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2008 Dec 18 - The Formation of Malaysia and Development in Sabah
The Formation of Malaysia and Development in Sabah
or "Pembentukan Malaysia dan Pembangunan di
Sabah" spoken by Tan Sri Simon Sipaun
I thank the organizers of this Muzakarah Pakar "Adil Dan Beramanah Dalam
Tadbir-Urus" for having invited me to share my thoughts on the topic "Pembentukan
Malaysia dan Pembangunan di Sabah" or "The Formation of Malaysia and
Development in Sabah". I have requested earlier for permission to speak in
English which was granted. However I will be quite happy to respond in
Bahasa Malaysia during the question and answer session. I wish to make it
very clear at the outset that what I say is purely my own opinion and does
not necessarily reflect the stand of SUHAKAM or agreed to by my
fellow-commissioners. My presentation is based on my personal
recollection, observation, perception and experience.
The Formation of Malaysia
The nation called Malaysia was born on 16 September, 1963. This is a
historical fact. It cannot be disputed. I remember it very well. I was
already 25 years old at the time. I also remember the day when Malaya
gained independence on 31 August 1957. 1957 was the year I left school. It
was the year I sat for my Cambridge Oversea School Certificate ¨C only a
handful of us. In school my teacher used to discuss with students the
possible merger of North Borneo (as Sabah was then known) Sarawak and
Brunei, all British Colonies. Malaya was never mentioned. We were also
asked to write essays on the subject. It was then that I became aware that
when separate independent states federate big fish in a small pond becomes
small fish in a big pond.
2. When Malaya became independent on 31 August 1957 there was great
jubilation in Malaya. You could feel the atmosphere of jubilation through
"radio tanah Melayu Kuala Lumpur" and Tunku Abdul Rahman's famous
exclamation of "merdeka!". However it occurred to me at the time why
Malaya chose the love song "terang bulan" as the national anthem. "Terang
bulan" was a very popular song in North Borneo at the time. You could hear
it being played in houses with the famous "His Master's Voice"
grammaphones. I would have thought that a completely new tune for the
Malayan national anthem based on a nation-wide competition would have been
more appropriate and preferable.
3. It has been said that history is subject to different interpretations.
For example, during the colonial era in North Borneo Mat Salleh, we were
told, was no more than a robber terrorising people. Now he is glorified
and labeled as a hero and a freedom fighter. Personally I do not know what
to believe. It happened such a long time ago. There are times when history
is also the distortion of facts by people in power. Lately I notice
slogans like 'celebrating 51 years of nationhood'. The question that comes
to mind is which nation is being referred to? If it refers to Malaysia
then obviously it is not factual because in 2008 Malaysia is only 45 years
old. If you refer to Malaya then it will be correct. However I believe
Malaya ceased to be an independent separate nation when it joined with
Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah to form a new federation known as Malaysia on
16 September 1963. 51 cannot be equal to 45 unless we have forgotten how
to count. I wonder why we cannot be honest about something which is
impossible to deny.
4. Personally I feel the formation of Malaysia came at least 10 years too
early in the context of Sabah. I vividly remember a conversation I had in
1962 with one of our community leaders who was very close to Donald
Stephens regarding Sabah's participation in the formation of Malaysia. I
expressed the following views, amongst others, to him:-
i) Sabah would lose the only opportunity to experience being a truly
independent sovereign state.
ii) It would simply be a transfer of power from the British to Malaya.
iii) Sabah did not have the people qualified and experienced enough to
negotiate with Malaya and Singapore.
iv) Sabah should demand for self-rule initially followed by full
independence from the British.
v) Sabah should then go to the negotiating table without the British if
the people, via referendum, wished to federate with Malaya, Singapore,
Sarawak and Brunei.
vi) Sabah should examine carefully the pros and cons of joining the
proposed federation both in the short and long term before deciding.
vii) Sabah should insist on an escape clause in the event it found itself
viii) At best it should only be a lose federation. And finally,
ix) The political union between Malaya and North Borneo would be
artificial because the two territories had very little, if any, in common
and separated by almost 2000 km of sea. North Borneo's case could not be
compared with Singapore. Singapore was geographically part of the Malayan
peninsula. Political union with Malaya made a lot of sense especially in
terms of economic survival for Singapore. It had no natural resources, not
even enough water for Singaporeans. At the time an independent Singapore
was not a viable option. The word "Malaysia" itself is a combination of
Malaya and Singapura. The recruitment of North Borneo, Sarawak and Brunei
was an attempt to counterbalance Singapore's Chinese population in the
proposed federation. It was an after thought.
5. The literacy rate of Sabahans at the time was very low at best. They
had no idea what was happening. In 1962 only 2 political parties were just
formed. They were the United National Kadazan Organization (UNKO) headed
by Donald Stephens and the United Sabah National Oganization (USNO) headed
by Datu Mustapha Bin Datu Harun.
