20-point agreement between Sabah and Malaya

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Now that 16 September, Malaysia Day, has been declared a public holiday from next year, let’s take it the next step and see what the 20-Point Agreement is all about, which has been a sore point for Sabah for a long time now, although Sarawak does not appear to be too flustered about it’s 18-Point Agreement.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

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Separate but equal

THE establishment of Malaysia was much like a marriage. Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak entered into matrimony on 16 Sept 1963. Indonesia and the Philippines spoke out against the union instead of forever holding their peace.

Despite the opposition, the four regions pledged unity as a single, sovereign federation, promising to be faithful and equal partners in good times and in bad, in joy and in sorrow.

And they lived happily ever after.

Or didn’t.

Fast forward 45 years after the union. Singapore has, since 1965, seceded from Malaysia. The relationship between Peninsula Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak is no longer sacrosanct, a marriage rocked with broken promises. The East Malaysian states have “descended” in ranks to become no more than a wronged spouse in an unfortunate union, with West Malaysia enjoying political supremacy and socio-economic advantage.

“Sarawak and Sabah feel that we have been sidelined. There is still that uneasy feeling [that begs us to question], ‘Are we really part of the three regions (i.e. Peninsula Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak)?’” says Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president Datuk Seri Dr James Jemut Masing.

With the political events that have swept the nation, that bleak situation might change. As a result of the 8 March 2008 elections, Sabah and Sarawak’s support have become particularly important to the survival of the Barisan Nasional (BN). The East Malaysian states have once more found leverage, just as they did in 1963, when they were wooed to join the federation of Malaya to form Malaysia. Then, it was so that their native populations would provide a counterweight to Singapore’s predominately Chinese population.

“I would like to emphasise that Sabah and Sarawak are two of the most critical partners of Malaysia. And 8 March shows, we cannot ignore that. You cannot ignore us,” Masing says in a phone interview.

Political observers say the key to cultivating unity between East and West Malaysia is to overcome the national historical amnesia about Sabah and Sarawak’s equal partnership in the federation. The two states’ cultural and religious autonomy must also be respected.

“To foster unity, we must recognise that there are three regions in Malaysia. Not two out of the 14 states. If we understand that, I think a closer relationship can be built much faster,” Masing says.

Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, who is president of United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko), and a former chief minister of Sabah, concurs.

If we want national unity, “it must not be artificial — you know, singing this song or that song… it should be more practical, [such as] settling grouses and changing the people’s mindsets.

“There is still this perception that Malaysia refers specifically to the peninsula. When I tell people in Semenanjung that I am going back to Sabah, they ask me when I am coming back to Malaysia. The mindset that Sabah [and Sarawak] is an addendum to Malaysia must change,” he tells The Nut Graph in a phone interview.



According Prof. Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, Sabah and Sarawak cannot withdraw from the Federation. He iterated that joining a federation is irrevocable. See Point #7 of Sabah 20-point agreement prior to formation of Malaysia.

Former Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) Supreme Council member, Dr Chong Eng Leong stressed that Sabah and Sarawak are supposed to be equal partners in the Federation when the two states agreed to FORM Malaysia. To correct the fact, Sabah and Sarawak NEVER JOINED Malaya. Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak consented to form a new Federation called Malaysia in September 16, 1963.

Prof. Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi did suggest that the only way for Sabah and Sarawak to drop out of Malaysia is to be expelled, just like what happen to Singapore.

However, I do agreed with Prof. Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi who is from the Faculty of Law, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) when he stated that Sabah Immigration Law was undermined by the influx of illegal immigrants to Sabah. “It has been undermined by closing one eye, two eyes, three eyes, all three eyes. It is clear for everyone to see like an elephant in the sitting-room.” He indirectly said that Sabahan are too generous to the illegal immigrants while the federal government have couldn’t-care-less attitude to enforce the immigration law in Sabah.



The 20-point agreement, or the 20-point memorandum, is an agreement made between the state of Sabah (then North Borneo) with what would be the federal government of Malaysia prior to the formation of Malaysia in September 16, 1963. A similar agreement was made between the state of Sarawak and the federal government but with certain differences in their 18-point agreement.


