By Peter Sibon
WITH the increasing awareness among Sarawakians for greater autonomy as spelt out under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63), it is inevitable that the country’s top leadership has taken note of this crucial issue.
The historic Steering Committee meeting in Putrajaya on Monday (Dec 17, 2018) to revisit the MA63 clearly started on the right footing. It was chaired by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and among those present were Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg and his Sabah counterpart, Datuk Seri Panglima Mohd Shafie Apdal.
With Dr Mahathir helming the ‘new’ Malaysia, Sarawak under Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) is now on an equal footing of sorts to seek its autonomy and to restore Sarawak’s rights under the original spirit of the MA63.
But to reclaim the rights of Sarawak as stipulated under the MA63, there are four major pillars that must be in place.
Firstly, the Pakatan Harapan federal government must be sincere in wanting to restore Sarawak’s rights that have been eroded over the years. These rights include Sarawak’s status as equal partners in the federation as contained in the 18-point agreement, which entailed amongst others autonomy in education, religion, immigration, resources (especially oil and gas) and, most importantly, the autonomy to administer Sarawak.
Now, Works Minister Baru Bian and Deputy Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Chong Chieng Jen are also members of the Steering Committee and both are also from Pakatan Harapan component parties, but they must be proactive in fighting for Sarawak’s rights by virtue of the fact that they are Sarawakians. They must not bow to the commands of their political masters in Putrajaya at the expense of the people of Sarawak. Sarawakians are watching their every move, closely.
Secondly, GPS must play its cards well as Sarawakians are banking on Abang Johari to bring the message across to Putrajaya. If Abang Johari is successful in this mission, he will earn the trust of Sarawakians for him to continue leading the state. With Dr Mahathir accepting the unanimous decision passed in the last State Legislative Assembly (DUN) sitting for Sarawak to have more representation in the Steering Committee, Sarawak should be in a better position to negotiate in future meetings. This augers well for fruitful meetings.
The third pillar encompasses all DUN members and the state civil servants. They must know what is the MA63 all about and its implication for all Sarawakians. In this regard, continuous efforts must be made for all state lawmakers and top state civil servants to know the essence of the MA63 so that they can educate the grassroots and their subordinates that the state is actually an autonomous region in the country and not one of the 13 states in Malaysia.
And lastly, the fourth pillar is Sarawakians themselves. They must realise that their home state, along with Sabah — which is also an autonomous region in Malaysia, are lagging far behind in terms of development. Just look at our roads, especially in the rural areas, the dilapidated schools and settlements that are without electricity and treated water. It is very crucial for Sarawakians to continue to demand greater autonomy from Putrajaya as it is the only way to get extra money for development, especially for the rural areas.
It is, in fact, an irony that although Sarawak is the richest place in Malaysia, it is still lacking so many basic necessities. Comparatively, Malaya has progressed by leaps and bounds since its independence on August 31, 1957. And by 2020, Malaya will definitely be able to attain developed status.
Hence, we must ask ourselves why is that so. The fact is that Sarawak, which has been reduced to merely one of the 13 states in Malaysia, has been receiving budget funds from the federal government annually, but the amount is about the same as those for other states, perhaps slightly more. But the federal government has often times forgotten, or perhaps just through pure ignorance, that Sarawak is as big as the whole of Peninsular Malaysia.
Sarawak and Sabah must be given due attention, and the only way to achieve that is through fruitful negotiations on the MA63, which will restore Sarawak and Sabah as equal partners in the federation. — DayakDaily