Wednesday, July 23, 2014

BARU BIAN'S SPEECH: 51ST ANNIVERSARY OF SARAWAK'S INDEPENDENCE DAY


 22 JULY 2014

Ladies and gentlemen, friends.

How many of us know, or were taught in school, that 51 years ago, on 22 July 1963, Sarawak became an independent sovereign state with a state Cabinet headed by the first Chief Minister Tan Sri Stephen Kalong Ningkan? That on that historic day, the last British colonial governor handed over the administration of Sarawak back to Sarawakians?

For decades, Sarawakians were told that Malaysia achieved independence on 31 August 1957 and we blindly and unthinkingly went along with this untruth, joyously waving the Malaysian flag under the hot sun, celebrating a day that in fact holds no significance for us in Sarawak. It suited the leaders of that time to keep us in the dark about our history. Thankfully the people have awakened to this fact, which is due in no small measure, to the determination of a younger generation of Sarawakians to correct this gross distortion of the truth.

We are aware now that on 31 August 1957, it was the Federated States of Malaya that gained independence from the British. At that time, Sarawak and Sabah (known as North Borneo then) were still under British colonial rule and it was only 6 years later, on 22 July 1963 that Sarawak became independent.

On 9 July 1963, the Malaysia Agreement was signed between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore. It included the 20-point requirements raised by Sabah and 18 points by Sarawak to safeguard the rights, autonomy and interests of our people while establishing the Federation of Malaysia. For Sarawak, the agreement was signed by the Sarawak Attorney-General P.E.H. Pike, Tun Jugah, Abang Haji Mustapha, Ling Beng Siew and Abang Haji Openg.

The Malaysia Agreement came into effect, and Malaysia was thus formed, on 16 September 1963, consisting of the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo. This date, 16th September, 1963, came to be known as MALAYSIA DAY because it was on this historic day that the Federation of Malaysia was born. As a young boy living in the interior of Sarawak, I was taught and raised on the significance of 16th September where each year the whole community of my people marked this Day with joyous celebration. Sadly, Malaysia Day gradually became forgotten as Malaysians were made to celebrate 31 August as Merdeka Day for all. The question needs to be asked why the government persisted in ignoring the truth and rewriting history. It was only in 2009 that the Federal Government acknowledged that Malaysia Day should be celebrated on 16 September and declared it as a public holiday, due largely to the constant reminders by the opposition parties. This happened a year after the Pakatan State of Selangor officially celebrated 16th September. I know this fact because I was invited to that historic occasion in Selangor to represent the people of Sarawak.

Although Sarawak’s independence was short-lived, at only 56 days, and the Federation of Malaysia was more or less a fait accompli on 22 July 1963, it is still a day worthy of commemoration as a turning point in our history.

I am aware of the increasing sentiment among the people in the Borneo states that we would have been better off if we had remained independent. There are so many ‘what-if’s’ and ‘if-only’s’, so much discussion of what could have been. At this point, I would like to address the question of why the idea of a federation of Malaysia was mooted, and why it was so tenaciously pushed by the British Government and the Malayan Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. The British Government in the early 60’s wanted to withdraw from their colonies. Sarawak was threatened by incursions from Indonesia, North Borneo by the Philippines and Singapore from communist influence. As said by Tan Sri Leo Moggie, “The threat of communist influence on Singapore and the fear of its domino spread to Malaya underpinned British encouragement for the merger of Singapore with Malaya. Sarawak and North Borneo would provide the native population, as a balance to assuage Malay worry of Chinese numerical majority. Malaysia was founded on the converging interests of security for Malaya and Singapore, the culmination of South East Asian nationalism demonstrated by Indonesia and Philippines, with the British policy of decolonization.” [‘Sarawak has a lot of catching up to do.’ 7 October 2013]

The Cobbold Commission which was formed to ascertain the views of the people of Sarawak and North Borneo, reported in 1962 that “About one-third of the population ... strongly favours early realisation of Malaysia without too much concern about terms and conditions. Another third, many of them favourable to the Malaysia project, ask, with varying degrees of emphasis, for conditions and safeguards varying in nature and extent ... The remaining third is divided between those who insist on independence before Malaysia is considered and those who would strongly prefer to see British rule continue for some years to come.”

There are many who suggest that the findings of the Cobbold Report were somehow ‘bent’ to suit the agenda of the pro-Federation parties but that is a discussion for another forum. For now, it is pertinent to note that the report includes a warning. It said,

It is a necessary condition that, from the outset, Malaysia should be regarded by all concerned as an association of partners, combining in the common interests to create a new nation but retaining their own individualities. If any idea were to take root that Malaysia would involve a ‘take-over’ of the Borneo territories by the Federation of Malaya and the submersion of the individualities of North Borneo and Sarawak, Malaysia would not, in my judgment, be generally acceptable or successful.”

