Shouldn’t Umno apologise to Sabah and Sarawak?

The unity government must embark on a path common to all, not one that favours a select few.

Joe Samad, Free Malaysia Today

Seeing that Umno Youth is demanding that DAP apologise to the party, Sabah and Sarawak should do likewise and ask Umno to do the same and apologise to the Borneo states. Let me explain why.

To frame the argument, we need to refer to Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) GE14 manifesto. Its foreword was signed by Dr Mahathir Mohamed on March 8, 2018. As we all know, Mahathir was prime minister and Umno president for 22 years between 1981 and 2003.

The Pakatan Harapan manifesto reads:

“Sabah and Sarawak are rich in natural resources, such as oil, gas and timber. But the wealth of Sabah and Sarawak has been exploited and plundered by Umno and Barisan Nasional to enrich the peninsula, while the East Malaysian states remain among the poorest in Malaysia. This inequality will cease when Pakatan Harapan comes to power.

“Our government will increase petroleum royalty to Sabah and Sarawak to 20 per cent or its equivalent as a first step in distributing petroleum revenue equitably. This will enable Sabah and Sarawak to take over responsibilities for more development expenditure.

“The demands of the people of Sabah and Sarawak were based on the 1963 Agreement. The Malaysia Agreement has not been heeded by the Umno led Barisan Nasional government until today. In every election campaign, Umno and BN have promised many changes and reforms. However, this is merely a bait. Post-election, promises remain just that, while large shares of East Malaysia’s wealth are channelled to the federal coffers.

“In their greed, BN has undermined the rights of Sabahans and Sarawakians guaranteed under the 1963 Malaysia Agreement. These rights have been set aside for decades.”

Mahathir, Umno’s leader for more than two decades, has admitted that Sabah and Sarawak’s riches were plundered to contribute to the development of Peninsular Malaysia.

Unlike the arrogant Umno Youth, the Borneo states are not seeking an apology; Sabah and Sarawak are demanding restitution in monetary terms for failure of the federal government to fulfil promises made during the formation of Malaysia.

They are demanding their monetary rights under the Federal Constitution by way of grants, taxes and an increase in oil royalty. Umno is not alone in breaking promises. Even the previous PH administration failed to honour its promise of a 20% oil royalty.

Umno has ruled Sabah for several decades. Yet, even today, the state has the highest poverty rate in the nation. Instead of focusing on the plight of the poor, Umno Youth still displays a feudal mindset.

Umno’s grouses with DAP are insignificant compared to the damage it has done to Sabah and Sarawak. Apart from plundering the Borneo states, Umno has been guilty of playing the race and religion card to split the nation.

The “Allah” dispute is still raw in Sabah and Sarawak, but already Sarawak’s premier Abang Johari Openg has announced his government’s plans to amend the state’s shariah ordinance to address the issue of Muslim apostasy administratively.

This is a bold move by the Sarawak government. Abang Johari pointed out that at present, a court ruling must be obtained for the national registration department to officially recognise that a Muslim has left Islam.

GPS had previously rejected the entry of Peninsular-based parties such as Umno and PAS because it did not want religious and sensitive issues to be played out in the state. Abang Johari said issues such as the controversy over the whiskey named “Timah” would not arise in Sarawak due to the culture of tolerance practiced in his state.

Our founding fathers showed great foresight by retaining immigration control in Sabah and Sarawak, allowing both state governments to deny entry to religious bigots who spew hatred and discontent among communities for their own ends.

For Malaysia, religion and politics are still very much interlinked. Political Islam is still a driving force. Giving a bigger role to Jakim is a step in the wrong direction given that it is a controversial department with one of the biggest budgets. Even the Sultans have criticised the role Jakim plays and have banned state religious authorities from dealing with the department.

With a big annual budget of RM1.5 billion, why do we still hear the narrative that Islam is under threat? Why have so many bored Muslim youth turned into mat rempits, basikal lajak riders and drug addicts? Years of indoctrination and Islamic teachings have made no impact on them.

Using one-third of Jakim’s budget to alleviate poverty in Sabah and Sarawak will surely accelerate development in both states.

Anwar Ibrahim’s Madani government is contradicting itself by giving Jakim a bigger role in policymaking. It is only doing so to compete with the “holier than thou” parties like PAS.

“Madani” as people understand it, stands for sustainability, care and compassion, respect, innovation, prosperity, and trust. Giving more power to Jakim does not further any of those ideals.

In the previous government, Jakim was placed under the purview of the Conference of Rulers. That should be the case as the rulers are the heads of religion in their respective states. This new move by the Madani government, however, threatens to override the powers of the Sultans.

Malaysian politicians should move away from using race and religion to score points over each other. The unity government must embark on a path common to all, not one that favours a select few.