Not too late to review Malaysia agreement

APRIL 21 — Can we have a Malay-based education system in west Malaysia, but also an English-based version in Sabah and Sarawak?

A fortnight ago, the Sarawak Teachers Union (STU) called for Sarawak to switch back to English-medium education to arrest declining academic performance among students.

“Many parents agree with it (the suggestion to revert back to an English-based educational system), especially those who want to send their children to study overseas,” said STU president Jisid Nyud, echoing the calls of another NGO.

The question here is whether such a proposal is feasible. If one state implements a different education system from the rest of the country, then can the Ministry of Education in Putrajaya manage? Teacher training and transfer will go haywire, as will syllabus management.

On the face of it the suggestion seems so ridiculous that it can’t possibly happen.

But another thing that complicates the matter is that when Sabah and Sarawak joined with Malaya and Singapore to form Malaysia in 1963, part of the 20-point and 18-point agreements respectively was that education would remain under state control.

If this point is taken literally and enforced, a layman interpretation would be that Sabah and Sarawak can pretty much have separate education systems from peninsular Malaysia.

Extending this line of thought, the only reason Sabah and Sarawak is following Putrajaya’s education syllabus would appear to be because of an agreement by their respective state governments.

That seems problematic should a future administration in either Borneo state choose to hold Putrajaya to the Malaysia agreement and pursue a separate education path. While this is not a problem yet, it may be in the future, and prevention is always better than cure.

So, how? This is but one of the many contentious issues around the Malaysia agreement.

Critics have long argued that the Borneo states have gradually lost the positions and guarantees agreed to when the federation was formed. Chief among the complaints must be being treated as just a Malaysian state when both joined on status equal to the rest of peninsular Malaysia combined.

But how many in these states even remember much about the agreement?

A survey by a local Sarawak newspaper three years ago found that many respondents aren’t even aware that the 18-point memorandum existed. This is a sad occurrence given that without these 18-point and 20-point memoranda, Malaysia may never have come into being.

The dearth of details on the memoranda in our textbooks is not helping either. Thumbing through a Pengajian Malaysia textbook recently, none of the points were listed, only that they were signed.

Adding to my dismay was the presentation of the Cobbold Commission’s finding in the textbook: that the commission found most Sabahans and Sarawakians were in favour of forming Malaysia was noted.

But the textbook did not note the finding that most Sabahans and Sarawakians, especially in rural parts, had no real appreciation of the Malaysia concept, even recording one answer by a respondent saying “Whatever you say, sir” to a commission member.

Will Najib finish what his father started?

It is worth remembering that the Malaysia agreement was supposed to be reviewed in 1973, ten years after the federation was formed.

Tun Abdul Razak, then-prime minister, set-up a committee that year to undertake the review. His deputy, Tun Dr Ismail, chaired the committee.

“However, the committee did not meet at all in that year because the Draft Bill of the Petroleum Development Act (PDA) was being drawn up at the time,” said former finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in a speech last year.

“In any event, Tun Dr Ismail passed away in August 1973 and this was followed by the demise of Tun Razak in January 1976, giving the review a tragic twist with it being left on the backburner.”

According to Tengku Razaleigh, the review did not take place simply because it was overtaken by events at the time, and Tun Abdul Razak’s intention reflected good faith on the federal government’s part on the matter.

In any case, it’s been more than 40 years since the agreement was supposed to be reviewed. But it’s not too late.

According to a news report two weeks ago, Sabah assemblyman Jeffrey Kitingan said he will submit three motions to Parliament, one of which calls for the review of the Malaysia agreement.

“With the proposed Bill and the three motions, the patriotism of the Sabah [Barisan Nasional] leaders and the sincerity of the federal and state governments are now laid before the people of Sabah,” said Jeffrey.

Same goes for Sarawak, too. High time we revisit our history and take care of unfinished business so we can truly move forward without having to look back every now and then.

In a touching piece in January this year, commemorating the 38th anniversary of Tun Abdul Razak’s untimely death on January 15, 1976, Datuk Seri Najib Razak brother, Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, said their father’s peers remember him as a prime minister for all.

“But above all, what they unanimously emphasised was Tun Razak’s commitment to national unity —towards building a nation where every single one of its citizens could find a place under the Malaysian sun,” wrote Nazir about how his father’s peers remember the man.

Incidentally — or otherwise — Prime Minister Najib promised the same thing after the 13th general election.

“I promise you today that I will be a Prime Minister for all Malaysians, whatever your race, religion, state or political views,” he wrote. 

It is only fitting, then, that the prime minister finishes what his father started way back in 1973. Let’s review the agreement so Malaysia can finally move on.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.