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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

To Trade or Not To Trade

GE14 had led to a change in the national political landscape.  Amongst other, the ruling party in Sabah had changed hands from Barisan Nasional to Warisan.  One of the earliest initiatives made by Datuk Seri Shafiee Apdal was to revoke the ban on barter trade with Southern Philippines and the usage of water pump sampans. 

The barter trade ban which implemented during the administration of Datuk Seri Musa Aman following requests from Eastern Sabah Security Commission (ESSCOM) as a two-prong measure.  The first prong was to prevent or minimise the illegal entry of immigrants from Southern Philippines.  This part of the prong functions in preventing Kidnap-For-Ransom (KFR) and other militant elements from entering Sabah.  This prong has been largely successful.  Since implementation, there were no known attempts to infiltrate Sabah from the sea and no kidnap attempts.

The second prong works as a pressure tool on Southern Philippine civilian population to give up on the KFR and other militant groups.  Southern Philippines by virtue being located far from Manila, is not well connected with the rest of the Philippines.  With weak logistical support, Southern Philippines had to rely on barter trade with Sabah to keep prices of goods low in the region. 

The ban on the barter trade had resulted in cost of living in the region to skyrocket.  As cost of living escalates, this indirectly resulted in the locals resenting the presence of Abu Sayyaf and other KFR groups in their vicinity, with the intention to get the locals to stop supporting these group and help local Philippine police to rid of these threats. 

Collateral Damage
Unfortunately, the ban had led to many business owners in eastern Sabah, especially Sandakan facing poor economic prospect.  A rough estimate given by a local Sabahan politician had placed the potential loss of income to these traders range in the millions, as these traders get to buy valuable goods from Southern Philippines. 

Water-pump Sampans
The second ban is on the usage of water-pump sampans.  While flimsy in nature, these water-pump powered sampans can easily outrun most of our security personnel's boats in the region.  This result in difficulties in policing the waters. Hence, necessitated the ban of these boats.

It is unfortunate that the state government is trying to get these unbanned.  While the ban did resulted in difficulties to the locals, both bans had largely resulted in better security in the region.

Unstable Security 
Furthermore, security in the region is still unstable.  Probably thinking that our security apparatus are no longer focusing on them, a group suspected to be either pirates of KFR had tried to infiltrate Lahad Datu just last week.  They were foiled as the crew of the boat they had boarded had quickly locked themselves up after sending distress signals to security forces. 

This incident proved that it is too early to even consider uplifting the ban.  If the state government is really concerned of the safety and security of Sabahan, they should stop trying to get the bans uplifted, and instead find ways to improve the livelihood of average Sabahans.  After all, the recent spate of fires in Sabah would have resulted in many Sabahan of losing their own homes. Or they not. 

On another front, the Minister of Defence, Haji Mohamad Sabu had announced that procurement plan for maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) has been shelved. This does not bode well for RMAF's Beechcrafts and to a larger extent, Malaysian seamen and those living at coastal area. Basically an ISR platform, MPA functions to conduct maritime border surveillance and for HADR role, in the form of SAR operations. This role had been performed by our Beechcraft for the last decade. But with the loss of 1 unit of Beechcraft in Butterworth that claimed the life of Major Kayamboo in 2016, this had placed an increased strain on the remaining 3 units of Beechcraft.

Critical Need
Maritime border surveillance is very critical, especially in ESSCOM area as in most cases, KFR bandits would come into Malaysian waters to conduct snatch and run. With MPA, longer surveillance can be conducted as MPA has longer loitering hours, allowing it to observe and report back detected intrusion to the nearest available combat units. Therefore, this cancellation will certainly place increased strain on the roles of ground combat units to intercept these bandits before they can do any harm.

On HADR front, the role that a MPA fills is search and rescue operations at seas. The lack of our own MPA had hampered the MH370 and QZ8301 searches. We would have also lost track of MV Orkim Harmony if not the assistance of RAAF P3C Orion that had spotted the repainted ship in the hands of pirates.

ISR - Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance
HADR - Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief

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