Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.– John F. Kennedy, 35th president of the United States
After a harrowing battle to assert the rights to the state sales tax (SST) which started with its imposition starting Jan 1, 2019, Sarawak was finally given its share of the spoils earlier this week.
Now, make no mistake about it, this is a big deal.
While the official figure of the payment from Petronas was RM2.95 billion for the year of 2019, it was said that the actual amount garnered from SST from all the oil and gas companies were upwards RM3 billion.
In his winding-up speech in the state legislature back in Nov 2018, the chief minister lamented that over the past 42 years, revenue from the five percent royalty to Sarawak amounted to only RM33.5 billion.
This meant, as of 2018, Sarawak has been paid an underwhelming RM797 million annually for the past 42 years with just the five percent royalty.
Understandably, the logical thing to do was to call for a bigger share of the royalty — 20 percent, but the call, as all of us know, had fallen on deaf ears.
It was former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who had told a dialogue session last year in New York — 15,000km away across the Pacific Ocean from Sarawak — that the 20 percent oil royalty demand by oil producing states was not workable.
The grand old man of politics seemingly at the time, did not muster the courage to tell the people of Sarawak to their faces that their demand could not materialise.
Former finance minister and Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary-general Lim Guan Eng back in Sept 2019 also snuffed out Sarawak and Sabah’s demands for the 20 percent royalty, citing the nation was currently saddled with huge debts.
This came after their back-to-back promise in 2017, when Lim and state DAP chief Chong Chieng Jen told a press conference after their DAP national leadership retreat in Subang Jaya that PH would pay the 20 percent royalty to Sarawak and Sabah along with returning 50 percent of all tax receipts collected from the two states.
Later in 2017, Chong even went to the length of saying that Sarawak does not have to beg for their 20 percent oil royalty, assuring that PH will pay its due during a sitting in Sarawak DUN.
We all know how that turned out.
That is where the ingenuity of the state government led by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg must not be understated.
In the thinking of the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) leaders, there are various other ways to skin a cat as proven by the introduction of SST.
Say what you want about it — autonomy, devolution of powers, etc — the end goal is that Sarawak wanted a bigger share of the pie that is the oil and gas production revenue, and we got that.
The journey has not been smooth sailing, the imposition of SST in the past year has been debated, scrutinised by the oil and gas company along with Malayan-based lawyers.
But look at where we are now, look at Sarawak — we have been able to successfully negotiate a settlement for SST with Petronas and the federal government.
Even Sabah, whose initial response to SST was muted, joined in to claim their share of the spoils — to the chagrin of Sarawakians who had been left to fend for its own during the legal battles with Petronas in the past year.
State leaders have been correct to say that such milestone is a sign of things to come and that even more state rights will be returned to Sarawak.
This was possible due to a federal government that has shown its intent to pander to the aspirations of Sarawakians as well as Sabahans by displaying it through actions and not mere words.
The fight to return more state rights has not slowed down under Perikatan Nasional (PN) as the opposition leaders would have you believe, rather, it has been stepped up.
While the reactions have been mixed with the formation of the Special Council on Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) announced by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin recently, at the very the least, PN has shown that it is able to negotiate in good faith.
However, take nothing away from Abang Johari and the rest of the state government, they too have been exceptional.