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5:52pm 17/12/2021
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Opportunities of change for East Malaysia

Sin Chew Daily

Dewan Rakyat has just passed the amendments to the Federal Constitution to reflect the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) in a bid to restore the status of Sarawak and Sabah as equal partners to Peninsular Malaysia in the federation.

Among the amendments are:

1. Article 1(2) to restore the original arrangements as in the Federal Constitution of 1963.

2. Article 160(2), on the definition of “federation”.

3. New interpretation of “Malaysia Day” in Article 160(2) of the Federal Constitution.

4. Articles 161A(6) and (7) of the Federal Constitution, on the definition of indigenous people of Sarawak.

The amendment bill was passed by all 199 present at Dewan Rakyat, well above the two-thirds majority threshold. This shows that both the ruling and opposition alliances are consistent in supporting the restoration of the status of Sabah and Sarawak.

For so many years the people in East Malaysia have been fighting so hard for their deserved status. Minister in the prime minister’s department in charge of parliament and law Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said this is a historical moment for the people of Sabah and Sarawak, while the minister in the PM’s department (Sabah and Sarawak affairs) Maximus Ongkili described the event as “historic and ground-breaking”.

Sabah and Sarawak used to be equal partners in the federation when Malaysia was first established in 1963. Nevertheless, the Parliament amended the Constitution in 1976 to downgrade Sabah and Sarawak to “states” on par with the 11 states on the Peninsula.

Although the latest amendment bill has strengthened the status of Sabah and Sarawak in the federation, it is just a beginning that will open up a door of opportunities. There are still no substantial answers to questions on sovereignty rights and allocations which Sabah and Sarawak have been fighting for all these years. It remains to be seen what kind of rights and powers the two East Malaysian territories will eventually be awarded after the constitutional amendment.

Wan Junaidi said the government would carefully study the pledges made in MA63, and the federal government would study the demands of Sabah and Sarawak as per the Report of Inter-Governmental Committee based on the Cobbold Commission Report.

It is believed that once Sabah and Sarawak have been granted more powers and resources, the local economy would be significantly boosted.

We cannot deny that for so many decades the development of Sabah and Sarawak has been largely overlooked by the federal government. Compared to the Peninsula, the development of East Malaysia is obviously far behind.

According to the 2019 poverty report, Sabah had the highest poverty rate in the country at 19.57% involving some 99,869 households. Sarawak was placed third.

Both Sabah and Sarawak urgently require more fiscal allocations to put up their infrastructure and basic amenities, including comprehensive transportation networks, in order to lift their overall development to catch up with the rapid progress in West Malaysia.

The newly adopted amendment bill is poised to bring new opportunities of change for Sabah and Sarawak, and may as well mark a new beginning of their missed transformation.

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