KOTA KINABALU, Sept 2 — Sabahans remain unconvinced of Putrajaya’s sincerity in reviewing the Malaysia Agreement 1963, with concerns that the terms of the review being a one-sided affair.
Noting that discussions are still ongoing, political observers say that it is imperative that talks prioritise the 40 per cent return of revenue from the state, and deal with the thorny issue of oil and gas ownership.
Universiti Malaysia Sabah economist James Alin said that negotiations have not been smooth, with Putrajaya dictating the terms.
“Judging from what was reported in the mainstream media, one can say that there is a lot rhetorical explanations, ie. beating around the bush during those meetings,” he said.
Taking issue with the return of Sipadan and Ligitan islands, he said that even though the islands have belonged to the state since 2009, the National Security Division (NSD) — a federal authority — had insisted on collecting an RM40 diver’s levy, arguing that the fee was implemented under Fee Act 1951 — a federal law long before Sipadan was declared as a State Marine Park and that NSD wanted to recover the cost of protecting the Sipadan and Ligitan area.
“The former argument is ridiculous. Federal administration at that time did not seem to respect the state and Sabah Parks was not duly recognised as a Competent Authority. The latter argument is outrageous — under MA63, the federal government agreed to be responsible for national security issues such as protecting sovereignty of Sipadan,” he said, adding that it was only logical that the state insists on violations on the contract.
“Sadly, the federal government seems to be very much dictating the whole negotiations related to the MA63, making it difficult if not impossible for the state to negotiate the remaining seven points according to the priority,” he said, adding that from a public interest standpoint, the oil royalty should be at the top followed by the rest.
Parti Bersatu Sabah information chief Datuk Joniston Bangkuai said that to them, the 40 per cent return of revenue was the crucial point that needed to be addressed.
“It is closest to the heart of Sabahans, who feel that the Federal government owes them this for the years of lagging behind peninsula Malaysia.
“As Warisan themselves said, the amount if backdated could be up to RM1 trillion. That is a lot that we can do for the state so even if nothing else is decided, that should be the most important decision, and the one they should start with,” he said.
Joniston said that other decisions that were announced, such as the return of electricity, were not really of much public interest.
“In fact, does that mean there will be no more subsidies? Won’t this burden the state? What about if we get back education and health under the state? Will we have to bear the cost of building the infrastructure as well? We don’t know yet and this is why the 40 per cent return is crucial,” he said.
Political activist Zainnal Ajamain said that it is obvious that Putrajaya had more to lose, making it difficult for them to decide, hence the complication in negotiations, which was in turn leaving more East Malaysians disenchanted with the new federal government.
“Putrajaya knows full well that Sabah and Sarawak are the geese that lay the golden egg. If Putrajaya makes any wrong step; they may lose the geese, this may impose a heavy financial burden to Putrajaya.
“There are already dissenting voices in Sabah and Sarawak; these voices are getting more daring and louder each day,” he said, explaining that laymen have moved on from just political polemics to legal issues and the rule of law, with awareness spreading about constitutional rights.
“The dissatisfaction stems not only from uneven development between the Borneo states and the Federation of Malaya after 56 years, but also the uneven allocation of budget to Sabah and Sarawak whilst they continue being the main contributors to the national economy. “It appears the people in Sabah and Sarawak are getting tired of being treated simply as a cash cow to Malaya,” he said.
The polarising political rhetoric in West Malaysia, and national decisions that do not take into account Sabah and Sarawak’s views do not help matters.
“Putrajaya wants Sabah and Sarawak to celebrate 31 August as National Day, but the Constitution says 31 August is a celebration of Malaya Independence Day. Anyone with common sense knows that for Sabah and Sarawak to celebrate this date means Sabah and Sarawak is a colony of Malaya.
“It is the same when we sing “God Save the Queen” before Malaysia was formed. Malaysia was formed on 16 September 1963. Yet, Malaysia Day is only celebrated in Sabah and Sarawak while Malayans who call themselves Malaysians unashamedly just watch the happenings in Sabah and Sarawak, they remain detached to this special day,” he said.
He said that at the end of the day, the seeming non-urgency of Putrajaya in returning the 40 per cent revenue to Sabah was just another point of contention for Sabahans.
“It is not just about money, it is not just about politics, it is about the pride of the people in Sabah, and the ability to determine their destiny. This is what “Sabah for Sabahans” is all about. Sabahans did not create this slogan at our whim, it is a response against what Putrajaya has done to Sabah for more than 56 years,” he said.
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is chairing the Special Cabinet Committee to review MA63 and return any rights to the two east Malaysian states.
His office recently announced that seven issues concerning MA63 had received joint agreement as of July 23 while 14 issues still require further discussion and were expected to be resolved before Aug 31.
So far, jurisdiction over forestry, regulatory powers on electricity and gas distribution, and the management of Sipadan and Ligitan islands and health management had been returned to the states.