Kota Kinabalu: “Harris Salleh should undo his handover of Labuan island to the Federal government and initiate its return to the people and government of Sabah. It is the least he can do to atone for the mistake of handing over Labuan rather than empty rhetoric” said Datuk Dr. Jeffrey Kitingan, State Assemblyman for Bingkor, in response to Harris’ call for the Federal government to return Labuan as he had regretted the handing over.
Dr. Jeffrey said that “at least Harris is honest enough to admit and express his regret in ceding Labuan and acknowledge of being misled by the Federal government. There is no doubt that it was a mistake to his past action, as proven by events and the failure of the Federal government to properly develop Labuan as agreed.”
The withdrawal last year of the tax-free status of Labuan and restrict it to about 10 outlets by the Federal government is also totally unacceptable as Labuan has always been tax-free since the British colonial days.
The problems of Labuan were compounded with the withdrawal and re-location of Petronas and its Labuan operations to Bintulu last year. This was followed by contractors and others in the oil and gas industry crippling the economy there.
The failure to build the Labuan Bridge connecting it to the mainland is another unacceptable failure. Sabahans and the people of Labuan were promised the Labuan Bridge under the BN’s Manifesto for Sabah before PRU13. It is now reduced to an election gimmick with another feasibility study as announced by PM Najib in Budget 2018 despite a previous feasibility being conducted.
As a result, the economy of Labuan had been shattered and is now in the doldrums causing untold hardship and problems to the people in Labuan.
By initiating the return of Labuan and atone for his mistake in the handover in 1984, it may also calm some of the anger of some Sabahans who still feel that it was a wrong move by Harris to cede Labuan.
At the same time, the Sabah government should immediately initiate discussions with the Federal government to return Labuan to its rightful owners, the people and State of Sabah. The Sabah government should also take steps to administer Labuan immediately jointly with the Federal government before ultimately taking over full control.
Regardless of whether the Federal government had misled Harris or it failed to develop Labuan, its ceding was invalid in the first place.
Harris may have obtained the consent of the State Assembly then to hand over control of Labuan to then PM Mahathir and the Federal government, it is still invalid.
The ceding of Labuan involved a change of the territorial boundary of Sabah. As such, the ceding involved the legal issue of change of territorial boundary under the Constitution of the State of Sabah as well as the Federal Constitution.
Under Article 1(3) of the Federal Constitution, the territory of Sabah was its territory immediately before Malaysia Day on 16 September 1963.
This means that the boundary of Sabah not only included Labuan but was up to its continental shelf. This boundary was extended in 1954 by Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom to include the area of the continental shelf being the seabed and its subsoil which lies beneath the high seas contiguous to the territorial waters of North Borneo (then) pursuant to The North Borneo (Alteration Of Boundaries) Order In Council, 1954.
The cession of Labuan and the creation of the Federal Territory of Labuan was also constitutionally invalid from the perspective of the formation of Malaysia. There is no discussion whatsoever for the creation of federal territories in the formation of Malaysia, the Malaysia Agreement 1963, the IGC Report or any other relevant constitutional documents pertaining thereto.
The creation of federal territories also goes against the very grain of the concept of federation and the rights of component States which will be diluted through the newly created federal territories.
However, Sabahans and the people in Labuan should not be surprised if the Sabah BN government does nothing to take back Labuan, given that they are powerless and subservient to their political masters in Kuala Lumpur.
Datuk Dr. Jeffrey Kitingan
– MAIL BAG