On the occasion of the 53rd anniversary of the formation of Malaysia on September 16, Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM) calls on all Malaysians to revisit the Malaysia Agreement, to understand the spirit of the social contract that lays the very foundation of the formation of Malaysia and to unite under the Malaysia Agreement to build a more just and inclusive Malaysia for everyone.
The Malaysia Agreement was signed on 16 September 1963 between the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo (now Sabah), Sarawak and Singapore as equal partners to form a new union – Malaysia. While Singapore left the union in 1965, Malaysia continues to operate with three partners to this date.
Sadly, the spirit of the Malaysia Agreement was somehow lost in the past 53 years with Sabah (North Borneo before joining Malaysia) and Sarawak gradually reduced to one of the 13 states instead of two equal partners to the Federation of Malaya, with the amendment of Article 1(2) in 1976. Also, the Federal Constitution has failed to acknowledge the new Federation and the Malaysia Agreement 1963 so much so that “the Federation” in Article 160 continues to be defined as “established under the Federation of Malaya Agreement 1957”. The Malaya-centrism must be corrected in the highest law of the land.
While the 20-Point Agreement in relation to Sabah and the 18-Point Agreement in relation to Sarawak provided some safeguards to protect the interest of the peoples in Sabah and Sarawak, the roles of Sabah and Sarawak in the overall political and economic development of Malaysia are increasingly marginalized. The most startling reflection of this development was the confirmation of the World Bank in 2010 that Sabah had become the poorest state in Malaysia despite being a major oil producing region and rich in natural resources. The World Bank’s study further revealed that Sabah had only 10 per cent of Malaysia’s population but accounted for 40 per cent of the national poverty. Sarawak, blessed with rich resources, was found to be second from bottom among the 13 states for having 33.1 percent of households in rural area earning RM1,999 or less in a household income survey in 2014.
More alarmingly, Sabah is now the new troubled state of Malaysia with a huge number of undocumented immigrants staying in the state with many receiving citizenship in dubious manners as confirmed in the report of the Royal Commission on Inquiry in 2014. Security in Sabah is deteriorating for the locals and tourists, especially those living in the east coast, with cases of abduction and kidnapping taking place regularly despite the establishment of the Eastern Sabah Security Zone and a command center to enforce security in the region since 2013.
Perhaps the discontent of the peoples in Sabah and Sarawak can be better understood if one compared them with the development of Brunei and Singapore. The GDP per capita of Brunei and Singapore stood at US$79,700 and US$85,300 respectively in 2015 while the GDP per capita of Sabah and Sarawak in 2013 stood at US$5,822 and US$12,869 according to the statistics provided by the Department of Statistics. Brunei pulled out before the signing of the Malaysia Agreement in 1963.
Nevertheless, the lagging behind of Sabah and Sarawak in development cannot be wholly blamed on the unequal power relationship between the Sabah and Sarawak with the Peninsular Malaysia. The corrupt ruling elites in Sabah and Sarawak that exploited the rich natural resources to enrich themselves and their families are equally accountable for the unsustainable development and widening of the income gap between the rich and the poor in Sabah and Sarawak. They have willingly working in cohorts with the ruling elites of the federal government in exchange for political support and patronage at the expense of the interest of the peoples in Sabah and Sarawak.
In order to build a democratic, progressive, just and inclusive Malaysia and address the imbalance of economic development and power relationship between the Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak in nation building, GBM calls for the following measures:
- The peoples in Sabah, Sarawak and the Peninsular to stand united in rejecting corruption and the manipulation of racial and religious sentiments for political gains both at state and federal level. The peoples in the Peninsular Malaysia must support the plights of Sabahan and Sarawakian while the Sabahan and Sarawakians must support democratic reform at the federal government
- Rewording Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution from:
“The States of the Federation shall be Johore, Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Penang, Perak, Perlis, Sabah, Sarawak, Selangor and Terengganu” (outcome of the 1976 amendment)
“The States of the Federation shall be
- The states of Malaya, namely, Johore, Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Penang, Perak, Perlis, Selangor and Terengganu”
- Sabah; and
- Sarawak” (closer to the 1963 original provision)
- Redefining “the Federation” in the Federal Constitution in Article 160 from:
“the Federation established under the Federation of Malaya Agreement 1957”
“the Federation established, before the sixteenth day of September, nineteen hundred and sixty three [September 16, 1963], under the Federation of Malaya Agreement 1957, and after the day, under the Malaysia Agreement 1963”
- The federal government should allocate more resources for the development of Sabah and Sarawak, especially basic infrastructure and social services in the rural areas. It is unjust that the oil revenue from Sabah and Sarawak are all going to the federal government with only 5% going back to Sabah and Sarawak in the form of oil royalty. There should be increase of oil royalty for Sabah and Sarawak to support their sustainable development in combination of other anti-corruption measures to help curb the runaway logging activities, massive palm oil plantations and mega dam projects which have becoming an ecological disaster in Sabah and Sarawak on top of displacing thousands of indigenous peoples.
- More urgently, the federal government and the Sabah government must re-examine the effectiveness of the Eastern Sabah Security Zone Command Center (ESSCOM) and allocate more resources to beef up the security in the Eastern Sabah and to wipe out kidnapping and abduction completely. The federal government must work with the Sabah government to resolve the huge number of undocumented immigrants and the granting of citizenship in dubious manner, which undermines severely the integrity of elections in Sabah and distorted the genuine voice of the Sabah people.
- The federal government must consult and take into consideration concerns of the population of Sabah and Sarawak on the growing of racial politics and religious intolerance. The federal government should enact a National Harmony Law and establish an independent Reconciliation Commission to resolve issues related to race and religion.
Chair, Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia