Constitution expert: Amendment good first step but federal govt needs to do more to rebuild bridges with Sabah, Sarawak

Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi

By Nur Ashikin Louis

KUCHING, Jan 25: Sabah and Sarawak rank among the poorest States in Malaysia and lag behind in infrastructure, education and employment opportunities despite their abundant natural resources and massive contribution to the national coffers.

Constitution expert Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi who also holds the Tunku Abdul Rahman Chair as Professor of Constitutional Law at University of Malaya (UM) said there is discontent about the inequitable sharing of resources and lack of fiscal federalism.

“Sabah and Sarawak constitute 60 per cent of the territorial surface of Malaysia but receive a meagre proportion of the federal budget.

“Clearly, these States do not derive the kind of financial benefit they deserve as a result of their contribution to the national coffers from petroleum, hydroelectricity and tourism.

“A major complaint is the meagre 5 per cent oil royalties,” he said when speaking at a lecture titled ‘Constitution Amendment 2021’ held via Zoom today.

Therefore, Shad Saleem opined that the constitutional amendments made to the Federal Constitution and passed in Parliament on Dec 14, 2021 is a good first step towards redemption of rights that were repealed or had not been enforced in letter or spirit.

The amendments included the new definition of the term “federation” in Article 160(2) which shows that the inclusion of Sabah and Sarawak was an extension of the original federation of Malaya in 1957, as well as to state the exit of Singapore from Malaysia in 1965. It also specifically mentioned the definition of the new Federation is pursuant to the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).

Another notable amendment was to see Sabah and Sarawak defined as ‘Borneo States’ instead of being lumped together with other Peninsular States in Article 1(2).

The third amendment involved Article 161A which was to delete the federal definition of who is indigenous to Sarawak and thereby qualified as a “native” while the fourth was the insertion of the definition of “Malaysia Day”.

Shad Saleem noted, however, that the amendment of Article 1(2) is more symbolic than substantial and will not be the magic wand to resolve many woes which need additional measures.

For example, he explained, Article 161E specifically said that some amendments which affect the rights of Sabah and Sarawak must obtain the consent of the States.

However, this did not seem to be the case as for the last 58 years, consent was not obtained for several matters such as federalisation of critical State matters such as water and tourism and the amendment of Article 121(1) in 1988 to emasculate the powers of the High Court of Borneo.

He also elaborated on how Sabah and Sarawak suffered disadvantages compared to the Peninsular States which included the fact that Yang di-Pertuan Agong is, by law, always from the Peninsula, Governors of both States have no role in the King’s election or dismissal, and underrepresentation in Parliament.

Following that, he believed that as a matter of expediency and fidelity to the provisions of 1957/1963 Constitution, the political leaders of West Malaysia must rebuild bridges of understanding with Sabah and Sarawak so that the federation can grow stronger.

“Additionally, governments in Sabah and Sarawak must seize the moment and work with the federal administration to adopt and practise new national and State policies on sustainable development, education and elimination of poverty in Sabah and Sarawak,” he emphasised. — DayakDaily