. Our over sensitiveness and emotion often make us respond to external stimulus in a reactive and emotional way.

We often keep grudges and get hurt easily(mengaus/kumaus) and in that state of mind we cannot act objectively. Sometimes, we are so afraid of hurting others that we often go out of the way to please others. Faced with a problem or dilemma we often lose out because we let others dictate the terms.

3.5 Culture and Traditional Practices

Our cultural upbringing is also a factor in our under development condition. "Moginum" and "Magauk" for instance when done excessively as most of our people used to do, wastes time, weakens the body and often slows down our mental capacity.

Other traditional practices such as the purpose and objective of production, which is geared primarily for consumption and enjoyment and does not include the concept of savings and investment put us at a disadvantage commercially and economically.

The same shortcoming arises out of the production process wherein the concept of marginal cost is absent. Instead total casts and maximum participation is considered the more important factor. Under these cultural constraints KDM people loses on economic competitiveness.

3.6 Lack of Progressive Institution and Leadership

Another very important factor is our lack of progress institutions and leadership. Until recently the KDM community are only interested in becoming successful politicians, business people and civil servants. They do so without any institutional supports. The only known institutions they are familiar with are political parties, associations( or cultural organization) or government departments. Consequently, they know how to unite and associate among themselves but lack institutional supports of how to bring positive change and developments.

Institution building, especially progressive institutions is a basic requirement for progress and development without such institutions, we cannot go far.

We need research and analyses of our problems and conditions, we need vehicles to generate and implement ideas. We also need learning and training institutions.

In addition, we need progressive and forward looking leaders not leader that dwell on the past nor those that spend most of their energies and resources castigating and blaming other leaders. We do not solve problems that way nor can we progress and overcome our problems.

Progressive institutions and leadership are a must if we are to progress. There are only few such KDM related institutions at the moment. KDI, the Murut Foundation(inactive), the People Development Foundation(PDF), Pacos, INDEP and a few commercial or corporate organizations owned and operated by KDM personalities.

Often even such institutions are misunderstood and do not get the full support of the community because of jealousies and the crab-mentality we described earlier.

3.7 Attitudes

KDM community suffers from an attitude problem. Negative attitude, "Tidak apa" attitude and wait and see(nanti) attitude, no sense of urgency etc. The various cartoon's illustrate some of KDM's way of viewing the world and behaving(see cartoons attached)


Given the reasons for our predicament we can now discuss how we can solve our problems and shape our future. The reasons identified and discussed in this paper are not exhaustive. We have merely discussed the main causes. Nevertheless, these are sufficient for our purpose.


a) The first step is realization of our own shortcomings and the acceptance of the present reality.

b) The second step is the desire for solution. We may know that we are faced with a problem and that we are part of that problem but unless there is a real desire for a solution the problem will remain.

c) The third step is to communicate, to talk, to share and to discuss. This is what we are ding right now. And we do need to communicate more.

d) Only after these steps are taken can we move toward making specific recommendations. The following steps are further recommended.

4.2 Where do we go from here?

a) Establish a common vision of the future. What do we want to be and where do we want to go from here?

b) Establish a common vehicle - How do we get there?

c) Formulate and apply a common strategy

d) Establish and support Progressive Institutions - set up mechanisms

e) Formulate strategic Action Plans to deal with each problem area -political, economic or socio-cultural.


a) Economic

o Understand the NEP, DEB and other Government policies and know what they are offering, especially to Bumiputeras, e.g. see appendix a-g

o Set up a Help Me Business or Consulting Center for KDM community

o Establish a KDM Chamber of Commerce

o Establish a Net Work or convert and use existing ones for contacting one another

o Buy from one another

o Capitalize on our land endowment and ownership (Find ways of converting Native Land for better economic and productive use)

o Educate and modernize our farmers

o Change our attitudes

o Set up Research and Training Institutions

b) Socio-Cultural

o Teach and speak mother language o Encourage writings in KDM Languages o Establish Biodiversity Center in KDI o More Research and Development o More Understanding

c) Political o Dissolve or Merge all KDM led political parties o Unite under one political party o Forget the past. Focus on Now and Future o Communicate


Every problem has a solution. We do have problems and are unhappy about the present situation. It is best that we accept these problems as our own.

Better still we blame ourselves for our predicament instead of blaming others. By doing so, we are taking up responsibilities for our own future conditions. We should learn from our mistakes and keep on improving as we move forward into the future. Perhaps we need a little more self discipline, a little more sharing and communication.

We need to be more objective and realistic without sacrificing too much of our good cultural values. We definitely need to do more for our selves and to be less dependent.

We need to capitalized on our strength as a community and translate this strength into tangible socio-economic and political benefits. We need to focus more on economics and education. We need to pull and push one another out of the pit of poverty. If we work together, we can make it.

The end