ESSCom Restructuring To Restore Public, Investor Confidence

By Nashir Mansor

KOTA KINABALU, July 12 (Bernama) -- On July 8, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced the restructuring of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCom).

Although the prime minister's announcement came about, a day after a kidnapping attempt on a cage-fish operator at Pulau Bangau-Bangau in Semporna, it (announcement) has nothing to do with that criminal intent.

Rather, many are of the view the announcement is related to previous kidnappings masterminded by transborder criminals within the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZone).

The kidnapping case scenario, which is becoming and considered "frequent" this year, as compared to previous years, especially the case in 2000 at Sipadan Island, has certainly raised anxiety among tour operators in the east coast of Sabah, especially when Chinese tourist arrivals declined significantly.

Thus, many opined the announcement by Najib, who is also ESSCom chairman, was timely in restoring public and investor confidence in ESSCom's ability to maintain security in the east coast of Sabah.

"I am proud the restructuring sees a senior police officer appointed ESSCom commander. The appointment is appropriate as the country's security aspect comes under the jurisdiction of the home ministry, and the nation's security commander is the inspector-general of police, said Sabah's former commissioner of police (CP) Datuk Iliyas Ibrahim.

"The ESSCom commander must be from among senior policemen. Policemen are in a better position to lead with better support and know how to execute the task and responsibilities. Civilian, it is not about ability, but he may not be able to lead due to the experience factor," he noted.

Iliyas, who was the Sabah CP in 2004, said although the decision to appoint a senior police officer as commander of one of the two main components of ESSCom, the commander might not be able to accomplish the task entrusted upon him, without the support of all parties.

He said the commander must be under the 'command' and control of the Sabah CP, as besides ESSCom, there were other commanders such as Marine Police Force commander, General Operations Force (GOF) commander and other important departments like state criminal investigation department and the Special Branch.

"If under the overall command of CP, there is no conflict of power. The commander of ESSCom is only one of the commanders. I believe, if the commander (ESSCom) works alone, he is doomed to fail, as well.

"So, the best way to work is to get the collective involvement of all related security agencies, but the operation should be under the belt of the ESSCom commander," said Iliyas who had served in the force for 34 years before retiring.

He said the security forces were equipped with sufficient asset and personnel to ensure sea patrols were carried out efficiently, especially at resort islands, aquaculture industrial areas like in cage-fish and seaweed breeding sites.

"The police presence must always be seen in key locations. If there is negligence, criminals will take the opportunity to carry out their activities, especially kidnapping which is now considered 'lucrative business' for them.

He added, the vastness of coastal areas within ESSZone measuring 1,733.7 miles and stretching across the districts of north of Kudat, Kota Marudu, Pitas, Beluran, Sandakan, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Semporna and Tawau should no longer be an excuse for kidnapping to occur.

"It must not be an excuse, and it is unfair. If the coastal area is too long, we must add assets and personnel stagedly. The kidnappers were using pump boats, but we have sufficient assets. This is about the security of our state and country," he said.

Iliyas, who was mayor of Kota Kinabalu in 2005, said the restructuring would not only strengthen the operation and acquisition of assets for ESSCom, but more importantly, enhance aspects of intelligence network, particularly in gathering information on the ground and grassroot level, and in the exchange of information with the Philippine security forces.

"The success of the restructuring will greatly help ensure the aquaculture industry in the east coast of Sabah, which is on the right track. The safety aspect in ESSZone must be given priority in the interest of tourist and investors.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah strategy studies director Dr Zaini Othman has described the restructuring as a significant change in terms of roles or duties to create a better, peaceful and stable atmosphere in the east coast of Sabah.

"The most significant, prior to the restructuring, is specialisation (in duty) which is clearer and objective. Without specialisation, addressing security in the east coast stretching from Banggi Island near Kudat to Sebatik Island in Tawau is very challenging.

On kidnappings in the east coast of Sabah, he said not all were militant in nature or related to the country's sovereignty, as there were cases fuelled by dissatisfaction between local aquaculture operators and their foreign partners.

Zaini suggested ESSCom should currently focus on addition of assets and personnel, and understanding the culture and socio-economic of border community.


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