SABAH and Sarawak leaders and activists continue to hurl brickbats at Dewan Rakyat Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia, who has ventured to disagree in a public forum that Sabah’s rights, as outlined in the Malaysia Agreement 1963, have not been fully executed.
Pandikar, in Kota Kinabalu at the weekend, went on to say that those claiming otherwise were spouting “empty political rhetoric” to incite anger and hatred among the people of Sabah.
He also disputed claims that the federal government was not bringing progress to the two Borneon states, pointing to the ongoing construction of the Pan Borneo Highway and a proposal to build a bridge to link the island of Labuan to the Sabah mainland, as examples of Putrajaya’s beneficence.
State Reform Party Sarawak (Star) president Lina Soo said the Speaker was “talking rubbish” about the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).
“He hasn’t studied the agreement. Pandikar just doesn’t know or understand what he is talking about,” Soo told The Malaysian Insight.
She said the Speaker should undergo a crash course in the legal implications, validity and impact of MA63, in response to Pandikar’s assertion that legal documents and agreements relating to the formation of Malaysia, such as the 20-point Agreement (for Sabah), the 18-point (for Sarawak), and the Cobbold Commission Report, were not legally binding agreements.
Pandikar had said that only MA63 was legally binding.
“To also state that Sabah and Sarawak are of equal status to the Malay states in the Federation of Malaya Agreement 1957 clearly shows his ignorance of the true status of Sabah and Sarawak as sovereign component nations within the whole federation,” Soo said
To Pandikar’s claim that the federal govt had brought progress to Sabah and Sarawak, she said Pandikar should be reminded that Sabah was the poorest territory in Malaysia according to a World Bank report.
“Pandika seems to be looking through rose-tinted glasses and oblivious to the realities on the ground where the failure of the federal government to comply with MA63 has left both Sabah and Sarawak with the highest level of poverty and illiteracy.”
James Chin, a Kuching-born expert in matters of governance in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, said while he agreed with Pandikar that the MA63 was the only agreement that was legal, it should be noted that the unhappiness of people in Sabah and Sarawak today stemmed from what they see as failures to implement the spirit of the rash of agreements such as the three documents mentioned above, and the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee (MSCC) and the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) reports.
The inaugural director of the Asia Institute Tasmania at the University of Tasmania said while all were incorporated into the MA63, many of the agreements were marginalised, ignored or simply changed in the past 50 years.
He said most of the autonomy that was given to the two Borneo states in the MA63 “disappeared” during former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s 23 years in power when he centralised powers in the federal government.
“Most of the powers were taken over via bureaucratic rules. A clear example is education.
“By centralising education, both Sabah and Sarawak automatically lost their autonomy over it.”
Chin said Sabah and Sarawak political leaders were to be equally blamed for the unhappiness of the people.
“Look at the other side of the coin. Since Sabah and Sarawak state governments are in the Barisan Nasional ruling coalition, very often they (the BN political leaders) themselves simply let Putrajaya take over what were previously state issues.
“Sometimes they even change the state constitution.”
He gave the making of Islam as the the official religion in Sabah as an example.
The change went against the very first point of the 20-point agreement which states that “while there is no objection to Islam being the national religion of Malaysia, there should be no state religion in North Borneo, and the provisions relating to Islam in the present Constitution of Malaya should not apply to North Borneo”.
Sabah was formerly known as North Borneo.
Chin’s peer at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), Dr Bilcher Bala, agreed with Soo that unbalanced development was the cause of dissatisfaction among people of the two states.
The history professor said the unbalanced development in “almost everything” – social, politic and economic – had made East Malaysians more assertive in their demand for full implementation the terms of the MA63.
“It forced Sarawak to demand that their rights and guarantees be protected in accordance with the agreements of the MA63,” he said in reference to the Sarawak state assembly’s action on November 9 when a motion was passed to seek a mandate “to take all necessary measures” under Article VIII of the Malaysia Agreement to ensure complete implementation of recommendations of the IGC report intended to safeguard the special rights of Sarawak
The call is being echoed in Sabah, where members of the opposition have filed a similar motion to have the MA63 debated in the Sabah legislative assembly.
It was a move that MySabah legal adviser Tengku Fuad Ahmad felt to be unnecessary.
“There is no need to table any resolution in support of reviewing the MA63 under Article 112D of the federal constitution,” he said.
Article 112D provides for a government to government negotiation between both the Sabah and federal governments for the purposes of agreeing on how much Sabah is entitled to under the special grant stipulated in Part IV of the Tenth Schedule – 40% revenue entitlement.
Of special interest to Sabahans is federal government’s failure to channel back to the state 40% of revenue derived from the state which they said could be used to fund development and pull the state out of its current predicament.
“Any resolution of the DUN would not only be redundant, a waste of time, but would also infringe upon the objects and intent of the Article,” Fuad said.
“Secondly, it must be made clear that while the special grant states that Sabah’s entitlement is two-fifth of the revenues derived from the state, that sum is subject to two important considerations – the financial position of the federation and the needs of the state.
“Thus, if the federal government cannot afford to pay to Sabah the revenues, then both governments may agree on a lower sum.
“Additionally, Sabah must also show that the sum to be granted under Part IV is necessary in terms of meeting the financial obligations of the state,” he said.
“After both the Sabah and federal governments agree on the sum to be paid, then that sum – and its terms of payment – will be subject to review every five years.”
Fuad said under the same article, the revenue could also be “modified, substituted, varied or abolished” with the mutual consent of Sabah and the federal government.
“The mandatory five-year review period, likewise, may also be abolished if Sabah and the Federal governments agree to it.”
Fuad also noted that the Sabah government would do a second review under Article 112D .