When the government announced the formation of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM), I said to myself, “About bloody time!”. I imagined security sectors formed from Kudat to Sandakan to Lahad Datu to Semporna and Tawau, mirroring what we used to have along the Malaysian-Thai border during the Communist insurgency such as Kota Alfa, Kota Bravo, Kota Charlie and Kota Delta spanning Kuala Perlis to Tumpat. The initial aim was to combat the communist guerrillas and stopping their infiltration from Southern Thailand. After the treaty in December 1989, we had elements of the Unit Pencegahan Penyeludupan (UPP) or the Anti-Smuggling Unit operating in these areas in a supporting role, to curb the smuggling of contrabands and also human trafficking.
Instead, I find it rather amusing when the Ketua Setiausaha Negara announced that Datuk Mohammad Mentek has been appointed as the Director of ESSCOM effective April 1st. What is wrong with this appointment? Mohammad Mentek is the Director of Immigration for the state of Sabah, the agency that, in my opinion, has failed badly in curbing the in-flow of illegal Filipino and Indonesian immigrants into that state.
The New Straits Times ran a story on Mohammad Mentek’s appointment and a statement by the KSN that was complemented by Mohammad’s curriculum vitae; citing even that Mohammad would be very experienced in the field of security and public order.
This April 1st appointment has to be an April’s Fool joke with an extremely bad taste. Surely the KSN should know the functions of the Immigration Department like the back of his hand. If I may provide a memory-jogger for all, the. immigration Department’s functions are:
2. Issuing of visas, passes and permits to Foreign Nationals entering Malaysia.
3. Administering and managing the movement of people at authorised entry and exit points.
4. Enforcing the Immigration Act 1959/63, Immigration Regulations 1963 and Passport Act 1966.
If you think I made the above up, read it here. How much of an expert do you think the Sabah Director of Immigration would be in the field of counter-insurgency warfare, joint-command operations and public order? Other than the pen being mightier than the sword, I doubt if the person’s handled anything more than the butter knife, let alone deploy battalions of soldiers and policemen in combat situations.
This is another example of the government missing out on a good opportunity to make things better. Obviously, the main concern when we talk about Sabah right now is its defence from foreign elements. With the heavy presence of our security forces there, we can only see illegal immigrants returning to their homeland, and not the other way round. Therefore, the government should have had a clear aim (again, quoting from the Principles of WAR) in ensuring its strategies in making Sabah more secure conform to this aim. A concept called Defence-in-Depth should have been adopted instead where the Army and Police’s General Operations Force occupy the peripheral islands off Sabah, as being done in Ops PASIR, supported by the Navy, Marine Police and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. These are the front-liners that will be meeting armed militants head-on. Onshore, defence and security should be effected by the Army and Police. The Immigration Department will just stick to its supporting role, weeding out illegal immigrants.
Therefore, in my opinion, the ESSCOM should be jointly-directed by the Deputy Commander of the Army’s 1st Division, one of the deputies of the Commissioner of Police, Sabah, and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency’s Head of Regional Enforcement for Sabah and Labuan. The reason is because they are in-charge of the combat and combat-capable units operating in this region, not the Immigration.
In conclusion, the choice of the Director of Immigration for Sabah as the Director for ESSCOM is a grave mistake. I respect the person for who he is, but if the government wants to be seen serious in protecting the Malaysians in the state of Sabah, leave the job to the professionals. Not someone who holds a Master of Science (Statistics) degree and a Bachelor of Science (Mathematics) degree from the University of Minnesota, United States.