It takes two to tango, Yong tells federal leaders

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) wants a review of the state-federal relationship to bridge the widening gulf between the two.

Its president, Yong Teck Lee, said it is time Sabah reclaimed its rightful position in the federation, as spelt out in the Malaysia Agreement.

“The debate as to whether Sabah is one of three equal partners or one of 13 states in Malaysia shows that a review of the state-federal relationship is relevant and timely," said the Sabah opposition leader who pulled his party out of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in 2008.
"SAPP will push for a review in line with its eight-point struggle for autonomy and the return of Labuan," he said, referring to the island which was ceded to the federal government in 1984 and made a federal territory. Labuan is now an international offshore financial centre and free trade zone.

Yong also said the review will propose that the status of the High Court in Borneo be raised and that the granting of citizenship in Sabah must require state consent.
“Schedule 9 (Legislative Lists) of the Federal Constitution can be amended to give more jurisdiction to Sabah and Sarawak.

“Foreign labour, labour laws, shipping, road transport, trade and industry and energy can be transferred to the state list.

“Schedule 10 Part V (Additional Sources of Revenues Assigned to Borneo States) can be expanded to include oil and gas, customs duties and revenues originating from Sabah and Sarawak.

“This review can include Jeffrey Kitingan’s idea of a two-tier federation.
“A two-tier system will allow the Conference of Rulers to continue as it is but that the Chief Ministers and Menteri Besar Conference can be reviewed to enhance the participation of Sabah and Sarawak,” Yong, the former Sabah Chief Minister, said in a statement.

He said Sabahans’ understanding of the Malaysia Agreement and the Malaysia Proclamation 1963, is that Sabah had formed Malaysia with three other partners – Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore.

“Hence, many Sabahans (now with the independence of Singapore) consider Sabah as 'one of three' and not “one of 13” partners in Malaysia. This, the collective memory of the Sabah people, does not go away. People still talk about it.

"From 1963 to 1971, Sabah and Sarawak were known as East Malaysia. Malaya became known as West Malaysia. But after the break-up of West and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1971, the term West and East Malaysia was replaced with 'Peninsular Malaysia' and 'Sabah and Sarawak' for obvious reasons.

“But the federal government will not concede that Sabah is an equal partner to Malaya because our national leaders cannot imagine Sabah as an equal to Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia),” he said.
'The wild east'
Yong pointed out that although Malaysia Day on Sept 16 is a historical fact, it still took the BN federal government 47 years to declare it a national holiday.

It was also worth noting, he added, that the country will still celebrate its 53rd year of independence when, in reality, the nation is only 47 years old considering that Malaysia was only formed in 1963.

“To them (peninsular leaders), we are the latecomers to Malaysia. We need their help because we are more backward. In the 1970s, our new friends in KL asked whether we live on tree tops and if we have television. To say they are equal to Sabah would be too much for them to bear.
“They say we need their civil servants because we have no qualified Sabahans. We win hardly any national sports tournaments. Economically, we are weak. Politically, we are 'the wild East'. Our tourism icon is the orang utan, our main national news are pirates.

"None of the national newspapers saw the need to report the Sabah debate on the loss of oil blocks L and M or the piping of natural gas to Bintulu and the controversy over the coal-powered plant. Sabah’s losses are of little concern to them,” Yong said.

But, Yong said, this is understandable... Sabahans and Sarawakians cannot blame their Peninsular Malaysia counterparts for saying that “Sabah and Sarawak are behind time” and slow in following the national trend when commenting on the March 2008 political tsunami in Peninsular Malaysia. “We cannot blame them for thinking so because that is their perspective of Sabah and Sarawak. But, we could remind them that when Sabah took the lead to change the BN federal government in 1990, all the peninsular states, except Kelantan, re-elected BN,” he said.
He noted that some leaders in KL had a biased mindset and considered Sabah as a recalcitrant child and they (Peninsular Malaysia) the parent. It is a mindset that is often reflected in the civil service, private companies and associations.

“Their KL head offices make all the important decisions and treat their offices in Sabah like any other branch in the peninsula.”

Yong attributed this culture of superiority among the KL leaders to Sabahans’ meekness which can especially be seen in some local politicians kowtowing to federal leaders and urging them to come regularly to Sabah to help them.

“Sabah Umno receives 'bapa angkat' in all the constituencies. When some Umno MPs were speculated to defect in 2008, their party headquarters sent spies after them.
"MCA claims that its four federal ministers can do wonders for Sabah’s Chinese. Upko (United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation) has made itself a mirror image of peninsular racial parties like MIC, MCA and Umno,” he said.

“At the same time, the leaders of PBS, PBRS and LDP have all become subservient to KL in the hope of getting some favours, the most glaring example being LDP lobbying for a federal minister's post. To be equal is not in their minds,” he added.

“The internal bickering within Sabah Umno and BN has also entrenched the 'divide and rule' tactic of KL. These BN leaders have not learnt from history. As a result, the people in Sabah lost out,” he said.

As far as Sabahans are concerned, Malaysia was formed pursuant to the Malaysia Agreement of July 9, 1963 signed in London. The signatories were led by the then prime ministers of the United Kingdom, Malaya, Singapore and the leaders of North Borneo (now Sabah) and Sarawak. (Singapore left Malaysia on Aug 9, 1965.)

The agreement was signed not with the other 11 existing states in the Federation of Malaya but with Malaya as an entity. (Indeed, Kelantan had objected to the inclusion of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore in Malaysia and had disputed the Malayan federal government’s power to admit new states. But Kelantan lost its legal challenge on Sept 14, 1963.)

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