Borneo Tales: Stuck in our own backyards
|Native Sabahan Erna is (not) Malay but loves Malay literature. Her hobbies: cats/gaming/blogging at ernamerin.com/Tweeting at @ernamh.|
APRIL 4 — It’s been great hearing from you readers about what you’d like to see in this column. Some of your questions required a lot of thought before I could properly formulate an answer, like this one:
“It appears that Sabahans are more interested in Sabah affairs and less concerned with what happens to Malaysia as a whole. Is this true, and if so, if and how can it be changed?”
The simple, dumbed-down answer is that... it’s complicated.
One factor is geography. Out of sight, out of mind. With so many of our own concerns to think about, what matters to you people on the Peninsula seems far and removed from our daily lives.
We do not “see” the way you live, but neither do you see what we have to deal with here.
It is easy to talk about things like nation building, free speech and integration when you have the basics covered. Not so in Sabah, where just half an hour from the state’s capital there are schools run in little more than shacks.
Some of you West Malaysians have the audacity to complain about the lack of Mandarin-speaking teachers for all your subjects in Chinese vernacular schools.
Sabah has problems having decent schools in the first place.
Don’t get me started on the whiny teachers from the Peninsula who refuse to be transferred to Sabah and Sarawak, only wanting to teach in urban areas and not where the children desperately need teachers.
I have said it many times but it bears repeating that the modernity and “development” enjoyed by people in the Peninsula, Kuala Lumpur and Klang Valley in particular, is paid from the resources of Sabah and Sarawak. You take our oil, our timber, our natural gas and build your shiny Putrajayas and whatever is allocated to us isn’t enough. It is never enough.
How can you expect us to care about you when for decades we did not matter? Barisan Nasional is only paying a little more attention to us now it realises that without Sabah and Sarawak votes, it cannot possibly hold the majority.
Unlike you spoiled Klang Valley dwellers, a decent Internet connection is not as easy to procure for Sabahans and Sarawakians. With our lower total earning capacity, fewer can afford one. Within Kuching itself, connections are barely passable and the Sarawak government’s control of the media is even more crippling than even Umno’s manipulation of Utusan Malaysia. Newspapers are poor sources of information in the two states, heavily inundated with pro-government bias and a quality of reporting more suited to town newsletters than state papers.
When you’re mired in bread-and-butter issues, caring about national matters is a luxury affordable only for monied intellectuals. When you don’t have access to cheap Internet and even national papers like The Star are more expensive than local papers, you have to forgive the ignorance of Sabahans and Sarawakians about the overall political situation.
There is no simple solution. A lot has to change. But what Sabah and Sarawak need most is money. Money going into the right hands and not into the companies of cronies. I can name you Sabahan politicians who have big houses in Sabah and the Klang Valley while their constituents live in poverty.
It is not that Sabahans and Sarawakians do not want to care, but few things blind you to the big picture more than an empty stomach. Do not judge us, do not blame us but understand that what has elevated you has done precious little to help us.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.