Agreements are made to be broken

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Islam says:

if someone breaks a promise more than three times, then you should no longer be associated with that person. But what if it is a government that keeps breaking its promise? How do you disassociate yourself from a government?

In the 1970s, Parliament passed the Petroleum Development Act that provided for the formation of a national petroleum company, Petronas, which would take over all the oil and gas activities throughout the country. To begin with, oil and gas are state resources and under the Federation of Malaya agreement the states are supposed to keep their resources. Therefore, the Petroleum Development Act itself goes against the spirit of the Federation.

But the Federal government could not afford to leave oil and gas in the hands of the states or else it would start having ideas like Brunei — become an independent state. Then there is the matter of the money to think about. Petronas contributes about RM25 billion a year to the Federal government. This represents 25% of the nation’s total revenue. It is estimated that Petronas’ total revenue is about RM32 billion a year. Since Dr Mahathir took over as Prime Minister, Petronas has earned about RM800 billion, most of the money which is already gone.

The Petroleum Development Act not only takes the oil and gas away from states like Terengganu, Sabah and Sarawak — which have the potential to fall into the hands of the opposition — but it also makes Petronas accountable and answerable to only the Prime Minister thereby taking away the powers of Parliament. Parliament has no business to question Petronas on how it spends its money or insist that it tables its accounts in Parliament. More than RM30 billion a year, therefore, will be at the Prime Minister’s disposal to use as he pleases with no questions asked.

That was the first agreement the Federal government broke.

Petronas was then made to sign a contact with all the states in Malaysia whereby a 5% royalty would be paid to any and all states where oil and/or gas is extracted from that state. In 2000, the Federal government breached this contract when Terengganu fell into the hands of the opposition though the Petroleum Development Act and the contract Petronas signed with Terengganu entitles Terengganu to the 5% royalty.

That is three agreements in a row that the Federal government broke, enough for Islam to declare that one must disassociate oneself from the Federal government.

However, this is not the first time this has happened for, before that, the Federal government had broken other agreements. Take the New Economic Policy (NEP) as one example. The NEP was formulated in 1970 after the 13 May 1969 race riots to narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots and the gap between the different races. It was supposed to run for 20 years until 1990.

Come 1990, however, the NEP was extended indefinitely and, till today, no one really knows what the policy is all about or even what it is now called.

The Malays’ Special Rights and Privileges is another ‘grey area’. When Malaya was given independence in 1957 the British formulated a plan to allow the Malays ten years to catch up with the non-Malays by giving the Malays special rights and privileges. Ten years down the road and the Federal government decided to extend indefinitely the special rights and privileges and it is now very hazy as to what these special rights and privileges are all about.

Originally, the power to decide whether the Malays’ Special Rights and Privileges are to continue indefinitely or are to be abolished did not lie in the hands of Parliament but in the hands of the rulers. And it is not enough that the rulers decide with a simple majority but it must be unanimous in the event they debate whether to remove the Malays’ Special Rights and Privileges.

In the late 1980s, Tengku Tan Sri Razaleigh Hamzah (Ku Li) addressed this matter at the height of the Constitutional Crisis. Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the then Prime Minister, would like to remove the powers of the rulers, said Ku Li. But do the Malays realise the implications of this, asked Ku Li.

Anyway, the Malays supported Dr Mahathir’s move to remove the powers of the sultans. Today, whoever controls Parliament can just table amendments to the laws and remove Islam as the official religion, Bahasa Melayu as the official language, plus all special rights and privileges of any particular ethnic group. It does not matter any longer whether the rulers support or oppose this move. Even if the sultans refuse to sign the law it would still automatically become law with or without the sultans’ signatures.

The Malays are now debating whether to remove the sultans. They are asking whether Malaysia should be turned into a republic. It really does not matter anymore. In the past, the Malays needed the sultans to ‘protect’ Islam, the Malay language and their special rights and privileges. Now all you need is a majority in Parliament.

It really does not matter either way, though, as the original agreement was not meant to be a lifetime thing anyway. But the Malays need not worry. Dr Mahathir may have ‘sold out’ the future of the Malays as many may think. But Barisan Nasional will never lose its majority in Parliament so Islam, the Malay language and their special rights and privileges are safe. Though many Malays may now vote against Umno or the Barisan Nasional, the Chinese and Indians will still loyally support the present government thereby ensuring that the Malays’ religion, language and special rights and privileges are forever protected.