Squatter colonies are hindering progress along a stretch of road emerging as a potential boom area in the district here. The colonies have mushroomed due to lack of enforcement and the demand for manpower along the 5km Penampang bypass, where retail outlets and shopping complexes have expanded.
A handful of huts surfaced in 2015, probably earlier, and the numbers began to grow over the years along the bypass.
Hundreds of makeshift houses have appeared near a new wholesale market, a housing area in the Kobusak area and areas along the bypass, the main link to the neighbouring district of Kota Kinabalu.
Vehicles are also seen in the area, an indication that residents have occupied the colonies long enough to open routes for cars and motorcycles.
Senator Datuk Donald Mojuntin said squatter colonies could be a major problem as they were usually linked with immigrants.
The areas were known for illegal employment and health issues, he added.
"These problems can be seen in other areas in the district, Kota Kinabalu and the state.
"The Penampang bypass, being a new area of development, should avoid these issues," said Mojuntin, the United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun and Murut Organisation deputy president.
"These areas attract foreigners looking for jobs, and bad hats, as it allows them to hide."
Squatters would take desperate measures to get water and electricity supply through illegal power connections.
Mojuntin said these areas were prone to flash floods as they were near monsoon drains, while their makeshift houses were exposed to fire hazards.
"Even if these areas thrive on private land, the authorities should act if the owners allow illegal immigrants to live there.
"That is tantamount to harbouring criminals.
"The Labour and Immigration departments should check to ensure that the immigrants on private land are given proper housing by their employers and not dumped in huts."
He said the law should be enforced to prevent the spread of crime in squatter areas.
Squatter residents were often blamed for break-ins, robberies and snatch thefts, said fitness centre user James J. Adan.
"When the shops first started operating along the by-pass, only a few huts were seen.
"There were those who built squatter homes near monsoon drains or in the bushes.
"With no action taken to remove occupants of squatter colonies, they have stayed on.
"This is because they, legally or illegally, are employed."
Transporter Chia Hin Seng said the government needed to prevent the problem from escalating.
Chia said many workers lived in the squatter areas and they or their employers should find proper accommodation for them.
"The squatter houses need to be demolished and landowners who rent out their land should build houses to rent out to legal immigrants.
"The government needs to act fast. The police, local authorities, Immigration, Labour Department and National Registration Department should be involved in the clean-up."