‘Any constitutional amendment must make Sarawakians proud to be part of Malaysia’

Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali

By Geryl Ogilvy

KUCHING, April 30: Any amendment to the Federal Constitution must not result in the erosion of the legislative and executive powers of Sarawak.

Amendments must also avoid the removal of any safeguards for the special interests of Sarawak provided under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA 63) but provide the state with additional protections against any encroachment onto the constitutional safeguards by the federal government, said Sarawak de facto Law Minister Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali.

She added that above all, any amendment to the Constitution must make Sarawakians proud to be part of Malaysia and as Malaysians, thereby strengthening the unity of the nation and make a positive contribution to the progress and prosperity of Malaysia.

“I must express dismay and disappointment that the recent constitutional amendment bill was presented with undue haste to Parliament even though it was agreed at the January meeting of the Technical Committee on MA63 that such a bill would not be presented to Parliament until October 2019.

“Even then, despite suggestions by MPs from GPS (Gabungan Parti Sarawak) that the bill be referred to a Parliamentary Select Committee for study, it was put to the vote and ultimately defeated,” Sharifah Hasidah said when tabling a motion to amend the Federal Constitution at the DUN sitting here today.

The motion seeks to secure a comprehensive amendment to the Federal Constitution so as to

I. restore the status of Sarawak as a partner equal to Federation of Malaya when the Malaysia Agreement, 1963 (“MA 63”) was agreed and entered into;

II. provide that the Federation ordinarily referred to is one that is established under MA63 and not under the Federation of Malaya Agreement, 1957; and

III. safeguard the legislative and executive powers of Sarawak, the sources of revenues and special grants assigned to Sarawak and her financial autonomy.

Sharifah Hasidah said her federal counterpart, Datuk Liew Vui Keong, would have avoided embarrassment to the federal government if he had accepted the constructive proposals from the GPS MPs that the bill be referred to the Parliamentary Select Committee.

“During the tabling of the amendment bill in Parliament, it is perplexing and beyond understanding why the Pakatan Harapan government refused to insert the words ‘pursuant to Malaysia Agreement 1963’ in the proposed amendment as proposed by our GPS MPs.

“Our GPS MPs would have supported the amendment to Article 1(2) if it had these five words incorporating MA63 been incorporated. Nothing in the Federal Constitution refers or mentioned MA63.

“We found this astonishing as the Federal Constitution makes clear reference to Federation of Malaya 1948 and 1957, so why can’t MA63 be mentioned in the Constitution?”

Sharifah Hasidah added that any amendment to the Constitution must safeguard the legislative powers of this august House and also the executive powers of the State government.

“At this moment, the combined strength of the MPs from Sarawak and Sabah is less than one-third of the total membership of both Houses of Parliament.

“MPs from Sarawak and Sabah are no longer able to prevent constitutional amendments that have the effect of altering the legislative lists for Sarawak and Sabah in the Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution. An amendment to the Constitution must be done to correct this imbalance,” she said.

She pointed out that from time to time, Parliament had, without prior consultation with Sarawak, altered or amended the Legislative Lists.

For example, in 1994, tourism, then a residual power of the state, was placed in List I (federal List) when the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 1994 was passed in Parliament.

In 1981, ‘Prevention and extinguishment of fire, including fire services’ were taken out of List IIA and placed in List III (Concurrent List) as ‘Fire safety measures and fire precautions in construction and maintenance of buildings’, thus enabling Parliament to exercise control over approval of building plans that featured fire-fighting facilities; and

In 1988, Item 17 in List IIIA on ‘Libraries, museums, ancient and historical monuments and records and archaeological sites and remains’ was removed and a new item ‘Preservation of heritage’ was put under the Concurrent List.

“All these show that Parliament can, by constitutional amendment remove, alter, or modify the legislative powers of this august House.

“Such amendments that take away, alter or modify the powers of this august House not only affect the dignity, powers and privilege of this House as a legislative body but the legislative as well as executive powers of the state.

“We, therefore, must have provisions in the Federal Constitution to prevent any further erosion of legislative and executive powers of the state.”

Sharifah Hasidah said the state needed to entrench clear provisions in the Federal Constitution to safeguard its financial autonomy, including protecting sources of revenues, special grants and enforcing compliance with the mandatory requirements to have periodical review of the special grants, which is the protection of the territory of the state including the continental shelf and the territorial waters that are within the boundaries of Sarawak as on Malaysia Day.

She added that the state must safeguard the rights to its natural resources such as land by making it compulsory for the federal government to return to the state the lands that are no longer used, occupied or managed by the federal government for federal purposes. — DayakDaily