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Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I thank the organizers of this Muzakarah Pakar “Adil Dan Beramanah Dalam Tadbir-Urus” for having invited me to share my thoughts on the topic “Pembentukan Malaysia dan Pembangunan di Sabah” or “The Formation of Malaysia and Development in Sabah”.
I have requested earlier for permission to speak in English which was granted. However I will be quite happy to respond in Bahasa Malaysia during the question and answer session. I wish to make it very clear at the outset that what I say is purely my own opinion and does not necessarily reflect the stand of SUHAKAM or agreed to by my fellow-commissioners. My presentation is based on my personal recollection, observation, perception and experience.
The Formation of Malaysia The nation called Malaysia was born on 16 September, 1963. This is a historical fact. It cannot be disputed. I remember it very well. I was already 25 years old at the time. I also remember the day when Malaya gained independence on 31 August 1957. 1957 was the year I left school. It was the year I sat for my Cambridge Oversea School Certificate – only a handful of us.
In school my teacher used to discuss with students the possible merger of North Borneo (as Sabah was then known) Sarawak and Brunei, all British Colonies. Malaya was never mentioned. We were also asked to write essays on the subject. It was then that I became aware that when separate independent states federate big fish in a small pond becomes small fish in a big pond.
2. When Malaya became independent on 31 August 1957 there was great jubilation in Malaya. You could feel the atmosphere of jubilation through “radio tanah Melayu Kuala Lumpur” and Tunku Abdul Rahman’s famous exclamation of “merdeka!”.
However it occurred to me at the time why Malaya chose the love song “terang bulan” as the national anthem. “Terang bulan” was a very popular song in North Borneo at the time. You could hear it being played in houses with the famous “His Master’s Voice” grammaphones. I would have thought that a completely new tune for the Malayan national anthem based on a nation-wide competition would have been more appropriate and preferable. 3. It has been said that history is subject to different interpretations. For example, during the colonial era in North Borneo Mat Salleh, we were told, was no more than a robber terrorising people. Now he is glorified and labeled as a hero and a freedom fighter.
Personally I do not know what to believe. It happened such a long time ago. There are times when history is also the distortion of facts by people in power. Lately I notice slogans like ‘celebrating 51 years of nationhood’. The question that comes to mind is which nation is being referred to?
If it refers to Malaysia then obviously it is not factual because in 2008 Malaysia is only 45 years old. If you refer to Malaya then it will be correct. However I believe Malaya ceased to be an independent separate nation when it joined with Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah to form a new federation known as Malaysia on 16 September 1963. 51 cannot be equal to 45 unless we have forgotten how to count. I wonder why we cannot be honest about something which is impossible to deny. 4. Personally I feel the formation of Malaysia came at least 10 years too early in the context of Sabah. I vividly remember a conversation I had in 1962 with one of our community leaders who was very close to Donald Stephens regarding Sabah’s participation in the formation of Malaysia. I expressed the following views, amongst others, to him:- i) Sabah would lose the only opportunity to experience being a truly independent sovereign state. ii) It would simply be a transfer of power from the British to Malaya. iii) Sabah did not have the people qualified and experienced enough to negotiate with Malaya and Singapore. iv) Sabah should demand for self-rule initially followed by full independence from the British. v) Sabah should then go to the negotiating table without the British if the people, via referendum, wished to federate with Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and Brunei. vi) Sabah should examine carefully the pros and cons of joining the proposed federation both in the short and long term before deciding. vii) Sabah should insist on an escape clause in the event it found itself short-changed. viii) At best it should only be a lose federation. And finally, ix) The political union between Malaya and North Borneo would be artificial because the two territories had very little, if any, in common and separated by almost 2000 km of sea. North Borneo’s case could not be compared with Singapore. Singapore was geographically part of the Malayan peninsula. Political union with Malaya made a lot of sense especially in terms of economic survival for Singapore. It had no natural resources, not even enough water for Singaporeans. At the time an independent Singapore was not a viable option. The word “Malaysia” itself is a combination of Malaya and Singapura. The recruitment of North Borneo, Sarawak and Brunei was an attempt to counterbalance Singapore’s Chinese population in the proposed federation. It was an after thought. 5. The literacy rate of Sabahans at the time was very low at best. They had no idea what was happening. In 1962 only 2 political parties were just formed. They were the United National Kadazan Organization (UNKO) headed by Donald Stephens and the United Sabah National Oganization (USNO) headed by Datu Mustapha Bin Datu Harun. 6. As it turned out Brunei opted out at the last minute and remained a big fish in a small pond. The intention of the founding fathers was a federation of 4 independent states namely Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah. I have been unable to obtain a copy of the first Federal Constitution following the formation of Malaysia to see if such intention was ever reflected in the Constitution which could have been subsequently amended. Sabah according to the present Constitution is just one of the 13 states, a very small fish in a very big pond. The opening statement of the 1963 Malaysia Agreement reads as follows:- “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore, desiring to conclude an agreement relating to Malaysia agree as follow:- ……………………..” Malaya is referred to as the Federation of Malaya and the individual states were not identified and specified. 