Change or more of the same?

The rights of some must not be enjoyed by denying the rights of others. Neither can we permit states’ rights at the expense of human rights.

— George W. Romne, American politician and businessman

It was a rather mixed week for Sabah and Sarawak.

With the recent Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) Supreme Council meeting, several state rights were returned to East Malaysia.

The first was that the federal government will return the administration of the Sipadan and Ligitan Islands to Sabah.

Secondly, Putrajaya will grant Sarawak full control and management of its gas distribution.
Granted, on any other day, this would be a massive victory in terms of the return of Sabah and Sarawak rights, but it just doesn’t feel like it is.

This was simply because the two things were among those concluded by the Special Cabinet Committee on MA63 under the Pakatan Harapan (PH) federal government back in 2019.

It was part of a list of 17 out of 21 matters tabled by the Sarawak and Sabah governments at the Cabinet Special Committee meeting.

For Sarawak, the matter was under Item (ii) — Regulation of gas and electricity distribution in Sarawak and Sabah; and for Sabah, the issue of administration of Sipadan and Ligitan Islands in Sabah was under Item (vi).

The jury is still out on whether this was a case of simply picking up where PH left off because I think Sarawak and Sabah deserve better.

Arguing otherwise was Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Sabah and Sarawak Affairs) Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili who described the decisions made as being “historic”.

He refuted Pakatan Harapan administration’s claim of having resolved 17 out of 21 issues pertaining to the MA63.

While pointing out that the claim is untrue, he said the Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration’s MA63 Special Council found most of what PH claimed as resolutions were actually “mere commitments”.

“They (PH) claimed that of the 21 issues raised, 17 have been addressed — actually this is not true. There was no ultimate decision except for at least two or four issues in Sabah including forestry,” he said in a statement.

He said commitments were made on the issues but no policies, laws and regulations were implemented to give effect to the commitments.

Ongkili said the PN government will deliver on these commitments.

Let’s hope that such is the case.

The return of Sabah and Sarawak rights under MA63 is very much anticipated especially after the PN government set up a special ministry for the purpose.

While Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s commitment to return the MA63 rights is a welcome sight, the premier needs to deliver and he should do so with the expedited return of eroded state rights to East Malaysians.

In setting up the MA63 Special Council during last year’s Malaysia Day, he said issues that are considered difficult to resolve can be resolved well when the federal and state governments are aligned with one another.

“What is important is that efforts to develop these two states can be continued and enhanced with the close cooperation between the federal and state governments.”

Out of the 21 matters raised in the last MA63 meeting under PH, four remained unresolved until the coalition’s untimely collapse early last year.

These include oil royalty issues and petroleum cash payments; oil minerals and oil fields; Territorial Sea Act 2012 (Act 750); and state rights over the continental shelf.

Act 750 particularly made headlines this week with Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Seri Jeffrey Kitingan calling for the federal government to limit the scope of the Act to the peninsula and not impose it on Sabah and Sarawak.

This was echoed by Sarawak, with federal Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar pointing out that its introduction in Parliament was in breach of Article 2 of the Federal Constitution.

The issues related with oil royalty and cash payment too will cause tempers to flare as we’ve seen during the PH administration as the federal government was callous in its approach to a matter that is sensitive to Sarawakians.

While the meeting on April 13 also touched on the proposed constitutional amendments under Article 1(2) and Article 160 (2) of the Federal Constitution, it is hoped that an all-encompassing amendment Bill is tabled in Parliament in the near future.

This, of course, will require Parliament to convene and a two-thirds majority for it to pass.

But if the people in Malaya, both from PN and PH, want to be on the good side of Sarawak — and Sabah — they should support the Bill unanimously.