Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari

The following excerpt is from Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg’s Malaysia Day celebration speech in Sibu on Sept 16.

Malaysia is now 57 years old and has undergone many socio-political changes. The change of government at the federal level (after GE14 in 2018) had a profound impact on the country’s socio-political climate.

Sarawak has played an important role in re-stabilising and helping to form the government which continues to govern the country as efficiently as possible.

On behalf of Sarawakians, I thank the federal government for understanding the aspirations and needs of the people. Sarawak also thanks the federal government for its various aids such as the Bantuan Prihatin Nasional for people affected by the Covid-19.

Federalism concept in Malaysia

On Sept 16, 1963, Malaysia was born under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) signed by the British government, Federation of Malaya and representatives of Singapore, North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak.

MA63 states that the components of the new Federation of Malaysia are:

  • States of the Federation of Malaya
  • Singapore, and
  • the Borneo States of Sabah and Sarawak

The federalism that the Constitution embraces is therefore unique and tailor-made to ensure the continued unity, harmony, and development of the Federation.

The Constitution provides for a unique federal system of government under which additional legislative, executive powers and more sources of revenues are assigned to Sabah and Sarawak to safeguard their special interests.

These are exciting, as well as challenging times because the features of our federalism have been under intense scrutiny by the federal and state governments with a more knowledgeable population keeping a close eye on the implementation of the features compared from, say, 30 years ago.

The people now are fully aware of their state’s constitutional rights, and special safeguards, and demand that the governments in the federation respect and ensure non-transgression of these rights and safeguards.

In any political system, where there are two or more legislative authorities, the law-making powers have to be clearly demarcated. Despite such demarcations, potential disagreement is unavoidable as the exercise of the powers are influenced at times by different needs, aspirations and development or political agenda.

I am glad to see that the differences between the federal and the state governments are managed through consultation mechanisms provided in the Constitution or through an amicable approach acceptable to both parties based on the rule of law.

The ongoing negotiation in relation to the implementation of the Malaysia Agreement amplifies this. Through this meeting of minds in a civil and respectful environment, we are all confident and looking forward to solutions which will see no losers, and more importantly, no derogation of constitutional rights, special safeguards and status accorded to Sabah and Sarawak as agreed to by the nation’s founding fathers and embedded 57 years ago in the Federal Constitution.

From the perspective of Sarawak, this country should return to the fundamentals … the basis for the establishment of this country as enshrined in the Federal Constitution, MA63 and IGC Report.

I am confident that recognition of these fundamentals will further strengthen the spirit of nationhood and not the other way around.

Believe me, labeling Sarawak as parochial will not help the unification of the country. Sarawak and Sabah only want the eroded powers … be restored.

Nevertheless, I thank the federal and state governments for their agreement on several matters so far, including:

  • Federal financial obligations under the Joint List are raised and discussed in the National Finance Council
  • Review of Special Financial Grant to the state
  • Oil royalties and petroleum cash payments and oil and gas related matters are discussed jointly between the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister
  • Power to supply gas to Sarawak
  • Strengthening collaboration between federal and state works
  • Empower the state to make labour regulations under the Labour Ordinance
  • Establishment of a special health committee to discuss matters related to health issues in Sarawak
  • Delegation of tourism authority to the state is carried out on a case to case basis, and
  • Full authorisation (in phases) under environmental subjects is made to the state government based on the provisions under 95C without the need for any amendment to the Federal Constitution

Malaysia development

The years between 1963 and 1970 were very challenging for Sarawak because of the Indonesian confrontation and communist threat. Assistance from the federal government and allies in the Commonwealth ensured all these challenges were successfully addressed.

After 1970, Sarawak gradually became more stable and able to focus on development with the formation of a coalition government of Bumiputeras and Chinese.

Much has been achieved by Sarawak as part of Malaysia in 57 years. However, it is undeniable that development in Sarawak is still not equal to that in Peninsular Malaysia.

What is important is that Sarawak must continue to work hard to be able to become a developed state by 2030.

Based on this aspiration, the GPS government is working on the digital economy and environmental sustainability, namely:

  • Commercial agriculture
  • Production activities
  • Mining
  • Industrial forest plantation
  • Tourism
  • Services
  • Data centre and innovation
  • Infrastructure and utilities
  • Renewable energy, and
  • Education and human resource development

In this regard, I thank the federal government … who understands the aspirations of the people of Sarawak to use their land to implement various development programmes.

Petronas has committed to pay five percent SST to the Sarawak government and recognise Sarawak’s right to impose sales tax as enshrined in the Constitution and based on the Oil and Mining Ordinance, 1958.

From a commercial aspect, especially to develop the petrochemical industry in Sarawak, the state government works towards win-win situations as constant confrontation will bring losses to all.

I hope all Malaysians will recognise Sept 16 as the day of Malaysia’s establishment apart from the National Day, Aug 31.