Chong questions constitutionality of Sarawak-claimed spectrum, sidetracks to teasing GPS for not getting digital banking license

Chong speaks during the debate on the Land Code (Amendment) Bill 2022 today (May 18, 2022).

By Ling Hui

KUCHING, May 18: The proposed Land Code (Amendment) Bill 2022 that allows Sarawak to claim its rights over the spectrum above Sarawak lands is unconstitutional as it contradicts the Federal Constitution, says Padungan assemblyman Chong Chieng Jen (PH-DAP).

Chong raised this in his debate on the Land Code (Amendment) Bill 2022 which was tabled, and later passed unanimously, in the Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN) today.

He said there is no provision either in List II – State List, List IIA – Supplement to State List for States of Sabah and Sarawak, or List III – Concurrent List under the Ninth Schedule to the Federal Constitution, that provides for Sarawak’s legislature on the spectrum as proposed in the said amendment bill.

He said without the acknowledgment of Sarawak’s autonomy over matters concerning telecommunications, wireless or broadcasting in the Federal Constitution, the Bill though passed, would be deemed invalid.

“I would suggest, if the State government is really wants to legislate or obtain its rights over the spectrum passing over the airspace of Sarawak, the proper way to do it is to table a Federal Constitution amendment Bill in the Federal parliament first before legislating a Bill claiming that we (Sarawak) have the rights.

“We have the GPS (Gabungan Parti Sarawak) MP (Member of Parliament) who is the Federal minister of law sitting in the Federal Cabinet.

“And given the precarious position the prime minister is currently in, he will most likely succumb or give in to the demand of the Sarawak government to amend the Federal Constitution, to amend the Ninth Schedule to provide, at least, concurrent authority and power to legislate on matters related to posts and telecommunications, wireless, broadcasting and television,” said Chong.

Commenting on the part where GPS assemblymen said the Sarawak government could collect hefty charges from telecommunication companies for using Sarawak’s spectrum as Sarawak’s additional revenue, Chong said this would eventually increase the burden of end consumers.

He said telco companies that are profit-oriented business entities, when required to pay to use Sarawak’s spectrum for their telecommunication services, would end up charging users with higher prices.

Continuing on, he began bringing up past incidents where the Sarawak government intended to invest RM1 billion in building up to 5,000 telecommunication towers in Sarawak.

It was when Chong went another step further and questioned the Premier of Sarawak’s decision in 2020 to set up Sarawak’s own telecommunication company to improve internet connectivity in rural areas, that a commotion among the GPS YBs arose.

Chong’s past rival and also Kota Sentosa assemblyman Wilfred Yap, stood to interrupt Chong, calling on the Deputy Speaker Dato Idris Buang to rule that Chong’s debate be confined only to the amendment of the Sarawak Land Code.

“(Standing Order) 34(1) says that debate upon any motion or on any bill shall be relevant to that particular bill. And in this case, we are talking about an amendment to our Sarawak Land Code. There has been a lot of speculation, anticipation (by Chong), and that is not allowed under the Standing Order.

“So I hope that Tuan Speaker would rule to restrict the debate to this particular amendment, which is the amendment of our Sarawak Land Code to include that proprietary right of our airspace and the space below ground.

“That is the gist of this amendment. The following part of it is all anticipation, how the State government is going to run it, regulate it, formulate the legal framework. That is another issue to be debated in another bill, in another forum,” said Yap.

Idris (bottom right) motioning for Yap (bottom left) to sit down and let Chong finish his debate.

After a few more muffled exchanges between Yap and Chong, along with Idris’ occasional attempts to retain order in the August House, Chong was allowed to wind up his debate, but he took the liberty to mention Bank Negara’s decision not to approve Sarawak’s application for a digital banking license.

At this point, Idris decided to rule Chong’s final claims as irrelevant and expunged from the record. — Dayakdaily