Leaves of the same tree


 Malaysians celebrating Malaysia Day in Miri, Sarawak, on Tuesday. Malaysians should work together for the betterment of the whole nation, be it Malaya, Sabah or Sarawak.
Malaysians celebrating Malaysia Day in Miri, Sarawak, on Tuesday. Malaysians should work together for the betterment of the whole nation, be it Malaya, Sabah or Sarawak.

MALAYSIA recently celebrated its national day as a proud, successful and progressive nation. Nevertheless, the 2014 edition of Independence Day and Malaysia Day celebrations were somewhat tarnished by unwarranted calls for Sabah to secede from the federation. 

Malaysia has its origins from pre-colonial Malay sultanates. The Malay Peninsula, or Malaya, was once dominated by kingdoms of Johor, Negri Sembilan, Kelantan, Pahang, Terengganu, Selangor, Perak, Kedah and Perlis.

On the other side of the South China Sea, the Malay sultanate of Brunei ruled Sarawak before ceding it to James Brooke. Sarawak was then made a private kingdom of the Brooke family until it was handed over to the British at the end of World War 2. Sabah was ruled by both Brunei and Sulu sultanates before the sovereignty was transferred to the British, and administered by the British North Borneo Chartered Company.

Upon the independence of Malaya in 1957 and the attainment of self-government for Sabah and Sarawak in 1963, Malaysia was then formed on the concept of self-determination through the union of the states of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore in the same year. Singapore was expelled from the federation in 1965, and consequently, Malaysia today consists of the states of Malaya with Sabah and Sarawak.

Under the 20 points elucidated in the Malaysia Agreement, Sabah and Sarawak enjoy a certain degree of autonomy, particularly in terms of immigration control, tariff and finance, as well as education.

As a state rich in natural resources, Sabah has progressed rapidly. It’s economy relies on three key development sectors: agriculture, tourism and manufacturing. Petroleum and palm oil remain the two most exported commodities. Sabah mainly imports automobiles and machinery, petroleum products and fertilisers, food and manufactured goods.

Sabah’s prosperity within the federation has lured immigrants, namely inhabitants from the islands of southern Philippines and Kalimantan in Indonesia, creating immigration problems in that state.

In addition, the invasion by the Sulu army last year was a manifestation of an economically-rich state eyed by many, particularly in the Sulu Sea region.  

Indeed, in the 1970s, Sabah was ranked second behind Selangor, including Kuala Lumpur, as the richest state in Malaysia. Nevertheless, as of 2010, Sabah has become the poorest.

The highest number of squatter settlements is in Sabah. This has caused dissatisfaction among a fraction of Sabahans, who have called for the state to leave Malaysia, unwarrantedly alleging that its peninsula counterpart, Malaya, has been colonising the state and plundering its natural resources.

Sabah achieved self-government status on Aug 31, 1963, 16 days before the formation of Malaysia. Within 51 years in the federation, Sabah has undergone rapid modernisation that never took place in 253 years being under colonial rule. While it is true that the country has benefited a lot for having Sabah — a resource rich state — Sabah is also blessed to have joined Malaysia.

A small minority of dissatisfied Sabahans had argued that the state’s petroleum resources have been unseemly transported out to develop Malaya. This contention is not entirely true. Malaya, too, is known to be resource rich, both in mineral and agricultural produce.

In addition, the bulk of tax collection comes from the peninsula as 80 per cent of the whole Malaysian population resides in Malaya. The tax revenues have been used to develop the entire country, including Sabah and Sarawak.

Unlike adverse contentions made by some, Sabah was never “colonised” by Malaya as it voluntarily joined Malaysia. As reported by the Cobbold Commision, two-thirds of Sabahans at that time were in favour of joining Malaysia.

Timor Leste, the then Indonesian province of East Timor, was invaded and annexed by Indonesia against the will of the East Timorese. As a result, a referendum of self-determination was held in 1999 and more than 70 per cent of East Timorese chose to be independent.

Timor Leste became a sovereign nation in 2002 and is still grappling with economic problems. Nearly half the population lives in extreme poverty.

Scotland is one of the states that formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK). Scotland possesses its own Scottish pound as its national currency, its own national Parliament, its own armed forces, enjoys a developed economy and is home to a number of world-class universities. It has a high human development index.

Although Scotland is an economically-developed state, it took them quite some time to consider whether or not to leave the UK. The independence referendum was held yesterday.

In contrast, Sabah uses the Malaysian ringgit, enjoys a rather developing economy and does not have its own military organisation. It does not have a Parliament of its own, but like other states within the federation, Sabah has a state legislative assembly. Without these qualities possessed by Scotland, it may be quite intricate for Sabah to secede.

In addition, with the unjustifiable invasion by the Sulu army, the security of Sabah is always at risk. As a member of the federation, the Malaysian armed forces have always been vigilant in protecting Sabah against the intruders from undermining Malaysia’s sovereignty. And unlike Scotland, there have never been any formal demands issued by the people and/or government of Sabah to secede from Malaysia.

Furthermore, in reference to the 20-point agreement (Malaysia Agreement), Point 7 stated clearly that Sabah has no right to secede from the federation. Some argued that the Malaysia Agreement has become null and void as Singapore is no longer a member of the federation. But Singapore had never tried to leave, it was expelled.

The calls for Sabah to leave Malaysia are uncalled for. Sabah has been progressing quite rapidly ever since it joined the federation in 1963.

While it is true that Sabah is now one of the poorest states in Malaysia, it is not fair to contend that the Federal Government has entirely failed in developing Sabah as other states in Malaysia are doing well.

Both the Sabah government and Federal Government should address the plight of Sabahans to minimise the adverse effects arising from a number of problems faced by them, particularly in issues involving economic development, illegal immigrants and corruption. At the moment, the Sabah government is working hard to revive the state’s former economic glory.

Sometimes, Malaysians should stop asking what the country has done for them, but instead, ask themselves what they have done for the country.

The immoderate hating towards Malaysia has to stop. Indeed, Malaysians should work together for the betterment of the whole nation, be it Malaya, Sabah or Sarawak. Sabah is an integral part of Malaysia and for this reason, there is no issue of secession as the states within the Malaysian federation are leaves of the same tree.

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