SARAWAK opposition leaders have challenged the chief minister’s statement that the state has reclaimed its oil and gas rights, saying federal laws ensure the resources remain in Putrajaya’s hands.
They said the state cannot regain the rights when laws like the Petroleum Development Act 1974 (PDA), Territorial Sea Act 2012 (TSA) and Tripartite Agreement, signed by the federal government, Sarawak government and Petronas, have not been repealed or rescinded.
“How can we assert those rights that are constrained and/or no longer in our hands?” said state PKR vice-chairman See Chee How, in response to Abang Johari Openg’s statement at the launch of state oil company Petroleum Sarawak Bhd in Kuching on Tuesday.
The PDA vests in Petronas the entire ownership of, and exclusive rights, powers, liberties and privileges to, the exploration and exploitation of the country’s petroleum resources, both onshore and offshore.
The law gives the national petroleum company complete control in carrying out downstream activities and developments relating to petroleum and related products.
See said the PDA “has completely taken away all our rights, power and privileges over the petroleum resources deposited and found within the territorial boundary of Sarawak”.
The TSA limits the state’s sea boundary and territorial jurisdiction to a mere three nautical miles offshore.
Sarawakians have longed accused the federal government of passing the law to plunder the state’s offshore oil and gas resources by limiting the state’s control to the exploration, exploitation and obtaining of all resources found in Sarawak’s territorial sea, which should have been extended up to 300 nautical miles.
The Tripartite Agreement is purportedly “to irrevocably grant in perpetuity, and convey to and vest in Petronas” Sarawak’s ownership, and the exclusive rights, powers, liberties and privileges of exploring, exploiting and obtaining petroleum onshore or offshore.
See, who is also Batu Lintang assemblyman, said the chief minister “appears to be overly excited and exceedingly optimistic about the indefinite and ambiguous assurance of the prime minister (to return state rights)”, while state DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen described Abang Johari’s announcement as “much ado about nothing”.
See said the chief minister has “gone overboard with an announcement that may not materialise”.
“With his eyes trained on the next general election, the assurance by the prime minister was vague, and clearly uttered to placate Sarawakians and Sabahans.
“The insincerity of Putrajaya is evidenced by the fact that, until today, the prime minister has yet to get back to Sarawak on the reference made to his office by our late former chief minister, Adenan Satem, to repeal or amend the TSA in 2016.”
He said there has been no progress on the devolution of powers to Sarawak since Adenan died.
“To assert our sovereign power and rights to the issuance of permits and licences for mines, mining leases and certificates under Item 2(c) of the State List under the Ninth Schedule of the federal constitution, in this case, the prospecting, mining and development of our petroleum resources, the federal government must first agree to repeal the TSA and PDA, or make amendments to their provisions, and the Tripartite Agreement signed between the federal government, Sarawak government and Petronas must be rescinded.
“The chief minister must first obtain the assurance and undertaking of the prime minister to repeal the TSA and PDA, and to rescind the Tripartite Agreement, before he can make the announcement that we are now able to exercise our jurisdiction under our Oil Mining Ordinance, with regard to the licensing of oil and gas exploration, exploitation and development.
“Unless all these laws and legal provisions are repealed or amended, to devolve or vest powers back to Sarawak, we are, in effect, powerless.”
See said the announcement by Abang Johari that Sarawak is now able to exercise administrative and regulatory control over all petroleum-related activities in the state is “superficial at best”.
Chong said Sarawak’s entitlement to oil and gas royalties remains a meagre 5%.
The state Pakatan Harapan chairman and Bandar Kuching MP said unless the provisions of the PDA are amended or repealed, whatever laws or regulations passed by the state assembly or set by the state government “will become redundant and ineffective”.
He said the chief minister’s announcement was just another one of his “hot air” stunts, “trying to fool Sarawakians into believing that there is the devolution of powers, when the main control over, and benefits of, oil and gas remain with the federal government”.
“Barisan Nasional has taken Sarawakians for a ride for the past 55 years, and with this perceived devolution of powers, it intends to continue taking Sarawakians for another ride for another 50 years.”
Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak Baru president Cobbold John questioned how the state could reclaim its oil and gas rights if “Petronas is being allowed to operate as usual”.
He accused Abang Johari of manipulating the Malaysia Agreement 1963 and state rights for political benefits.
“These two laws (the PDA and TSA) need to be amended. Only then can the state assert its constitutional power.”
DAP’s pick for the Stampin federal seat in the 14th general election, Kelvin Yii, said Abang Johari’s announcement “seems to be purposefully orchestrated to mislead the public with regard to the control of our oil and gas resources”.
“Unless there is a repeal or amendment of the PDA, the oil still belongs to the federal government under Petronas, and we are entitled to only a 5% oil royalty.”
The chief minister, in an interview with TV station Astro Awani this morning, said the state’s right to its oil and gas is guaranteed under the federal constitution.
He said even though Item 8(j) under the Ninth Schedule of the constitution grants to the federal government the development of mineral resources, mines, mining, minerals and mineral ores, oils and oilfields; purchase, sale, import and export of minerals and mineral ores, and petroleum products; and, regulation of labour and safety in mines and oilfields, there is a condition.
The condition is that, all those rights are subject to Item 2(c) in the State List, where permits and licences for the prospecting of mines, mining leases and certificates are the rights of the state.
When asked about the PDA and TSA, Abang Johari said under Article 4 of the federal constitution, laws that are inconsistent with the constitution are void.
On the TSA, he said: “Our boundary when we formed Malaysia was 12 nautical miles. It is still 12 nautical miles. It cannot be changed under Article 2 of the federal constitution unless it is agreed to by the state legislative assembly and the Conference of Rulers.”
The state legislative assembly has never agreed to the change.