THE Prime Minister recently announced the creation of a new council to study ‘more systematically and holistically’ the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) for the purpose of restoring any state rights lost or eroded.
My fervent hope is that the new outfit will do a better job. We are looking forward to some favourable outcomes of the negotiations over our rights – State rights, peoples’ rights.
As I already wrote last week, such a task should be delegated to a team of non-partisan government officials, including a couple of politically neutral leaders from Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak. I think they would operate better under the auspices of a Commission with the Terms of Reference having the prior approval of the majority of the stake-holders in both Sabah and Sarawak.
The new Council should try to answer one old sticky question, “Is Malaysia a federation of three states or one that is composed of more than three states?” This is an old question and should have been answered long time ago.
In February, 1987, I attended a randau (seminar/discussion forum) organised by the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (Isis) in Kota Kinabalu. One of the working papers was by a statesman, the late Tan Sri Ong Kee Hui, entitled ‘The IGC Report – Some Retrospective Views and Interpretations’. He was expecting an answer to his question, ‘Malaysia – a federation of three or 13 states’ but sadly the part of the paper dealing with the territorial composition of Malaysia had been heavily edited. Despite that, Tan Sri Ong, though quietly upset, carried on with his presentation with the ease and the fluency of language.
A federation of three or 13 states?
This is the very issue that many young Malaysians in Sarawak and Sabah have been debating since the departure of Singapore in 1965, without a conclusion. The opportunity to start seeking for answers was missed at the Randau in KK 33 years ago. Datuk Hussein Onn was chairing. Had the question been discussed there and then, the present set of Malaysian political leaders would have found an easier job to explain the territorial make-up of the federation to the youth of Sabah and Sarawak today. Hopefully, the new Council on MA63 would be able to enlighten these citizens out there through the medium of personal engagement and more randaus (seminars).
Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee
About the time when Malaysia was on everyone’s lips, discussions were also being held in Singapore. A group attending the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference gathered and formed what they called the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee (MSCC). In February 1962, they submitted a memorandum to the Cobbold Commission proposing the definition of a federation that would be acceptable to the people of Singapore, North Borneo, and Sarawak. Unfortunately, that recommendation was rejected by the Commission.
It would be good for those who wish to understand the difficulty in understanding the intention of the framers of the federal constitution with reference to Article 1 (2) of the present constitution to study this memorandum as well as the Malaysian Agreement itself.
Paragraph 8 of the MCCS’ memorandum states:
“8. The Committee envisaged an association of several sovereign States with a central organ invested with powers directly over the citizens of the member State and in certain defined circumstances over the member States themselves. There would be a Central Government and also State Governments, but from the viewpoint of international law, the collection of States forming the Federation would be recognised as one Sovereign State within the family of nations.”
The Chairman of MSCC, DA Stephens, signed the memorandum in Singapore on Feb 3, 1962. The other members/observers of the Committee were:
Brunei Delegation (Observers):
Leader: Dato Setia Pengiran Ali Pengiran Mohd Daud
Members: Dato Setia Pengiran Mohd Yusuf, Jamil PUK Awang Umar, Dato Temenggong Lim Cheng Choo, Datuk Abdul Aziz Mohd Zain
Leader: OKK Datu Mustapha Datu Harun
Members: Pang Tet Tshung, OKK GS Sundang, Lai En Kong
Leader: Yeo Cheng Hoe
Members: Ong Kee Hui, Temenggong Jugah Barieng, Pengarah Montegrai Tugang, Datuk Abang Openg, Ling Beng Siew, James Wong, Remigius Durin Nganau
Federation of Malaya Delegation:
Leader: Mohammed Khir Johari
Members: Mohamed Ismail Mohd Yusof, V Manickavasagam, Dr Burhanuddin Mohd Noor, Lee Siok Yew, Syed Esa Alwee, Abdul Gani Ishak
Leader: Lee Kuan Yew
Members: Ahmad Ibrahim, S Rajaratnam, Datuk Abdul Hamid Jumat
Why is the intent of paragraph 8 of the MSCC’s memorandum important? Because this is what has bothered the people in Sabah and Sarawak for the past two decades in terms of the status of their respective states under the Malaysian Sun, indeed their future in that federation.
Had this question been discussed much earlier at seminars and laboratories, there could have been some good suggestions from the participants. The government’s Think Thank, Isis, would have been able to help government formulate suitable policy for implementation in respect of problems that have troubled Sabah and Sarawak since the formation of Malaysia.
Present day politicians from Sabah or Sarawak who have acquired the habit of Peninsular Malaysian bashing ought to note that the Malayan members of the Commission are not to be blamed for the rejection of the MSCC’s version of Malaysia.
Both had their view recorded at paragraph 175 of the Cobbold Commission Report. See this paragraph: “175. Some comments were made during the hearings of the Commission regarding the MSCC, which was said to be non-representational in character. It was suggested that their views should accordingly be disregarded. We find it difficult to accept this suggestion. Most of the participants were leaders in their own right either as leaders of political parties or as the accepted heads of their respective communities. The fact of their membership of the State Legislatures and in some cases, also of the Executive Council or the Supreme Council of the respective territories, reminded us that the Governments concerned have placed high value in respect of their judgment and ability of their influence and leadership. Their opinions, therefore, demand serious consideration.”
Had the Commission accepted the type of federation (association of sovereign States) as envisaged by members of the MSCC, we would not have faced the current difficulty over interpreting the real intentions of the founders of Malaysia. Sarawak, or for that matter Sabah, would be a partner equal in status (primus inter-pares) with the Federation of Malaya as a unit. We hope that the new Council will look into the matter and come to a compromised definition of Malaysia just so that the trio, Tanah Melayu, Sabah, and Sarawak, are to be regarded as equal partners in this Federation. A tall order and a million-dollar question.
I think many reasonable nationalists in Sabah and Sarawak would understand the real situation if they were fully engaged by the governments at all levels. Going all over again the views of the Cobbold Commission’s interviewees and listening to the views of the present generation of Malaysians would be a great challenge, but it will be worth the effort in the long run. If there is participative democracy laced with lots of trust and goodwill, Malaysia will move on, warts and all.
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