6. As it turned out Brunei opted out at the last minute and remained a big
fish in a small pond. The intention of the founding fathers was a
federation of 4 independent states namely Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and
Sabah. I have been unable to obtain a copy of the first Federal
Constitution following the formation of Malaysia to see if such intention
was ever reflected in the Constitution which could have been subsequently
amended. Sabah according to the present Constitution is just one of the 13
states, a very small fish in a very big pond. The opening statement of the
1963 Malaysia Agreement reads as follows:-
"The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Federation
of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore, desiring to conclude an
agreement relating to Malaysia agree as follow:- ¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡.."
Malaya is referred to as the Federation of Malaya and the individual
states were not identified and specified.
7. Article 1 of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 provides that "The Colonies of
North Borneo and Sarawak and the State of Singapore shall be federated
with the existing States of the Federation of Malaya as the States of
Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore in accordance with the constitutional
instruments annexed to this Agreement and the Federation shall thereafter
be called 'Malaysia'." The signatories to the Agreement were the UK, the
Federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore. Article 1 of
the Federal Constitution provides that the Federation shall be known as
Malaysia. However in Article 160 of the Federal Constitution the term "The
Federation" means the Federation established under the Federation of
Malaya Agreement, 1957. Under the circumstances where do Sabah and Sarawak
fit in? Are they really part of the Federation of Malaysia?
8. I am not sure whether Singapore left the Federation on its own accord
or expelled from it in 1965. In my opinion when one of the original
signatories ceased to be a party to the original Agreement then that
Agreement should have been abrogated. After all it was very conceivable
that Sabah and Sarawak became part of the federation because of Singapore.
Brunei opted out of the federation in July 1963 and became independent
only in 1984. I remember Donald Stephens did suggest that the Malaysia
Agreement and Sabah's, position in the Federation should be reviewed. Very
shortly he ended up being sidelined and neutralised.
9. The principle of a federal system of government is based on the sharing
of powers between the Central and State governments. In the case of
Malaysia they are listed under 3 main categories namely the Federal List,
State List and Concurrent List. It can be seen that most powers are in the
hands of the Federal government. The States are left with land and local
government matters. Even these, there are such Federal agencies as the
National Land Council and National Council for Local Government. The
system is one in which it is federal in form but unitary in substance.
10. "Malaysia Day" is referred to no less than 6 times in the Malaysia
Agreement which has only 11 Articles. The birth of Malaysia falls on 16
September 1963 which is Malaysia Day and passes by like any other ordinary
day in this country. The national emphasis is 31 August which is the
independence day of Malaya. This date receives all the attention. To Sabah
and Sarawak 31 August has hardly any significance.
11. Finally on the formation of Malaysia let me share with you some of my
recollection of North Borneo before it became part of Malaysia. First and
foremost the race/ethnic relations were excellent. There were a lot of
inter-marriages. When Peninsula Malaysia was experiencing riots on 13 May
1969 there was no sign of them anywhere in Sabah. If Sabahans are now
conscious of racial and religious divides they learned it from Semenanjung.
Life was peaceful. Admittedly there was no development of the kind found
today. However Sabah was not alone. What was more significant was that
there was no illegal immigrants. There were no cases of local natives
losing citizenship status whilst foreigners gain it without difficulty.
There was no repressive and draconian laws such as the Official Secret
Act, the dreaded Internal Security Act, the Printing Presses and
Publication Act, the Sedition Act, the Police Act and the 4 Proclamations
of Emergency. There was no quarrelling over dead bodies. The Civil Service
was multi-racial and meritocracy was recognized and practised. Corruption
was unheard of. No community claimed superiority over the others. So much
for my version on the formation of Malaysia. Let me now briefly turn to:-
Development in Sabah
12. I understand that Sabah is the poorest state in the country. This
speaks volumes in terms of development in Sabah. What is surprising is
that it happens in a state with rich natural resources such as timber,
oil, gas and possibly other minerals. It has fertile soils, geographical
features including mountains, beaches, islands, flora and fauna which
could be developed as tourist attractions.
13. Compared to Semenanjung infrastructure development such as roads,
water and electricity supply is way behind. The same can be said for
health care and educational facilities. For example, before the formation
of Malaysia 45 years ago the districts of Tongod and Banggi had no doctor.
Today 45 years later they still have no doctor. The district of Paitan
does not even have one secondary school building. If you visit remote
areas abject poverty can be seen and felt everywhere. Yet I have heard
Federal and State political leaders saying abject poverty can be
eliminated by 2010! Government has been unable to do it for the last 45
years and it can now do it within less than 1 ½ years? To me only miracle
can make it possible.
