The following is the unaltered full text of Ba Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian’s Malaysia Day Message.
As another Malaysia Day approaches, I am in my ‘farm-home’ in the highlands of Pa’ Brunut, Lawas, where I can see Gunung Murud and Batu Lawi rise majestically in the distance on a clear day. The view that I am blessed with here is exactly what my parents and grandparents enjoyed during their time on this earth. There are not many places in Sarawak where time has stood still the way it has in our highlands, and where the beauty and majesty endures.
I cannot help but think that for Sarawak, in many aspects of much needed progress and development, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Ironically, in certain areas, we even seem to be regressing.
These thoughts come to me as I reflect on how Sarawak has fared the past 57 years after the signing of the Malaysia Agreement, making us a founding partner in the Federation of Malaysia. Promises were made, giving our leaders high hopes for the progress and advancement of Sarawak and her people. We were to be equal partners with Sabah (then North Borneo), Singapore and Malaya in the new Federation of Malaysia, and special emphasis was to be given to Sarawak so that we would be able to catch up with the steady growth of development in Malaya.
Yet, 57 years on, we are ‘negotiating’ with Peninsula Malaysia over our rights and the promises made to us during the discussions leading to the signing of the Malaysia Agreement and also pursuant to the Malaysia Agreement.
My former law professor Shad Saleem Faruqi put it well in his latest piece in his column Reflecting on the Law in the Star dated 10 September 2020:
“Sadly, however, 57 years down the road, all is not well with the (former) Borneo states’ relationship with the Federal Government.
In many areas, Sabah and Sarawak’s autonomy has suffered serious retreat due to constitutional, political, cultural and religious developments in the peninsula.
Leaders of the Federal Government now recognise that Sabah and Sarawak’s restiveness is real and must be addressed.
The issues are not merely about equity and efficiency in intergovernmental financial relations but also extend to perceived interference with Sabah and Sarawak’s cultural, ethnic and religious uniqueness.”
These are the words of a respected academician, not of a politician. There is no denying that large numbers of Sarawakians are feeling resentful. Many are convinced that Sarawak has been hard done by. As noted by Professor Shad, Sabah and Sarawak have contributed huge territories and massive resources to the federation. Yet we have not received commensurate returns or benefits.
In fact, we were told last year by the Rural and Regional Development Minister that the poorest district in the whole of Malaysia is Pakan in Sarawak. Even more humiliating is the fact that 13 out of the 28 poorest districts are in Sarawak. This is not the Sarawak within Malaysia that our forefathers were promised.
Issues of race and religion that are being exploited in Peninsula Malaysia do not sit well with us in Sarawak. The silence of the majority of the ministers and the Prime Minister when an MP made derogatory remarks about Christianity and the Bible is a worse slap in the face than the offensive comments of the MP. Even more crushing are the apologist ministers in Sarawak who would have us swallow the insults and keep silent, all for their self-preservation because they are in a partnership with UMNO and PAS. Let it not be forgotten that the ‘Allah’ issue remains unresolved up until today. The powers that be in Peninsula Malaysia refuse to acknowledge that Christians in Sarawak have the right to practise our faith as we have done so for generations. This is not the Sarawak within Malaysia that our forefathers were promised.
The MA63 negotiations that the PH government had carried out with Sabah and Sarawak have now been put on the back burner with the disbandment of the Cabinet Steering Committee. The PN government has announced that the planned bipartisan and independent Parliament Select Committee on the implementation of MA63 is not necessary and instead proposed to set up a special council. In another humiliation for Sabah and Sarawak, the Final Report on the MA63 was placed under the Official Secrets Act 1972. Sarawakians must ask what it is that the Federal government wants to hide from us and more importantly, why are the Sarawakian MPs taking these retrograde steps meekly? These are our rights that are being discussed and we have the right to know the contents of the report.
