By Teh Wei Soon of Malaysian Digest
MALAYSIA Day is held on 16 September every year to commemorate the establishment of the Malaysian federation on the same date in 1963 – it marked the joining together of Malaya, North Borneo, and Sarawak to form Malaysia.
Since becoming prime minister in 2009, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has visited East Malaysia more than 50 times and directed billions of ringgit of federal government funds to accelerate development which in the own words of East Malaysians had been ignored by previous leadership.
“A few mega projects like Petronas Twin Towers, two Penang bridges including a crooked bridge to connect Singapore from Johor and many other mega projects in the cities not to mention schools and hospitals,” Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Jemut Masing had publicly stated earlier this year.
In recent years, the Federal Government has taken significant steps in countless administrative and judicial efforts to recognise the equal partnership and status of Sabah and Sarawak and correct the deviation from the original concept of Malaysia.
Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is also Home Minister said while officiating the National Day celebration 2016 emphasised that the states of Sabah and Sarawak have been recognised in forming a strong government to boost the economy and national development.
Zahid said the Government was very concerned and wished to see both states continue to grow rapidly in line with the Federal Government. Remarkably, Sabah and Sarawak were getting more development and progress for the long term period in both urban and rural areas under the 11th Malaysia Plan.
Under the framework of the five-year plan (2016-2020), basic infrastructures such as road development would be provided continuously in both states while the Sabah Development Corridor and Sarawak Renewal Energy Corridor would also be brought forward, and the list goes on.
Yesterday, Malaysian Digest spoke to a Sarawak Local Government and Community Development Minister as well as a national historian on what more that needs to be done by the Federal Government in order to grant Sabah and Sarawak the rightful entitlements that both states deserve.
The Federal Gov’t Under Najib Has Made Great Strides In Efforts Towards Recognizing Sabah And S’wak Rights
It is not an overstatement to say that there has been significant turnaround in the relations between the Federal Government and East Malaysia with increasing cooperation from Federal Government to participate in negotiations about Sabah and Sarawak rightful entitlement.
During the announcement of Budget 2016 last year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak revealed a people-centric budget themed ‘prospering the rakyat’.
Aside from carrying various measures to meet the demands of the people, particularly those in the middle-income and lower-income groups, Budget 2016 also outlined several projects and initiatives to promote investment and strengthen economic activities in the country.
In fact, the specific highlight for people in Sabah and Sarawak is the proposed allocation of RM29.2 billion in total in a bid to intensify development in the two states.
The largest allocations were for Sarawak’s Pan-Borneo Highway spanning 1,090-kilometre (km) which is expected to be completed in 2021 with an estimated cost of RM16.1 billion while in Sabah, construction work on the 706-km highway from Sindumin to Tawau is to commence in 2016 with an estimated cost of RM12.8 billion.
A bonus was thrown in with Najib announcing that Pan-Borneo highway will be toll-free. Meanwhile, the development agenda also covered air transportation, which the Prime Minister acknowledged is one of the main modes of transportation for people in the interior areas of Sabah and Sarawak as well as Labuan.
The government has thus exempted the domestic air transportation for economy class passengers on Rural Air Services (RAS) routes from goods and services tax (GST).
Najib had also announced a new programme, whereby RM70 million would be provided through Bank Simpanan Nasional in collaboration with the state government of Sabah and Sarawak for interest free loans for the purpose of building longhouses with a maximum loan up to RM50, 000 for every unit in the longhouse.
Besides, the government has allocated RM70 million subsidy for hill paddy fertiliser to increase food supply and income of hill paddy farmers in Sabah and Sarawak. “The programme will cover 65,000 hectares of crop areas in Sarawak and 11,000 hectares in Sabah. Under Budget 2016, RM260 million would be provided to ensure price uniformity of selected items nationwide through the 1 Price 1Sarawak and 1 Price 1Sabah programmes,” he pointed out.
Meanwhile, Najib also highlighted that RM115 million would be allocated to the Special Programme for Bumiputera in Sabah and Sarawak, such as for native customary rights, including mapping procedures and customary land surveys as well as for building native courts.
Other than the above, Budget 2016 will also be providing for the enhancement of services of 1Malaysia Mobile Clinics in the interior areas of Sabah and Sarawak including procurement of new boats and vehicles.
Without a doubt, East Malaysia stand to reap big gains in the latest Budget announced by Najib.
Clearly, Sabah and Sarawak have not been marginalized at all as both states are major contributors to government efforts in developing the country. In fact, the development of these two states has become an important agenda in the leadership of the Federal Government.
Negotiations For Devolution Of Power From The Federal Government Will Definitely Bear Fruit, S’wak Lawmaker Says
Sarawak Local Government and Community Development Minister, Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh (pic), who is also the president of United People’s Party (UPP), relayed in an interview with Malaysian Digestthat he believes it is high time for the Federal Government to materialise all electoral pledges by recognising the equal partnership and status of both states.
“The State Government will continue to seek greater autonomy from the Federal Government especially on the restoration of the state’s status as one of the three regions in the federation of Malaysia.
“We must realise that the time has come for all Malaysians in both states to stand united to reclaim their rights as equal partners in the country,” he said.
Wong, however, remarked: “The Opposition has repeatedly demanded the state government under Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem to resolve the matter immediately brushing aside the painstaking efforts the state government is already working on.
“In fact, Sarawak autonomy negotiations involved three phases. The first phase, which was accomplished through 13 resolutions, dealt with administrative power.
“The second phase, which is currently ongoing involves a committee led by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri [now under the purview of Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said who has been put in charge of the Legal Affairs Division (BHEUU) in the PM’s Dept]. The third phase will involve discussions on financial matters,” he said, adding that Nancy is currently working on the details on the rights of Sarawak especially on education and representation in the Parliament.
