Sabah to get full control of Sipadan islands again, and Sarawak its gas rights after ‘historic’ Malaysia Agreement talks with Putrajaya

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Sabah and Sarawak Affairs) Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili said the ‘historic’ decisions were made during today’s two-hour meeting, which was also attended by chief ministers of Sabah and Sarawak, Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor and Datuk Abang Johari Openg, respectively. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Sabah and Sarawak Affairs) Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili said the ‘historic’ decisions were made during today’s two-hour meeting, which was also attended by chief ministers of Sabah and Sarawak, Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor and Datuk Abang Johari Openg, respectively. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 14 — The federal government will return the administration of the Sipadan and Ligitan islands to Sabah while Sarawak will have full control and management of its gas distribution again, following today’s Special Council on Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MKMA63).

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Sabah and Sarawak Affairs) Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili said the “historic” decisions were made during today’s two-hour meeting, which was also attended by chief ministers of Sabah and Sarawak, Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor and Datuk Abang Johari Openg, respectively.

Ongkili said that there would be a “formal surrender” of the Sipadan and Ligitan islands to Sabah, which means full authority and control over the administration of both islands will be under the purview of the Sabah government.

“The prime minister said Sabah has sovereignty rights on the two islands, which are put under the supervision of the Sabah Parks, and placed under protection of the Protected Areas and Protected Places Act 1959.

“However, this is with the exception of the security control, which will still be under the purview of the Federal Government. The Sabah and Sarawak Affairs Division (BHESS) and the National Security Council Malaysia (MKN) will be arranging for the full handover,” he told reporters here after the meeting.

“The second matter is the handover to Sarawak over the control and management of gas distribution under the Distribution of Gas Ordinance 2016, which will take effect on June 1,” said Ongkili, who heads the MKMA63 Secretariat.

However, the decision for Putrajaya to return management of the disputed islands to Sabah had been agreed upon and announced by the Prime Minister’s Office back in 2019 under the Pakatan Harapan federal government, and enforced shortly after. The island has been under state statutory body Sabah Parks since.

The Sarawak government also announced it was exerting its rights and was taking control of its own oil and gas resources as of last year after negotiating with Petronas and the federal government.

In today’s meeting, two papers were tabled. The first concerned the proposed constitutional amendments under Article 1 (2) and Article 160 (2) of the Federal Constitution, which deals with the definition of the federation.

“The legal team chaired by the [federal] Attorney General Tan Sri Idrus Harun, together with the Sabah and Sarawak attorneys-general, will conduct a series of meetings to thrash out outstanding issues.

“Their second report is with regards to judiciary issues in the high court of Sabah and Sarawak. A committee has been formed on this to sit with the attorney generals of Sabah and Sarawak,” Ongkili said.

He also said a Joint Consultative Review Committee was also set up between his office and the Finance Ministry, which will be focusing on reviewing the special grants, including the 40 per cent reimbursable provision for Sabah, one of the main points of contention between the people of the state and Putrajaya.

Ongkili said that there were no ultimate decisions by the previous administration, except for “at least two or four issues in Sabah, including forestry.”

“There were mere commitments on their part to resolve those 17 issues, but policies, laws and regulations were yet to be changed and to be tabled in the state assemblies or Parliament,” he said.

His meeting had also earned criticism from deputy chief minister Datuk Seri Jeffrey Kitingan who said that Putrajaya had no right to take away its sea territory via the implementation of the Sea Territories Act 2012 which reduces Sabah’s land at sea from 12 nautical miles to just three nautical miles.

He also took to task the federal government for illegally surrendering oil field blocks within Sabah’s boundaries to Brunei in 2008.

It has been a battle of political will for Sabah in its claim of getting back certain rights and provisions in terms of control over its own resources and income for decades, with every political party claiming to be able to negotiate with the federal government to do so.

Although Pakatan Harapan had claimed to have resolved 17 out of 21 issues, the thorniest issues still remain — oil royalties from the resource-rich state, the 40 per cent return of income and control over its resources in the continental shelf.

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