That these announcements of retreat were made by a Sarawakian deputy minister is a bitter pill for us to swallow. Not only did the West Malaysian ministers kick us in the gut, they got a compliant Sarawakian to deliver the flying kick. We must not forget that the Sarawak BN government over the years had allowed our rights to be eroded by the Federal government.The PH government had resolved 17 of the 21 matters under MA63. Now these 17 matters to be devolved to Sabah and Sarawak are left in abeyance. It appears that we are back to square one. This is not the Sarawak within Malaysia that our forefathers were promised.
On the matter of our oil and gas resources, Sarawak has had to sue for our right to sales tax revenue on petroleum products. Although Petronas has agreed to pay sales tax to Sarawak, with its losses announced recently, will it be able to pay up?
Over the years, our indigenous communities have been marginalised and left behind. Politically they have been discriminated against by the manipulation of the electoral system by the federal government to ensure that the minority race has disproportionate power and dominance. Besides this, they have to fight the State for recognition of their native customary rights to land. This is not the Sarawak within Malaysia that our forefathers were promised.
There are numerous other issues arising from the unequal treatment of Sabah and Sarawak by Peninsula Malaysia, especially on matters in the federal list of the Federal Constitution. It is undeniable that good infrastructure provides the stimulus for economic growth and industrialisation. A proper network of road infrastructure is crucial to realise the economic potential of the various corners of our vast State. However, our infrastructure is at least a decade, if not two, behind that of Peninsula Malaysia. Our agricultural and tourism potential is yet to be even partially realised.
The problem of dilapidated schools is, in my opinion, one of the worst failings of the federal government, which has led to the sorry state of our rural education today. Many of these schools had not been upgraded or even properly maintained since they were built in the 50’s and 60’s. Lack of water and electricity is commonplace, and lately the poor internet and broadband connection in the rural schools has been a talking point, resulting from the viral YouTube video of a Sabahan schoolgirl having to do her exams on a treetop so she could access the internet on her mobile phone.
Greed and corruption has run rampant among the political and corporate elite. We have a former Prime Minister who has shown no remorse for the crimes he has committed, but instead insists he has done no wrong. The current government is one that was not elected by the people but was formed by opportunistic and unscrupulous politicians who took power by unethical means. It is clear to all that this crop of politicians who hold power possess no moral fibre.
At this point in the story of Sarawak within Malaysia, what we see is an abject failure in this union between countries that are not only physically distant from each other but also different demographically, culturally and in our languages and histories. The resentment over the dominance exerted by Malaya over Sarawak is beginning to take on a voice and action.
What is the way forward for us? What will the story be like for my grandson when he becomes a man? I believe that we have to work with the cards we were dealt. That means we must take action to fix what we see as the wrongs that have been done over the years. We need to unite and stand in numbers to claim our rightful place at the corridors of power as equal partners, not as subservient and silent second cousins.
In order to do that, political leaders need to take a step back and reflect on what our forefathers wanted for Sarawak. Are we doing everything we can to honour and achieve their visions and dreams? Or are we motivated by our own selfish desires for power and position?
Sarawakians are united in a fierce and loyal love for this land we call our home. I know that the hearts of many are aching and angry at the way things have turned out. We have been used for many years as the fixed deposit for the Malayan masters without any interest payments. We see a trail of destruction and disintegration of this country and her people. But this is the only home we know and love and we still have immense pride in being Sarawakians. We need to stand up and be counted when Sarawak needs us the most.
We need to do things differently now. Fifty seven years of doing the same things over and over has done nothing much to improve the lives of our people but instead managed to enrich a handful of powerful elites. We have reached the dry and tasteless end of the sugar cane that Tun Jugah spoke about.
If we do not change now, the danger is that we will eventually lose more and more of our rights, our voice and our identity. In a few short months, we will have the chance to change the course of our history, and indeed, that of the Federation of Malaysia. When that day comes, let us seize the moment. It is time to insist on the Malaysia that our forefathers signed up for. It is time to quench our thirst with a sweet sugar cane.
Happy Malaysia Day. God Bless Malaysia. God bless Sarawak and Sabah.
ADUN N81 Ba’ Kelalan
MP P214 Selangau