Broken promises: no 20% oil royalty after all as promised

Philip Golingai, The Star

The front page of Sabah’s Daily Express newspaper yesterday screamed “No 20pc oil royalty for now”.

In a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng delivered bad news to Sabahans and Sarawakians.

Lim said the Pakatan Harapan (PH) promise to give 20% instead of the current 5% in oil royalties to the two states could not be fulfilled yet. The Finance Minister blamed the usual suspect, the 1MDB financial scandal, for the government’s failure to carry out the election manifesto promise. The DAP secretary-general said the 20% quantum had to wait.

In a WhatsApp group, a Sabahan who had voted for PH in GE14, attached a photograph of the Daily Express front page and commented: “Wait? See you in GE15. You shall wait.”

Rewind to the country’s 14th General Election in 2018.

PH told Sabahans and Sarawakians that it supported more autonomy for the two states: “In line with the spirit of the Malaysia Agreement and the ascension of Sabah and Sarawak with Malaya to form Malaysia…. Full autonomy on education and healthcare, 20% oil royalty and half of all tax receipts collected in Sabah and Sarawak must be returned to the states.

“They will be fully responsible for the administration and financing of all healthcare and education in their respective states,” Lim said in a video shot before GE14 which is still going viral among Sabahans and Sarawakians.

“So remember, 20% oil royalty, from the present 5%, 50% of all tax receipts, whether it’s corporate, personal or GST, return to the respective states.”

About 500 days after the formation of the PH government, Sabahans and Sarawakians still remember Lim’s yet to be delivered promises.

Three days before Malaysia Day tomorrow, the Finance Minister’s bad news put a dampener on the celebration of the 56th anniversary of Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya coming together to form the Federation of Malaysia.

Oil royalties are among the sharpest thorns in the relationship between the Borneon states and Putrajaya. They believe that they have been cheated out of their own natural resources. They think that rapid development in Peninsular Malaysia came at the expense of their states’ wealth.

Take, for example, the 102km Kampung Tongod to Kampung Inarad unsealed road – a combination of gravel and tanah merah (red earth) – that passes through virgin jungle and oil palm plantations in Sabah’s Kinabatangan Parliamentary constituency, which is about the size of Pahang.

Depending on the road’s condition, the trip can take anywhere from six to 13 hours. Over the same distance in the peninsula, Kuala Lumpur to Melaka takes less than two and a half hours.

After 56 years of being a part of Malaysia, the Malaysians in Kampung Tongod wonder why their village is not linked to the rest of the world by a sealed road like those they see in Peninsular Malaysia on feel good television ads. They feel Putrajaya treats them like stepchildren.

With the fall of Barisan National (BN), Sabahans and Sarawakians were hopeful that the new coalition of hope would bring change. They have found that in terms of the promise of development, it is a different government but the same betrayal.

But then, betrayal is nothing new to these two states.

Take, for example, the promise by the then Deputy Prime Minister and Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim that if BN defeated Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) in the 1994 state election, it would fully develop the state within 100 days of forming the government. PBS won the polls narrowly but BN eventually came to rule the state when political frogs jumped to join the coalition. But its promise remained a promise.

Sabah and Sarawak are an important political block when there’s a deadlock in Peninsular Malaysia. In GE13, BN and PH were almost even in terms of MPs. Sabahans and Sarawakians overwhelmingly voted for the ruling coalition and kept it in power. As a reward, then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak appointed seven ministers from Sarawak and six ministers from Sabah in his Cabinet. It was the highest number of Cabinet representatives from the two states ever.

Realising the importance of these two states in winning the Federal government, one of the promises of the PH GE14 manifesto was to return Sabah and Sarawak to the status accorded to them in the original Malaysia Agreement 1963. PH has tried to amend the Federal Constitution to restore the status of Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners with Peninsular Malaysia. How-ever, it failed to do so when it could not get the support of all 19 MPs from Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS, the coalition of Sarawak political parties that abandoned BN after GE14). GPS felt that the amendment was vague. It wanted the government to spell out what rights were to follow.

PH has also established a special Cabinet committee to study the implementation of MA63, the Malaysian Agreement of 1963 which set out the terms and conditions under which Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore agreed to merge with Malaya to form Malaysia. On Aug 19, the Federal government announced it had moved closer to restoring Sabah and Sarawak’s full rights under MA63 by resolving seven of the 21 issues raised by the two Borneon states.

However, opposition leaders in Sabah and Sarawak are not too impressed with the progress of this high-powered committee. They feel that it is the same old, same old talk.

For ordinary Sabahans and Sarawakians, discussions about resolving the 21 issues under MA63 are too technical. Judging by social media posts and man-in-the-street conversations, many feel that whether it is BN or PH, their lives have not changed. They are concerned about bread and butter issues. They think that their lives will improve when the billions “stolen” from their states’ oil resources are returned.

They envy the prosperity of their oil-producing neighbour, Brunei, which declined Kuala Lumpur’s invitation to join the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.

Sabahans and Sarawakians can only wait for the 20% of oil royalties promise to be fulfilled or for GE15. Whichever comes first.