Autonomy, special rights of Sarawak, Sabah need to be revived, enforced

Welsh gives her presentation during the virtual talk.

MA63 and status of Borneo states


KUCHING: Since autonomy and special rights of Sarawak and Sabah are contained in about 80 or so provisions of the Federal Constitution, they need to be revived and enforced, both in letter and in spirit.

This was the gist of an online talk entitled, “The 2021 Constitutional Amendment – MA63 and the Status of Borneo States in Malaysia” presented by constitution expert Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi and political analyst of University of Nottingham Asia Research Institute Malaysia, Dr Bridget Welsh.

Welsh points out that the amendment to Article 1 (2) was more symbolic than substantial. 

“It will not be the magic wand to resolve many woes that need additional measures. The litany of complaints that need attending to is long and painful. 

“There is discontent about the inequitable sharing of resources and lack of what is called fiscal federalism. 

“Sabah and Sarawak constitute 60 per cent of the territorial surface of Malaysia, but received a meager proportion of the federal budget, and a major complaint is the meager five per cent oil royalty.”

Prof Shad added that the mandatory allocation had not been assigned to Sabah and Sarawak despite their abundant natural resources and massive contribution to national coffers. 

“Sabah and Sarawak rank among the poorest states in Malaysia and lag behind in infrastructure, etc. 

“On the amendments to the Federal Constitution, Article 161 (E) specifically says that some amendments which affect the rights of Sabah and Sarawak must obtain the consent of the two states. 

“Now in the last 58 years, in some cases amendments were proposed and for reasons I do not understand, Sabah and Sarawak MPs did not object and these amendments went through.”

Prof Shad cited as an example, the federalisation of Labuan. 

“In other cases, consent was not obtained, for example Article 121 (1) was amended in 1988 to emasculate the powers of the High Court, including the High Court of Borneo. 

“The power of the Governors to appoint Judicial Commissioners was transferred to YADP Agong in 1994.”

On Federal control over politics, he said despite the autonomy of the states in many prescribed areas, the federal government controlled the political and administrative processes in these two states. 

On representation in Parliament, Sabah and Sarawak did not have the 33 per cent representation anymore, he added.

“Both as a matter of expediency as well as a matter of fidelity to the provisions of the 1957/1963 constitution, political leaders of Peninsular Malaysia must rebuild bridges of understanding with our brethren across the South China Sea so that this federation can grow stronger. 

Meanwhile, Welsh said: “I do believe that this particular amendment has very serious gaps, but I do think it is part of an ongoing process that begins to point to a greater representation and greater rights for Sabah and Sarawak. 

“My concerns however, is that from the perspective of Peninsular Malaysia, the amendment is seen as an end as opposed to a beginning. 

“And I think this is very much in terms of the substance that it is necessary to actually see this as a beginning process, a continuation of amendments that need to be changed, but also more fundamental shifts that need to take place in the power relationship in the decentralisation relationship between Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak.

“I think many people in Peninsular Malaysia continue to have a lack of understanding and a lack of respect for Sabah and Sarawak, measures are made in a temporal way as opposed to more significantly substantively and over time in a meaningful way,” she said, adding that the relationships were still very much with the elites.

Welsh opined that the partnership was very shallow and also one not based on a sense of genuine equality and respect. 

“There’s clearly a lot more that needs to be done,” she added.

The talk organised by Wisdom Foundation Malaysia was held via Zoom last Tuesday.

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