Professor says Sabah and Sarawak are no ordinary states

James Chin of Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania says federal government and Peninsular Malaysians need to recognise their East Malaysian counterparts as the original founders of Malaysia.

An academic says the federal government and Peninsular Malaysians must acknowledge that Sabah and Sarawak are no ordinary states as their East Malaysian counterparts are the original founders of Malaysia.

Professor James Chin, who is director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, said this acknowledgement was important as it affected how Sabah and Sarawak were treated.

Chin, in his public lecture titled “The Malaysian Federation: Views from East Malaysia”, explained that those in Peninsular Malaysia, and those in Sabah and Sarawak, looked at the Malaysian Federation from different angles.

“Both Sabah and Sarawak have a certain understanding of what the Malaysian Federation entails.

“To folks in Peninsular Malaysia, the nation’s starting point was in 1957, when it became self-governing.

“For Sabah and Sarawak, what they are saying is, ‘we are unique, we helped you form the federation (of Malaysia). You should not treat us like any other state’,” he said in his public lecture at Sunway University here today.

Sabah and Sarawak were demoted from being equal members of the federation to mere states through a constitutional amendment in Parliament in 1976.

The amendment to article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution saw Sabah and Sarawak included as “states” in the list of Federation of States of Malaysia, effectively “downgrading” their stature.

In going forward, Chin said the political class in Sabah and Sarawak needed to reach a consensus on how to move to the next stage in federal and state relations.

Similarly, Chin said Sabahans and Sarawakians themselves have to arrive at a consensus on the future, but noted this was quite difficult as the groups were polarised.

“They can basically be divided into three groups, namely those who are fed up and want to leave the federation, those who are of the view that they have not done too badly, and lastly those who are fence sitters.”

He further stated that there needed to be a willingness from the federal government to re-look the entire issue of the formation of the federation.

“For instance, it was already written in the Malaysia Agreement (MA63) that a meeting was supposed to take place 10 years after the agreement was signed. But that did not happen.

“The federal government now needs to hold this meeting,” he said.

Chin, who is also a Senior Fellow at the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia at Sunway University, was referring to a review of the agreement that was supposed to have taken place in 1973, 10 years after the agreement was signed.

The federal government then, Chin said, was supposed to have held a formal meeting with Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak to discuss the safeguards agreed upon in the agreement.

“This is a unique opportunity for Sabah and Sarawak to ask Putrajaya for a formal meeting – a meeting that is 41 years late,” he said.

A contentious issue for decades, MA63 became one of the core issues in Sabah and Sarawak in recent times, specifically after former Sarawak chief minister Adenan Satem sought the return of the state’s rights and powers, as enshrined in the agreement.

In June, a technical committee, co-chaired by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri, from Sarawak, and Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, from Sabah, was formed to study the devolution of power to both states.

The committee will work on identifying issues of non-compliance in the context of the Inter-Governmental Committee Report (IGC), the MA63, Malaysia Act 1963 and the Federal Constitution, as well as the Cobbold Commission Report, and to provide recommendations and solutions for the federal government to consider.

Source: Free Malaysia Today