It’s deja vu again over MA63 promises

We have now had three successive governments since GE14 and the current government is led by Umno. Many of us are experiencing déjà vu, the feeling of having already experienced the present situation.

Joe Samad, Free Malaysia Today

The debate on the Malaysia Agreement 1963 has split into the open in Sabah and Sarawak and is no longer hush-hush.

There is now no fear of someone being put under Internal Security Act detention for speaking out. Times have changed. People know their rights and about freedom of speech.

There is also a federal committee that was started during Pakatan Harapan’s time, with the task of delivering what is due to Sabah and Sarawak after 58 years of neglect.

However, details of the committee’s discussions remain under the Official Secrets Act, which has upset East Malaysians.

We can safely say the MA63 ball started rolling with PH’s 2018 election manifesto, with a foreword by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, which agreed to restore Sabah and Sarawak’s status based on MA63.

The manifesto said the PH government is committed to restoring the position of Sabah and Sarawak to their rightful place, in line with the 1963 Malaysia Agreement.

We have now had three successive governments since GE14 and the current government is led by Umno. Many of us are experiencing déjà vu, the feeling of having already experienced the present situation.

The message of PH’s manifesto is a reminder to many past and present politicians, that “MA63 has not been heeded by Umno while large shares of East Malaysia’s wealth are channelled to the federal coffers”.

In March 2020, minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Sabah and Sarawak Affairs) Maximus Ongkili announced one of his main tasks is to solve issues on MA63 within six months. This has not materialised.

Ongkili has been critical of the Warisan government’s failure in not implementing the 21 points negotiated during PH’s time, but Warisan can also blame him for not delivering within six months during Perikatan Nasional’s time.

Ongkili has now been overshadowed by a new sheriff in town, minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and law) Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

As one of his key initiatives in 100 days in office, he has stated he will complete the process to table some of the critical bills to look into the rights of the people in Sabah and Sarawak under the MA63.

Another minister, another government, the promises linger on.

We now have two ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department with an overlapping role. Sabah and Sarawak have never had it so good. The task of the two ministers from Sabah and Sarawak is now so much easier as expectations of Sabahans and Sarawakians are now very low.

They have heard the same promises before. Pent-up anger is not good for the nation. Sooner or later, it will surface in one form or another.

On the Sabah side, Jeffrey Kitingan, deputy chief minister and state agriculture and fisheries minister has taken up the slack. Of late some people in the state government may have felt uncomfortable with Kitingan’s relentless pursuit of MA63 rights.

Kitingan is one politician who has been consistent in this area. In March this year, Kitingan said he cannot be loud any more as he is part of the newly formed GRS government. However, he has done the opposite and we can empathise with his frustration on the slowness of getting things done.

Kitingan has stressed that he has never betrayed the struggle of the Sabah people even though his party (STAR) pledged its support for the government in power.

He has suggested that the RM400 billion development fund under the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP) be distributed in the ratio of 50:25:25 or RM100 billion each for Sabah and Sarawak. Many people in Sabah agree.

The admission of guilt in PH’s manifesto by Mahathir and his former Umno-BN members in the Perikatan Nasional government, that East Malaysia’s wealth is channelled to the federal coffers, cannot be overlooked lightly.

After 23 years in power as prime minister, Mahathir’s hands are caught in the cookie jar. The amount taken out of Sabah and Sarawak can be said to run into the trillions. The two Borneo states have yet to send a bill or make a deal for the federal government to pay this in instalments and with interest.

In September, all Sabah assemblymen were united in rejecting a law on control of the continental shelf, which is related to Sabah’s oil and gas rights. The unity displayed is unique and rare and it could be said that Sabah is feeling the pinch over its allocation of development funds.

Despite former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s rhetoric, Sabah has yet to see the promises delivered.

Bung Moktar Radin, Sabah Umno chief and deputy chief minister and works minister, said Sabah should be granted autonomy to manage the economic and development funds allocated under the 12MP.

He said the federal government also needs to change its approach in implementing economic development based on the state and region.

Bung also complained about the difficulties and hardships brought about by the many stages required to apply for special allocations to deal with natural disasters.

More allocations in accordance with MA63, and more autonomy to the state, will go a long way in maintaining a good federal-state relationship.