November 1, 2009
Jeffrey Kitingan: ‘My struggle is for the people’
by Roy Goh
He has the finger on the pulse of Sabah politics and he knows the issues close to the heart of Sabahans. But Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan has also been called many things: a maverick, the man who party hops, an eccentric. ROY GOH talks to the man about his plans, now that he has resigned as Parti KeADILan Rakyat vice-president.
In Sabah politics, Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan is very well known, though most of the time for the wrong reasons. He pulled yet another surprise recently by resigning as vice-president of Parti KeADILan Rakyat. He has left everyone guessing.
Jeffrey, who had joined four political parties in the past and was once held under the Internal Security Act, remains an ordinary member of PKR. He has, however, burned his bridges with the party. None of the options he has hinted at involved staying on in it.
Kitingan may have a penchant for switching camps but he is embraced by political parties because he knows the pulse of the people and the issues close to the heart of the people of Sabah.Jeffrey who had joined four political parties in the past and was once held under the Internal Security Act, remains an ordinary member of PKR.
Close calls for the Barisan Nasional in the last two elections, in Sook and Bingkor respectively, where he lost by small margins, attest to this. Attempts to get him to reveal his next move at an interview at his home in Sokid Villa in Luyang, Kota Kinabalu were met with a nonchalant “Bah, see lah.”
The word bah is a unique yet simple response from Sabahans to almost everything. It can mean yes, no, hello or goodbye and combined with different words can be an expression of anger, happiness, surprise or sadness. In short, it is as complicated as politics in Sabah.
Sabah folk may be able to understand what he is saying but peninsula-based PKR leaders will probably find his words hard to decipher. That is why it is felt that issues in Sabah should be resolved by a local.
A Sabah leader Ahmad Thamrin Jaini, formerly the state liaison committee secretary, replaces Azmin Ali as Sabah PKR chief. But the appointment, says Kitingan, was made by leaders from PKR headquarters. That only made things “more complicated”.
“It is not about the appointment but how it was made.” Considering he has gone from one party to another, will Kitingan be able to find a party that represents his true feelings, one that will enable him “to serve the people?”
Will he form a new party? “My brother (Pairin) did it bah when he formed PBS so why can’t I.” Or will he re-enter BN through PBS? It can happen but will it go down well with other PBS members?
Or maybe SAPP? Led by Datuk Yong Teck Lee, the former BN coalition party claims to have stealthily reached out to people of Sabah who wants equality in terms of progress and development. But like he said, he will need feedback from the grassroots first and until he makes his decision. “I am still an ordinary member bah.”
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: What made you join PKR?
A: I joined in October 2006 because I was attracted by their agenda. (De facto leader) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim agreed to my list of conditions, except for one on a revenue-sharing formula, if I were to join.
I thought it was a fair deal because I was also attracted to the party’s concept of “Justice For All”. That, at the time, made me believe I could nationalise the Sabah struggle for equality through democratic meritocracy, … reforms essentially.
Prior to that, I was already thinking about retiring from politics as I was fed up. I considered myself a political observer then. But I saw that none of our leaders were doing the honourable thing. That situation called for my participation in politics as a concerned leader.
Q: Were you comfortable in PKR initially?
A: Initially, I worked well as an ordinary member-cum-informal leader with the then state liaison committee chairman, Awang Tengah Awang Amin. We had high hopes for the party, especially when we started touring the state to increase membership.
Along the way, I was appointed vice-president. But gradually, I found it difficult to make decisions at state level. Kuala Lumpur (headquarters) would not allow the state liaison committee to make decisions on its own and preferred to refer to their proxies. It was frustrating as I represented a huge number of supporters. It is tough if you do not trust your own people in the states.
When they replaced Awang Tengah with Ansari Abdullah without even consulting the majority of the members, trouble began. They replaced Ansari with Anwar, then Azmin Ali and recently, Thamrin. At least two thirds of the members objected to the changes but Kuala Lumpur refused to listen.
You need a Sabahan leader to resolve issues in the state and in the case of Thamrin — though he is my friend and I have nothing against him personally — I don’t think he is recognised even by our own members. How would he be able perform his task as a leader?