7. Article 1 of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 provides that “The Colonies of North Borneo and Sarawak and the State of Singapore shall be federated with the existing States of the Federation of Malaya as the States of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore in accordance with the constitutional instruments annexed to this Agreement and the Federation shall thereafter be called ‘Malaysia’.” The signatories to the Agreement were the UK, the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore. Article 1 of the Federal Constitution provides that the Federation shall be known as Malaysia. However in Article 160 of the Federal Constitution the term “The Federation” means the Federation established under the Federation of Malaya Agreement, 1957. Under the circumstances where do Sabah and Sarawak fit in? Are they really part of the Federation of Malaysia? 8. I am not sure whether Singapore left the Federation on its own accord or expelled from it in 1965. In my opinion when one of the original signatories ceased to be a party to the original Agreement then that Agreement should have been abrogated. After all it was very conceivable that Sabah and Sarawak became part of the federation because of Singapore. Brunei opted out of the federation in July 1963 and became independent only in 1984. I remember Donald Stephens did suggest that the Malaysia Agreement and Sabah’s, position in the Federation should be reviewed. Very shortly he ended up being sidelined and neutralised. 9. The principle of a federal system of government is based on the sharing of powers between the Central and State governments. In the case of Malaysia they are listed under 3 main categories namely the Federal List, State List and Concurrent List. It can be seen that most powers are in the hands of the Federal government. The States are left with land and local government matters. Even these, there are such Federal agencies as the National Land Council and National Council for Local Government. The system is one in which it is federal in form but unitary in substance.
10. “Malaysia Day” is referred to no less than 6 times in the Malaysia Agreement which has only 11 Articles. The birth of Malaysia falls on 16 September 1963 which is Malaysia Day and passes by like any other ordinary day in this country. The national emphasis is 31 August which is the independence day of Malaya. This date receives all the attention. To Sabah and Sarawak 31 August has hardly any significance. 11. Finally on the formation of Malaysia let me share with you some of my recollection of North Borneo before it became part of Malaysia. First and foremost the race/ethnic relations were excellent. There were a lot of inter-marriages. When Peninsula Malaysia was experiencing riots on 13 May 1969 there was no sign of them anywhere in Sabah. If Sabahans are now conscious of racial and religious divides they learned it from Semenanjung. Life was peaceful. Admittedly there was no development of the kind found today. However Sabah was not alone. What was more significant was that there was no illegal immigrants. There were no cases of local natives losing citizenship status whilst foreigners gain it without difficulty. There was no repressive and draconian laws such as the Official Secret Act, the dreaded Internal Security Act, the Printing Presses and Publication Act, the Sedition Act, the Police Act and the 4 Proclamations of Emergency. There was no quarrelling over dead bodies. The Civil Service was multi-racial and meritocracy was recognized and practised. Corruption was unheard of. No community claimed superiority over the others. So much for my version on the formation of Malaysia. Let me now briefly turn to:-
Development in Sabah 12. I understand that Sabah is the poorest state in the country. This speaks volumes in terms of development in Sabah. What is surprising is that it happens in a state with rich natural resources such as timber, oil, gas and possibly other minerals. It has fertile soils, geographical features including mountains, beaches, islands, flora and fauna which could be developed as tourist attractions. 13. Compared to Semenanjung infrastructure development such as roads, water and electricity supply is way behind. The same can be said for health care and educational facilities. For example, before the formation of Malaysia 45 years ago the districts of Tongod and Banggi had no doctor. Today 45 years later they still have no doctor. The district of Paitan does not even have one secondary school building. If you visit remote areas abject poverty can be seen and felt everywhere. Yet I have heard Federal and State political leaders saying abject poverty can be eliminated by 2010! Government has been unable to do it for the last 45 years and it can now do it within less than 1 ½ years? To me only miracle can make it possible.
14. When I was in the Civil Service I remember at the time Sabah was producing between 110,000 and 120,000 barrels of oil per day. It was reported in the newspaper recently that Sabah has gas reserve amounting to about 12 trillion cubic feet. Yet there is no commercial project and activity related to oil and gas. Terengganu where oil was discovered much later has refinery and related activities. I read in the local newspapers recently a Petronas statement indicating that Sabah has the least amount of gas reserve and located and spread in different places. I get the impression that it is not viable to exploit it. If this is the case then it should be left alone for future generations. Yet a decision had been made to build more than 512KM gas pipeline from Kimanis in Sabah to Bintulu in Sarawak. I believe this is a multi-billion ringgit project. The source of gas is from Sabah why can’t the project be located in Sabah? If there is doubt as to the reliability of gas supply the multi-billion ringgit project should be abandoned and the funds used to finance programmes for the eradication of poverty in Sabah. 