Time to stand together as Sarawakians

An offshore natural gas rig. — DayakDaily.com file pic. // Photo: Pixabay

Commentary

The recent news of Petronas filing an application before the Federal Court seeking a declaration on the Petroleum Development Act 1974 (PDA 1974) being the law applicable in Malaysia, and that the Petronas shall not only be the exclusive owner of petroleum resources but also act as regulator for the petroleum upstream industry in Sarawak, came as a shock to most Sarawakians, if not all.

Most DayakDaily readers expressed dismay and disgust that Petronas would resort to challenging Sarawak’s claims on its own resources in its own land and territorial waters.
Some readers found it too much of a coincidence that this incident has to occur at a time when Pakatan Harapan (PH) has just successfully formed the federal government with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister. With Petronas directly under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Department and with Tun Mahathir having been Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister for 22 years when Petronas was sucking Sarawak oil out of our seabed and a meagre 5 per cent return on oil and gas royalties, it’s no wonder that our readers got suspicious of the timing.

While other readers started pointing fingers and painting all ‘orang Malaya’ as untrustworthy, other DayakDaily readers who are more level-headed pointed out that the filing of the application by Petronas is a natural recourse taken by the national oil company as a response to formal correspondence initiated by the Sarawak government via the Sarawak State Attorney-General.

On February 11, 2018, Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg announced that Petronas must apply for a prospecting licence in accordance with the Sarawak Mining Ordinance if Petronas wants to operate in Sarawak’s territorial waters. The Chief Minister repeated the same in April that all licences from Sarawak must be obtained by Petronas by July 1, 2018, otherwise Petronas’ activities in Sarawak will be deemed illegal. A letter was issued by the Sarawak State Attorney-General’s Chambers on April 13, 2018 to Petronas.

Meanwhile, the Sarawak government also announced it has granted Petroleum Sarawak Berhad (Petros), a local Sarawakian company, with the licences to explore oil and gas in Sarawak and its territorial waters. As a result, Petronas was advised to discuss and liaise with Petros with regards to Petronas’ future exploration and oil and gas (O&G) activities in Sarawak.

On May 22, Petronas rejected and challenged Sarawak’s authority. Petronas asserted that the Oil Mining Ordinance should be treated as Federal Law as the Ordinance was passed before the formation of Malaysia. As a result, based on PDA 1974, Petronas was granted the exclusivity of being the only regulatory authority for the O&G sector in the whole of Malaysia. This claim has involuntarily asserted that Petronas does not need approval from Sarawak for its upstream O&G activities, a move that does not sit well at all with most Sarawakians. The exclusivity clause is also proving to be a source of anger for many Sarawakians.

To many DayakDaily readers, the statement by Petronas that ‘Petronas remains committed to supporting Sarawak’s aspiration to participate in the oil and gas industry in the state for as long as it is within the framework of the Petroleum Development Act’ sounds like what can only be described as degrading at best.

With Sarawak controlling its own immigration, there are already suggestions by readers that the Sarawak government revoke work permits of non-Sarawakian Petronas personnel working in Sarawak.

One reader describe the whole fiasco as absurd, using the analogy ‘a neighbor came into my house without my permission, took all the fruits I have planted in the backyard, and demanded that as the house owner, I have no rights over the fruits, cannot consume the fruits and instead he has the exclusive rights to do whatever he wants to these fruits, here in my backyard.”

While many state Barisan Nasional (BN) politicians have responded swiftly within the same day the news of Petronas’ filing broke, vowing to fight for Sarawakians’ rights, including all those enshrined in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) – which includes rights to explore and mine in our own territorial water), Sarawak PH politicians have responded differently. Instead of supporting Sarawak’s cause, the latter seems to have embarked on a blame game and named the Sarawak government, including Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing and Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian, as having misled Sarawak into thinking that Sarawak has 100 per cent authority over its oil resources.

One reader wrote to DayakDaily and questioned why Sarawak PH agreed to fight for Sarawak’s rights as enshrined in MA63 if they do not believe that these rights even exist.

Two ordinances will be amended to enable Petros to operate as a regulator pertaining to the O&G industry in Sarawak, namely the Gas Distribution Ordinance 2016 (GDO) and the Oil and Mining Ordinance (O&M), in the State Legislative Assembly sitting next month. Based on the sheer number of state assemblymen BN has, these two ordinances will no doubt be passed without a hitch, but the question is will Sarawak PH assemblymen support this move to fight for Sarawakians’ rights over its territory and assets?

Whatever the chronological order of significant events leading up to this point in time have been, whatever and whoever have participated or is responsible during that point in time, although useful as points of references and should not be forgotten, it should not be used as topics to be rehashed and argued endlessly.

The majority of DayakDaily readers have indicated that the time for political campaigning is over as the election is over. It is perhaps time for all Sarawakians, including NGOs, politicians and lawmakers, to lay down their swords, sit down and put their heads together to find the best solution for Sarawak to get back those rights that our “Malaya” brothers have robbed from us.

In short, DayakDaily readers have decided that when it comes to Sarawak, they choose to be supportive and constructive. They choose Sarawak, and so do I. So should our politicians and leaders. — DayakDaily