If Kuala Lumpur keeps on changing leaders at its whims and fancies, how will the party carry on its struggle? The party risks becoming weaker and confusing its members.
Q: If you were made state leader, would things be different ?
A: It would not have made any difference if the leaders in Kuala Lumpur refuse to listen to what we have to say. I have said this many times before and I will say it again — my struggle is for the people, not for myself. My outspokenness has got me into trouble as I am not like others who would cower the moment they feel their position is threatened.
There were calls from members and leaders at divisional level for me to lead PKR in Sabah but to me, that is secondary. Headquarters decided without our consensus and to me, that is wrong. It’s not about the appointment but how it was made.
Q: Are you suggesting PKR needs a liaison committee that is not bound by the national leadership?
A: Not necessarily. There are national issues that need attention but when it comes to matters in the states, they should trust those they have on the ground. If they need to decide on everything, then what is the use of having a democratic process?
This was what I called for when I joined the party. I even introduced the “Tambunan Declaration” as a guideline. It is an approach based on equal partnership between Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia.
These are among the main contents of the declaration: to respect the special rights and autonomy of Sabah and Sarawak, including the 20 Points (agreement made during the formation of Malaysia), the creation of a second deputy prime minister for the Borneo states, setting up a royal commission of inquiry to resolve the issuance of identity cards to foreigners and the large presence of illegal immigrants, raising oil royalty from the present level of five per cent to 20 per cent, getting a fair portion of federal cabinet posts as well as in the foreign service and to allow Sabah to plan its own socio-economic development. But Kuala Lumpur prefers to dominate us.
Q: If this declaration is adopted by PKR, would that make you change your mind?
A: If anyone adopts the declaration, I would be happy. Whether it is the BN or Pakatan, I am sure it will benefit the country in the long term. The recognition given by the present government to Malaysia Day spells some hope for all of us.
Q: Who do you represent in your struggles?
A: The silent majority in Sabah, including certain leaders within the BN. The problem is they are being dominated by Kuala Lumpur and they don’t dare say anything because of the political system of selfishness and dominance that we have now.
If they don’t like you, out you go. So to protect their interests, they keep quiet. The last election may have jolted the BN to bring about reforms but we in Sabah and Sarawak deserve more.
Q: Will you leave PKR?
A: I will tell you next week.
Q: Did Anwar call to persuade you to stay on (as vice-president) ?
A: Not directly. I heard from other leaders. Why can’t he call me? This is where I feel we are not respected as leaders and it disappoints me.
Q: What are your plans now? You have spoken about forming a new party, or joining Sabah Progressive Party, or even BN. Which is it?
A: I need a little time to reflect on things and get feedback from the grassroots. But as it is now, most of the people I have spoken to want me to form a new Sabah-based party. I will need to consider all these options.
Q: Have you been approached by any party?
A: Would you be surprised if I have been? I have been approached informally so I will not commit too much on this. I would say this though — it’s nice to know doors are open to me.
Q: You have switched from Parti Bersatu Sabah (led by elder brother Datuk Seri Joseph Pairin Kitingan), to Akar (now defunct), back to PBS, then Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS), an independent, and now PKR. Does it not bother you what people think?
A: It was not my desire to leave PBS. It was my brother who told me to join Akar. At the time, politics in Sabah was in a disarray (with the BN taking over the state from PBS when several of its leaders switched camps to the coalition). My brother wanted me to stop PBRS and Parti Demokratik Sabah (now United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun and Murut Organisation or Upko) from entering the BN coalition. I became deputy president of the party and objected to the entry of PBRS and PDS, but we failed.
Eventually, I returned to PBS. After that with problems brewing in PBS — because people did not like my enthusiasm as a leader — I joined PBRS. The same thing happened and I left again. For a while, I served the people on my own and subsequently joined PKR.
I am an organisation man who runs administrative matters passionately and effectively. The only problem is when you are a good leader, the people like you but not certain leaders who will make it a point to boot you out. I switched parties not because I wanted to but because circumstances forced me to.
Q: What are your hopes for the future?
A: My struggle for the state and its people are listed in the Tambunan Declaration. We cannot afford to become a subservient society controlled by proxies and their masters. We need to speak up and be heard.