In summing up his points, Wong added that the negotiation for devolution of power from the federal government would definitely bear fruit, as long as the people gave their full support to the State Government and the leaders.
“To Stay United As A Country, It Is Time For Both States To Be Recognised And Treated As Equal Partners”
The anger, resentment and dissatisfaction among people in Sabah and Sarawak will persist as long as Malaysians continue to equate the two as just another state of Malaysia, said historian Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim (pic) when contacted by Malaysian Digest.
“To stay united as a country, it is time for both states to be recognised and treated as equal partners in Malaysia. The tension with both states being treated as and equated to just another state of Malaysia had been simmering since a few decades but it never resurfaces,” Khoo said.
Khoo, nevertheless, asserted: “A political tension that has the potential to erupt if the issue on autonomy reinstatement is not solved while stressing that Malaysia’s formation should be regarded as an association of partners involving Sabah, Sarawak, Malaya and Singapore.”
On whether it is possible to get rid of all this talk of secession for good, he remarked: “Sarawak believes in the full autonomy for Sarawak under the Constitution. That’s why we also believe in delegation of statutory power to the state, which we are now negotiating with the federal government.
Besides, the use of the flexibility afforded by the constitution will also help. Sarawak is an integral part of Malaysia and hence, I feel that the federal government must give back more resources to the state,” he noted.
Elaborating, the well-known national historian said the current misconceptions over Sabah and Sarawak’s standing in Malaysia could be corrected by including it in the school curriculum at all levels.
“It should be pointed out, for instance, that Aug 31 is of no particular significance to Sabah and Sarawak, its grand celebration notwithstanding. It is but the date of Malaya’s independence and it should be celebrated for just that.
“On the other hand, Sept 16 – the Malaysia Day – has a greater significance and is certainly a more important date in the annals of Malaysia. It must, therefore, be allowed to take its place as a major celebration in our national calendar of events,” he stressed, quoting Tengku Razaleigh’s statement earlier.
East Malaysians Speak Up On Greater Autonomy
“The right to nationhood is enshrined in the UN Charter. The issue is whether the people of Sabah and Sarawak are willing to stand up for what is rightfully theirs,” Calvin Quah, 37, a Sarawakian toldMalaysian Digest, adding that the will of the people ultimately supersedes everything else.
“However, Sabah and Sarawak have different terms that makes it way much harder for them to secede. In fact, it is even illegal to raise secession without consent from the Federation government,” he noted.
Another Sarawakian, See Guo Lin, said the government of Malaysia is not going to sit idly and let self-rule just happen as chaos is likely to ensue and the army will have to be sent in to repress the rebellion.
“The economy development is going to suffer as the people lose the ability to move around freely at any time to carry on their daily lives. Food supplies may become a problem as imports of food is slowed down due to the state of emergency,” said See.
Explaining further, he asserted that Sarawak people must really understand what is at stake and not blindly following misguided national sentiments stirred by politicians with their own vested interests.
One prominent East Malaysian, Puan Hajjah Nancy Shukri (pic, below), Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department sat down with BFM radio on the eve of Malaysia Day to discuss the future role of East Malaysia in the Federation and highlight the complicated nature of relationship with the Federation.
The native Sarawakian was unapologetic about the strong views held by East Malaysians on being marginalized from development enjoyed by Peninsular Malaysia for decades.
“What Sarawakians felt was that our powers were slowly being eroded…Whether it was an oversight, we are not blaming anybody. We have to put things right now,” Nancy stressed what is the mood on the ground for East Malaysians to have a greater say in governing their lands.”
She also points out why many East Malaysians do not like Sabah and Sarawak to be referred to as states under the federation.
“Their view is we are not a state in Malaysia …Our status is like the Federated Malay States,” Nancy points out that the original intention of the Malaysia Agrement whereby Sabah & Sarawak should have 2/3 of the powers while the Peninsular states will have 1/3.
“We must understand this is the sentiment that is coming out of both Sabah and Sarawak,” she highlights the delicate nature of the ongoing negotiations which she emphasized need a lot of understanding and legal thoughts as amending the Federal Constitution is involved.
The fact that the federal government has consented to the talks on the devolution of powers and even allow for Sarawak to set up an Autonomy Committee reflect the Federal Government’s seriousness in getting it right this time around. Nancy shared that Najib, unlike previous Malaysian prime ministers, is fully invested in the welfare of East Malaysia as an equal partner of the Federation.
Nancy stressed that asking for autonomy does not been neglecting to acknowledge the huge amount of funds and manpower the federal government had poured in to defend Sabah and Sarawak from insurgents over the years.
However, while acknowledging the great strides taken to accord East Malaysia its fair share in having a say in governing Malaysia, Nancy firmly added that it is not enough as she points out that if this region had been empowered earlier, more development could have happened earlier.
“In my constituency they do not have clean water yet,” Nancy, who is the MP for Batang Sadong points out how even as a federal minister she can’t even move mountains to make that happen overnight.
There is one area of development that East Malaysia has got more bragging rights than their Peninsular colleagues and that is in getting race relations right.
“We don’t talk about being a Malay only,” Nancy highlights how Sarawak got its approach right to maintaining multi-racial communities unlike the deteriorating situation in the Peninsular and conveyed her wish that, “I hope all the races realise that we need each other in order to develop a country”.
She ended on a hopeful note as we welcome Malaysia Day by expressing optimism when asked if the talks on autonomy will succeed, saying with confidence, “I can see Sarawak getting more (autonomy).”
“We are Malaysia before, Malaysia today and Malaysia in the future,” Nancy offers a quote from Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem to express how we can be united even if we hold differing views and opinions.