The agreement was written for the main purpose of safeguarding the interests, rights, and the autonomy of the people of Sabah upon the formation of the federation of Malaysia. It was originally envisaged that Sabah be one of the four entities in the federation, the others being Malaya, Singapore, and Sarawak. However as times passed, Sabah and Sarawak has ended up being merely one of the 13 states in the federation.

The position today

There has been numerous calls for the agreement to be reviewed to take into account social, economic, and political changes over time.

The agreement

Point 1: Religion

While there was no objection to Islam being the national religion of Malaysia there should be no State religion in North Borneo, and the provisions relating to Islam in the present Constitution of Malaya should not apply to North Borneo.

Point 2: Language

a. Malay should be the national language of the Federation.

b. English should continue to be used for a period of 10 years after Malaysia Day.

c. English should be an official language of North Borneo for all purposes, State or Federal, without limitation of time.

Point 3: Constitution

Whilst accepting that the present Constitution of the Federation of Malaya should form the basis of the Constitution of Malaysia, the Constitution of Malaysia should be a completely new document drafted and agreed in the light of a free association of states and should not be a series of amendments to a Constitution drafted and agreed by different states in totally different circumstances. A new Constitution for North Borneo (Sabah) was of course essential.

Point 4: Head of Federation

The Head of State in North Borneo should not be eligible for election as Head of the Federation.

Point 5: Name of Federation

“Malaysia” but not “Melayu Raya”.

Point 6: Immigration

Control over immigration into any part of Malaysia from outside should rest with the Central Government but entry into North Borneo should also require the approval of the State Government. The Federal Government should not be able to veto the entry of persons into North Borneo for State Government purposes except on strictly security grounds. North Borneo should have unfettered control over the movements of persons other than those in Federal Government employ from other parts of Malaysia into North Borneo.

Point 7: Right of Secession

There should be no right to secede from the Federation.

Point 8: Borneanisation

Borneanisation of the public service should proceed as quickly as possible.

Point 9: British Officers

Every effort should be made to encourage British Officers to remain in the public service until their places can be taken by suitably qualified people from North Borneo.

Point 10: Citizenship

The recommendation in paragraph 148(k) of the Report of the Cobbold Commission should govern the citizenship rights in the Federation of North Borneo subject to the following amendments:

a) sub-paragraph (i) should not contain the proviso as to five years residence.

b) in order to tie up with our law, sub-paragraph (ii)(a) should read “7 out of 10 years” instead of “8 out of 10 years”.

c) sub-paragraph (iii) should not contain any restriction tied to the citizenship of parents – a person born in North Borneo after Malaysia must be federal citizen.

Point 11: Tariffs and Finance

North Borneo should retain control of its own finance, development and tariff, and should have the right to work up its own taxation and to raise loans on its own credit.

Point 12: Special position of indigenous races

In principle, the indigenous races of North Borneo should enjoy special rights analogous to those enjoyed by Malays in Malaya, but the present Malays’ formula in this regard is not necessarily applicable in North Borneo.

Point 13: State Government

a) the Prime Minister should be elected by unofficial members of Legislative Council.

b) There should be a proper Ministerial system in North Borneo.

Point 14: Transitional period

This should be seven years and during such period legislative power must be left with the State of North Borneo by the Constitution and not be merely delegated to the State Government by the Federal Government.

Point 15: Education

The existing educational system of North Borneo should be maintained and for this reason it should be under state control.

Point 16: Constitutional safeguards

No amendment modification or withdrawal of any special safeguard granted to North Borneo should be made by the Central Government without the positive concurrence of the Government of the State of North Borneo.

The power of amending the Constitution of the State of North Borneo should belong exclusively to the people in the state. (Note: The United Party, The Democratic Party and the Pasok Momogun Party considered that a three-fourth majority would be required in order to effect any amendment to the Federal and State Constitutions whereas the UNKO and USNO considered a two-thirds majority would be sufficient).

Point 17: Representation in Federal Parliament

This should take account not only of the population of North Borneo but also of its seize and potentialities and in any case should not be less than that of Singapore.

Point 18: Name of Head of State

Yang di-Pertua Negara.

Point 19: Name of State


Point 20: Land, Forests, Local Government, etc.

The provisions in the Constitution of the Federation in respect of the powers of the National Land Council should not apply in North Borneo. Likewise, the National Council for Local Government should not apply in North Borneo.