What ‘Shared Prosperity’ means for Sarawak

The Sarawak Legislative Assembly complex.

Commentary

By Peter Sibon

Recently, a foreign diplomat said Malaysia is on the brink of being a developed country. In fact, Malaysia was projected to attain developed status by next year under Vision 2020.

However, what drags the nation down and could not attain that status was due largely to Sarawak and Sabah’s seemingly backwardness in various factors, especially in terms of infrastructure such as roads and bridges, water and electricity supplies, particularly in the the rural areas.

Malaysia’s per capita income for this year is projected at about US$11,000 (RM46,000) which is third in Southeast Asia after Singapore and Brunei. This is at par with many other established countries such as Turkey and few other Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Brazil and even China.

Malaysia, according to some, has been described as a newly industrialised nation along with fast emerging economies such as Thailand but the flaw in this per capita income is that, it does not reflect the actual income of every household.

The gap between the rich and the poor continues. Meaning the middle income group has not expanded as expected. This is the issue at hand that must be addressed in order to attain a developed status, which led the federal government to adjust the target to achieve a developed status by 2030 under the ‘Shared Prosperity Vision’ (SPV).

Sarawak was actually the first state in Malaysia to set a target of 2030, which was considered more realistic to achieve its developed status.

This new set target could be achieved hopefully, with Sarawak able to catch up in the next 10 years provided it has enough resources and funding to do so.

This has often been emphasised by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg and he repeated it clearly yesterday during press conference with his Sabah counterpart Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal.

He pointed out that in order to achieve that target, both Sarawak and Sabah need extra funding from the federal government.

Although Sarawak will have extra income from its 5 per cent State Sales Tax (SST) on petroleum products, it is of paramount importance that the federal government must and should continue to contribute significant amount to ensure that both states will not be left behind and be able to catch up with the more advanced states in the peninsula.

During the press conference, both Abang Johari and Shafie highlighted the needs for the federal government to find a right formula to distribute wealth among the states in Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah.

Currently, Sarawak, almost as big as the whole peninsula, receives as much as all the state in Malaya including small states such as Perlis and Melaka.

If this is true, then these tiny states will also be getting roughly about RM4 billion in allocation under the 2020 Budget tabled by Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng last Friday. With this amount of allocation, these states definitely have plenty of projects to elevate the people’s wellbeing, while it will not be significant for Sarawak and Sabah.

For the sake of argument, a bridge like Batang Lupar will cost a staggering RM1 billion to build and with RM4 billion from the federal allocation, it might not even be sufficient to complete all the bridges along the coastal highway.

Another issue at hand is the special allocation for Sarawak and Sabah under Article 112(D) of the Federal Constitution based on the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA 63).

The special allocation for Sabah and Sarawak would be doubled to RM53.4 million for Sabah and RM32 million for Sarawak, the first increase in 50 years, and would rise further to RM106.8 million for Sabah and RM64 million for Sarawak in the next five years.

However, Lim had questioned why Sarawak was still unhappy as the previous Barisan Nasional government had never given the state so much before.

Rebutting Lim’s statement, Assistant Minister of Law, State-Federal Relation and Project Monitoring, Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali, told DayakDaily that it was wrong on the part of the Finance Minister to announce the review without first informing or seeking the approval of the Sarawak government through the Technical and Steering Committee established for the very purpose of determining a fair review of Article 112(D).

However, it was hoped that besides the revenue from the special allocation and federal annual allocation, Sarawak too will receive the extra RM3 billion annually from SST, it will then be able to catch up with the rest of the country.

The hope of all Sarawakians now is for the federal government not to drag its feet on this matter any longer and instead pays Sarawak accordingly, as this is the only way that Sarawak can achieved the so-called SPV 2030, which is fair to all Sarawakians in particular and Malaysians in general. — DayakDaily