Socio-economic inequalities between Sabah and the rest of Malaysia are believed to be the issue today, according to Science and Information Technology Advisor to the Sabah Chief Minister, Datuk Tham Nyip Shen. In an interview, Tham who is a former Deputy Chief Minister, said he had posed the question on the socio-economic inequalities during a forum titled “Mid-term review of [the Ninth Malaysia Plan open forum” in Kuala Lumpur recently, an event which was jointly organised by the Centre for Public Policy Studies and the Wawasan Open University. Tham said he highlighted the vast disparities in many areas faced by Sabahans, among them the huge number of Sabahans living under the poverty line in the State. “I had also highlighted how Sabah consistently had the lowest literacy rate and pointed out that between 1995 and 2005, the number of teachers in partially Government- aided schools had remained almost stagnant despite an increase in students. “Alarmingly, Sabah also had the lowest number of skilled health workers in midwifery,” he said, adding that most of the problems was attributed to the fact that there is a large number of non-citizens in the State. “According to figures obtained by the Statistics Department in 2005, 24.8 percent of Sabah’s population consisted of non-citizens. “Why the Federal Government allows this to happen? I really don’t know. Does the central Government still want Sabah or not? Very soon, the non-citizens will outnumber locals,” he said. According to Tham, he was also one of the two panelists during a discussion on income inequality and distribution while the other speaker was Dr Ragayah Mat Zin from the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (Ikmas). Tham added that an Upko speaker at the same presentation with him lamented that the Federal Government had erred in their priorities in terms of development. “In the Tuaran constituency for example, the speaker said there were more than 60 villages without electricity supply. I had to bring the relevant minister there before electricity was provided for 20 villages,” he said. Other than that, he said there was still 5,000km of gravel road in Sabah which ought to be upgraded in view of RM2 billion spent on a dedicated highway from Putrajaya to Kuala Lumpur. On the State’s economy, Tham said the 2004 figures showed that Sabah was lagging in economic development as the Sabah’s gross domestic product per capital was at RM4,868 or about half of the national average of RM9,746. The figure was derived despite Sabah’s consistent trade surplus and robust agricultural industries. Part of the problem, said Tham, was that Sabahans have to deal with higher commodity prices than in Peninsular Malaysia. Tham believed that the main emphasis of the Federal Government was in Sabah’s oil and gas reserves but the trickle down effect from the industry was not being felt on the ground. “It is very unfair... I told the EPU (Economic Planning Unit) it is very silly to pipe the gas from Sabah to be processed in Sarawak for whatever reasons,” said Tham who hoped that such decisions will eventually change. He also hoped that the Federal Government will pay more attention to Sabah’s needs in the future in view of the recent change in political climate.