The word Merdeka is derived from Sanskrit, meaning independence or freedom. As we join our West Malaysian friends in celebrating Merdeka Day, Sabahans and Sarawakians often wonder whether we will ever get the feeling of being independent and free after 57 years in Malaysia.
It was only on Oct 19, 2009, that the government decided to make Malaysia Day a public holiday. It took them 46 years to achieve that recognition. Despite Sept 16 being an important date, Malaysia Day is still celebrated under the shadow of Merdeka Day on Aug 31.
It’s now a tradition that the official Malaysia Day celebrations alternate between Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo. This year, it will be held in Sibu. Relegated to a second tier celebration after Merdeka Day, it is no wonder East Malaysians feel upset over its lack of prominence.
While East Malaysians embrace diversity and harmony in race, religion and cultures, West Malaysian politics still play up Malaysia Tanah Melayu, Ketuanan Melayu, and now Melayu Raya. All these terms constitute the concept of domination instead of sharing and bonding under one flag and national pride. As long as this kind of language and ideology is promoted, we will never be able to close the gap between Sabah and Sarawak and Malaya, no matter what.
The Pakatan Harapan (PH) government for all its weaknesses and infighting gave Sabah and Sarawak the best hope to be recognised as equal partners of Malaysia following the signing of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) between Britain, Malaya, Sabah (North Borneo), Sarawak and Singapore.
Last year, 20 items were negotiated to be fulfilled by the federal government and some were constitutional requirements. There are three items remaining to be negotiated related to oil and gas and territorial rights of the sea. It is a pity the PH government fell before it could be announced and implemented.
Under the Perikatan Nasional government, the items are now in the back burner and classified under the Official Secrets Act. After 57 years of marriage, we are still keeping secrets from one another.
The idea of divorce has crossed many minds in Sabah and Sarawak, but divorce is never easy and can be quite messy.
The Malaysia today is not the Malaysia that Sabah and Sarawak signed up for. In a joint public statement on Aug 1, 1962, as contained in the Inter-Governmental Report (IGC) issued by the British and Malayan governments, Sabah and Sarawak were promised safeguards covering religious freedom, the position of the indigenous races, education, representation in the federal parliament, and control of immigration, citizenship and the state constitutions.
However, these rights have been eroded to a large extent and Sabah and Sarawak have now become vassal states of Malaya. Instead of being equal partners, Sabah and Sarawak are now relegated to being two of the 13 states in the federation.
When Sabah and Sarawak asked for more money for development, people like Bruas MP Ngeh Koo Ham of DAP say we are ungrateful. What he is really saying is we should be thankful for what we have got, don’t ask for more.
However, unlike the other Malayan states, Sabah and Sarawak are partners in forming Malaysia. Without Sabah and Sarawak, there is no Malaysia.
Sabah and Sarawak occupy a special position in Malaysia and should be accorded class “A” status over other states.
It’s not as if we came into Malaysia with empty hands. Being the biggest oil producing states, Sabah and Sarawak have given more in oil revenue to Petronas and the federal government. East Malaysians contributed more than we received.
Since Petronas began extracting oil and gas in Sarawak from 1976 to 2017 (41 years), it had earned total revenue of about RM660 billion, but only RM33 billion was returned to Sarawak, said Sharifah Hasidah, the state de facto deputy minister for law.
Sabah has received about RM15.6 billion in cash payments from Petronas for oil and gas extracted in the state from 1976 to Dec 31 last year (43 years), said former deputy economic affairs minister Mohd Radzi Md Jidin.
In the 2019 Budget, Sabah was allocated RM5 billion for development projects and Sarawak RM4.3 billion, a pittance compared to the oil revenues extracted from the two states. When we compare Sabah and Sarawak’s fortunes with those of Singapore and Brunei, we can see the difference.
Since Singapore left Malaysia on Aug 9, 1965, it has become an economic powerhouse. Meritocracy has put a Muslim woman as president of Singapore. Brunei, which refused to join Malaysia, became an Islamic state and implemented hudud laws. Boycotts around the world have put the sultanate and its overseas assets under international pressure.
In Malaysia corruption is rampant and, for some, has become a way of life.
When Umno leaders protested in Sabah against Bung Moktar Radin, who is undergoing a corruption trial, being in charge of the Barisan Nasional-Umno campaign at the state elections, the leadership in KL says “it is ok”, sending the wrong signals to the public.
“Malaysia Prihatin” (Malaysia Cares) has been chosen as the theme for this year’s National and Malaysia Day celebrations. The question is, how many really care? Do our political leaders care more for the rakyat than themselves? After coming into power, they rewarded themselves with plum positions instead of making sacrifices for the people’s sake as they battle against the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ordinary citizens pay heavy fines and are sentenced to jail but ministers get a slap on the wrist and get to keep their jobs. It is as if there are two sets of laws – one for the elite in politics and one for the man in the street. If the leadership cares, they will have to walk the talk and fulfil their promises – loyalty to the king and country, freedom of worship, and a just and harmonious society where everyone is equal under the law.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.