15. The mother of all problems in Sabah is associated with the presence of unusually large population of illegal immigrants. It is quickly changing the economic, social, cultural and political landscape of the State. The question that is in the mind of many Sabahans is – why has the government allowed this to happen? Thousands of people have requested for an Independent Royal Commission of Inquiry to be established to determine who are responsible for this state of affairs. I hope a day will not come when the Philippines need not claim Sabah anymore due to a reverse take-over which in my view, has long started. The illegal immigrants issue represents a national problem but shouldered by Malaysians living in Sabah. Sabahans feel threatened and insecure as the number of foreigners keeps increasing. My gut feeling is that there are more foreigners than locals. It has to be admitted that they contribute to the development of the state by providing labour especially in the construction and agricultural sectors. Sabah without them would come to an economic standstill. Personally I have never blamed the illegals for being in Sabah. If I was one of them I would be doing exactly what they are doing--searching for a better life. The blame is on the relevant authorities for allowing them in illegally. Two books entitled “IC Projek” and “Lelaki Malaysia Terakhir” have identified national and state leaders who are alleged to have played important roles associated with the illegal immigrants issue. To the best of my knowledge none of those leaders mentioned in the books has refuted or denied the allegations. 16. I understand that allocation of funds to Sabah is based on the number of Malaysian citizens living in the State. The estimated Sabah population is 3.5 million. Therefore the amount of funds received is only meant for 1.75 million people which has to be shared by 3.5 million people assuming that 50% of the population are foreigners. 17. The bottom line for Sabah is that it is the poorest state in the country. Recommendations I have been requested to suggest some proposals at the end of the presentation. As requested and due to time constraint I briefly list the following recommendations:- i) Genuine unity and national integration are vital for Malaysia. It cannot be denied that this country has plenty of divisive factors. It is a land of “multis”. The process of unifying and integrating should be based on justice, egual rights and respect. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provides that all humans are born free and equal in dignity and right. No nation which embraced race-based politics and one community claiming superiority over others survived. Nazi Germany and Aparthied South Africa are cases that come to mind. We are all Malaysians and equal before God. ii) We should focus on our similarities rather than on our differences. For example, school uniforms should be the same for every student. Mykad should be the same for every Malaysian. There should only be one box for all citizens indicated in government forms and not at present – one for Malays, one for Chinese, one for Indians and one for others. These are but a few examples of things which are not conducive to the creation of a genuine united country. Let us concentrate on our commonality and humanity. iii) To reduce, if not, eliminate polarisation, the composition of the Civil Service and government agencies should be more reflective of the multi-racial make-up of the Malaysian Society. Meritocracy should be recognised, appreciated and practised, otherwise Malaysia will lose out in a globalised and competitive world. iv) We should concentrate on enlarging the size of the economic cake rather spending too much effort and time how to share it. v) We should have a sound education system at par with the best in the world and all Malaysians should be subject to the same system. vi) Good governance is described as participatory, transparent, accountable and efficient. It promotes the rule of law and equal justice under the law. Good governance should be promoted and maintained at all cost for the present and future good of the country. vii) No Malaysian or community should feel deprived or marginalised. Everyone should be treated equally and fairly. Selective prosecution or application of the law should stop. viii) All laws which empower the government to arrest without trial should be repealed. Article 10 of the UDHR provides that everyone has the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial legal body. Article 11 provides that everyone has the right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty by a court of law. ix) It has been said that politicians think in terms of the next election whereas statesmen of the next generation. Malaysia needs more statesmen and less politicians. x) Corruption is like a cancer to the country. It is costly. It should be minimized, if not, eliminated. xi) The provisions of the Treasury Instructions should be strictly complied with. Negotiated contracts should be stopped. It is preventing the realization of the real value of public funds. One ringgit spent should realize the value of one ringgit not say 50 sen or less. xii) The illegal immigrants in Sabah should be shared equally among all the States in Malaysia. Why should Sabah alone suffer from a national problem allegedly self-created by government? xiii) Sabah deserves better treatment by the Federal Government in terms of more equitable distribution of opportunities and development projects. There are far too many talks and pledges but little, if any, action. ix) September 16 every year should be observed and celebrated as “Malaysia Day”.
Adapted From Sabakini


  1. Independence for Sabah is the best! Never too late, there are still vast resources the Malayans are waiting to exploit.

  2. This is such a fantastic piece! Tan Sri's thoughts during the pre-formation of Sabah has mirrored what I have just realized these past few years (after finally being more politically savvy). I still think these thoughts are still shared by many Sabahans. Thanks for sharing this out.

  3. Tan Seri,I believe you have hit the nail correctly.Having said that,for 4 decades,Sabah has been plagued with Governments that surely were not ignorant of these facts.

    Were they literate as you've mentioned or were they just aware of the richness awaiting them?Are we made to believe that the same amount of literacy is presently seen in the present state government or have they sold their souls to the highest bidder at the expense of Sabahans?

    One doesn't need to be a rocket scientist,as the only thing transparent in the present state government is there is no creditability,accountability and transparency.

    So,what do we do?Do we just sit and allow this to continue or do we make efforts for CHANGE?

  4. when and where was this discussion held? i wish i attended...

  5. Annonymous,

    I have also missed this talk by Tan Sri Simon Sipaun. This article is adapted form