The Road to Malaysia: Part 3 – The Cobbold Commission
This article is a continuation from The Road to Malaysia: Part 2 – Consultations.
In Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia the communists were making advances while the number of American servicemen in Vietnam tripled the number sent in 1950. In Indonesia, the influence of the Partai Komunis Indonesia on President Sukarno was strong. In Singapore, all the political parties except Singapore UMNO accused the PAP of having carried out negotiations to be merged with Malaya without first consulting the people. This gave ammunition to the communists in Singapore and their sympathisers to attack both Lee Kuan Yew and the Tunku.
In British Borneo, the communists and their sympathisers tried to intimidate the natives thinking that it would work as it did in Singapore. Truth be told, it had quite the opposite effect. Lee Kuan Yew observed that as in Singapore, those anti-Malaysia in Sarawak were the Chinese communists, chauvinists and their sympathisers, while in North Borneo, they were Chinese businessmen and Chinese who were under the influence of individual British officials who were opposed to the Malaysia Concept, or ignorant of it. Kuan Yew noted that the direct links between the Chinese in Perlis throughout Malaya and Singapore to the British Borneo are the Chinese newspapers. Hence, Kuan Yew suggested to the Tunku for the Chinese chauvinists be separated from the Chinese communists and the two groups should be separated.
Members of the Cobbold Commission arrived in Kuching in the morning of the 20th February 1962. The members were:
* Sir Cameron Fromanteel Cobbold, former Governor of the Bank of England, also Chairman of the Commission of Enquiry,
* Sir Anthony Foster Abell, former British Governor of Sarawak and the High Commissioner to Brunei,
* Sir David Watherston, the last British Chief Secretary of Malaya,
* Wong Pow Nee, the Chief Minister of Penang, and,
* Ghazali Shafie, Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malaya.
They were first brought to the Astana, a house that was built in 1870 by the second White Rajah, Charles Anthoni Johnson Brooke as a wedding gift for his wife, Margaret Alice Lili de Windt. It had been occupied by the British Governor since 1946. Ghazali Shafie could not help but notice a Jawi inscription at the entrance of the Astana left by one of the Brookes “BERHARAP LAGI BERNAFAS, (Have Hope While There Is Still Breath)” perhaps an apt motivation for the colonial officials who did not want Sarawak to be part of the Federation of Malaysia.
The Brookes had built the Astana on the northern bank of the Sarawak river because it was where the Malays were. The Brookes depended on the Malays for safety and security, the Chinese for prosperity and trading, while the natives were not entirely trusted. The same compartmentalisation was practised in Sarawak by the colonial officials after taking over the state from the Brookes in 1946.
The first groups of interviewees were interviewed in Kuching on the 21st February 1962. The first group amongst these interviewees was extremely pro-Malaysia. They were led by Abang Mustapha, Datu Bandar of Kuching. The second group was led nby Ong Kee Hui from SUPP. This group was against the special rights to be accorded to the natives of Sarawak unless if it is not stated in the to-be-formulated Constitution. This group had a contempt for the backwardness of the natives and had regarded their leaders as men of no consequences. This stand prompted an Iban by the name of Jonathan Bangau whom the SUPP had nominated as the party’s leader in Sibu to resign.
The next day, another group of Chinese in Kuching were interviewed. Their spokesperson, a Chinese woman, twisted and distorted events in Malaya into something truly hateful. She accused the Malayan Government of policies that turned very young girls into prostitutes and had labour laws that accorded workers not more than Ringgit 1.50 per fourteen-hour working day without holidays! When these allegations were countered by Ghazali and Wong Pow Nee, she informed the Commission that she had read the stories from Chinese newspapers to which Wong Pow Nee murmured that these must have been communist publications.