14. When I was in the Civil Service I remember at the time Sabah was
producing between 110,000 and 120,000 barrels of oil per day. It was
reported in the newspaper recently that Sabah has gas reserve amounting to
about 12 trillion cubic feet. Yet there is no commercial project and
activity related to oil and gas. Terengganu where oil was discovered much
later has refinery and related activities. I read in the local newspapers
recently a Petronas statement indicating that Sabah has the least amount
of gas reserve and located and spread in different places. I get the
impression that it is not viable to exploit it. If this is the case then
it should be left alone for future generations. Yet a decision had been
made to build more than 512KM gas pipeline from Kimanis in Sabah to
Bintulu in Sarawak. I believe this is a multi-billion ringgit project. The
source of gas is from Sabah why can't the project be located in Sabah? If
there is doubt as to the reliability of gas supply the multi-billion
ringgit project should be abandoned and the funds used to finance
programmes for the eradication of poverty in Sabah.
15. The mother of all problems in Sabah is associated with the presence of
unusually large population of illegal immigrants. It is quickly changing
the economic, social, cultural and political landscape of the State. The
question that is in the mind of many Sabahans is ¨C why has the government
allowed this to happen? Thousands of people have requested for an
Independent Royal Commission of Inquiry to be established to determine who
are responsible for this state of affairs. I hope a day will not come when
the Philippines need not claim Sabah anymore due to a reverse take-over
which in my view, has long started. The illegal immigrants issue
represents a national problem but shouldered by Malaysians living in Sabah.
Sabahans feel threatened and insecure as the number of foreigners keeps
increasing. My gut feeling is that there are more foreigners than locals.
It has to be admitted that they contribute to the development of the state
by providing labour especially in the construction and agricultural
sectors. Sabah without them would come to an economic standstill.
Personally I have never blamed the illegals for being in Sabah. If I was
one of them I would be doing exactly what they are doing--searching for a
better life. The blame is on the relevant authorities for allowing them in
illegally. Two books entitled "IC Projek" and "Lelaki Malaysia Terakhir"
have identified national and state leaders who are alleged to have played
important roles associated with the illegal immigrants issue. To the best
of my knowledge none of those leaders mentioned in the books has refuted
or denied the allegations.
16. I understand that allocation of funds to Sabah is based on the number
of Malaysian citizens living in the State. The estimated Sabah population
is 3.5 million. Therefore the amount of funds received is only meant for
1.75 million people which has to be shared by 3.5 million people assuming
that 50% of the population are foreigners.
17. The bottom line for Sabah is that it is the poorest state in the
I have been requested to suggest some proposals at the end of the
presentation. As requested and due to time constraint I briefly list the
i) Genuine unity and national integration are vital for Malaysia. It
cannot be denied that this country has plenty of divisive factors. It is a
land of "multis". The process of unifying and integrating should be based
on justice, egual rights and respect. Article 1 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provides that all humans are born free
and equal in dignity and right. No nation which embraced race-based
politics and one community claiming superiority over others survived. Nazi
Germany and Aparthied South Africa are cases that come to mind. We are all
Malaysians and equal before God.
ii) We should focus on our similarities rather than on our differences.
For example, school uniforms should be the same for every student. Mykad
should be the same for every Malaysian. There should only be one box for
all citizens indicated in government forms and not at present ¨C one for
Malays, one for Chinese, one for Indians and one for others. These are but
a few examples of things which are not conducive to the creation of a
genuine united country. Let us concentrate on our commonality and
iii) To reduce, if not, eliminate polarisation, the composition of the
Civil Service and government agencies should be more reflective of the
multi-racial make-up of the Malaysian Society. Meritocracy should be
recognised, appreciated and practised, otherwise Malaysia will lose out in
a globalised and competitive world.
iv) We should concentrate on enlarging the size of the economic cake
rather spending too much effort and time how to share it.
v) We should have a sound education system at par with the best in the
world and all Malaysians should be subject to the same system.
vi) Good governance is described as participatory, transparent,
accountable and efficient. It promotes the rule of law and equal justice
under the law. Good governance should be promoted and maintained at all
cost for the present and future good of the country.
vii) No Malaysian or community should feel deprived or marginalised.
Everyone should be treated equally and fairly. Selective prosecution or
application of the law should stop.
viii) All laws which empower the government to arrest without trial should
be repealed. Article 10 of the UDHR provides that everyone has the right
to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial legal body.
Article 11 provides that everyone has the right to be treated as innocent
until proven guilty by a court of law.
ix) It has been said that politicians think in terms of the next election
whereas statesmen of the next generation. Malaysia needs more statesmen
and less politicians.
x) Corruption is like a cancer to the country. It is costly. It should be
minimized, if not, eliminated.
xi) The provisions of the Treasury Instructions should be strictly
complied with. Negotiated contracts should be stopped. It is preventing
the realization of the real value of public funds. One ringgit spent
should realize the value of one ringgit not say 50 sen or less.
xii) The illegal immigrants in Sabah should be shared equally among all
the States in Malaysia. Why should Sabah alone suffer from a national
problem allegedly self-created by government?
xiii) Sabah deserves better treatment by the Federal Government in terms
of more equitable distribution of opportunities and development projects.
There are far too many talks and pledges but little, if any, action.
ix) September 16 every year should be observed and celebrated as "Malaysia
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