In addition, this is what the first Prime Minister of Malaysia said of the formation of the Federation of Malaysia: ‘… one of the principal objectives in forming Malaysia was to further the economic development of the Borneo Territories so that their standards of living and technical skills might be raised, and a firm basis provided for accelerated growth.’

Fifty-one years on, it is clear that what the report warned about has come to pass, and the Tunku’s vision has failed to materialise. This is the reason for the rising resentment and dissatisfaction among our people, for the Federation of Malaysia has turned out to be the partnership that never was. Temenggong Jugah displayed uncanny insight when he uttered his fears for the future using the sugarcane analogy - ‘baka tebu, pun manis, ujong tabar’. The idea of the Federation of Malaysia was sweet at the start but is becoming unpalatable for many.  Sarawak and Sabah have been relegated to being mere states of Malaysia instead of the equal partners we were meant to be. We are lagging behind in every aspect of development - social, economic, education, health, infrastructure, industry, etc. The wealth from our land has been used to fund the progress of West Malaysia while we are left in the doldrums, languishing as two of the poorest states of Malaysia even with our wealth in natural resources. We observe with apprehension as our harmony is being threatened by religious extremists and racial bigots in West Malaysia who are allowed by the PM and his Ministers to spew hatred against people of different races and faiths. Our holy books are being taken away from us and we are told that the word ‘Allah’ is exclusive to Muslims in this country. Can anyone of you here today tell me that this is what our forefathers would have wanted for us? Would you not agree that they would be turning in their graves if they knew what Sarawakians are going through now?

At this point I wish to highlight two more paragraphs of the Cobbold Commission:

“Although there are no ideological overtones here, we have found that the prospect of Malaysia as viewed by non-Malay natives in certain parts of Sarawak within the framework of their unhappy recollection of Brunei domination in the past, which is regarded as Malay domination, and of their fear of its return with the new federation.   The suggested name of Malaysia for the new Federation, and of Malay as the national language and Islam as the national religion, have tended to emphasize these misgivings”. (para 23)

“Opposition to Malaysia springs from a genuine fear of discrimination after Malaysia, a feeling among the Chinese that their status would be reduced to that of ‘second-class citizens’ and among the natives that their customary laws and practice would be affected. Similarly, there is concern that Malaysia would entail migration from the other territories of the Federation, and also that such safeguards as may be given could be removed at a later stage by the Central Government” (para 32)
Who can blame our forefathers for their misgivings? Their fears were not unfounded and we are witnessing the realisation of these fears now. The federal government presented us with a 10-point solution for the use of ‘Allah’ but when it came to the crux of the matter, the Prime Minister and his minions would not defend the rights of other Malaysians to practise their religions. Even the highest court of the land has turned its back on us with their recent decision on the matter.

Since my speech on 16 September 2012 when the Kuching Declaration was signed, there have been some changes in the political scene. We have a new Chief Minister who seems to be more amenable to the opposition and who has been echoing the opposition’s stand on certain issues, such as autonomy for Sarawak, and native customary rights issues. However, other weighty issues continue to burden the ordinary people. Land encroachments have not abated, and the threat of displacement by dams and plantations continues. We are continuing to fight battles with the state and its agencies in court. Our people are feeling the pinch as the prices of goods keeps on rising. Our youths are still being denied the opportunity to further their studies by the racial policies of our educational institutions and scholarship bodies.

In my speech two years ago, I laid out my vision for a better Sarawak, where her people can truly flourish and live their best lives, where justice and fairness is available to all regardless of race and religion, where the leaders are competent, accountable and transparent, and free from the evils of corruption. That was my dream then, and it still is my dream today. This is not an impossible dream, and I know it is a matter of time before this dream is realised. This realisation starts with awareness, and your attendance at today’s event reinforces my belief that the awareness among Sarawakians is increasing at a rapid pace.

Earlier on, you heard the recital of the Kuching Declaration that was signed by the leaders of the Pakatan Rakyat 2 years ago. We are here today to reinforce our commitment to the terms of this historic declaration. The relevant words preceding the 7 Articles in the Kuching Declaration are:

‘We will honour the spirit of the Malaysia Agreement of 1963 which our founding fathers put their hands to, and as a sign of our deep commitment to the peoples of Sarawak and Sabah, consistent with democratic principles and justice for all Malaysians…’

The 7 Articles set out points on equal partnership, fair representation, citizenship, restoration of NCR, competent Sarawak and Sabah, oil justice and equitable development. These are the promises that a Pakatan Rakyat government will fulfill if we are given the opportunity to serve the people of this Federation.

Before I conclude, I wish to share with you the Nine Cardinal Principles of the rule of the English Rajahs. Some people may not appreciate the rule of the British, but I believe the White Rajahs ruled with conscience and did not enrich themselves in any way during their reign, unlike the political leaders of today.
The Nine Cardinal Principles of the rule of the English Rajah forms the Preamble of the Sarawak Constitution 1941.
1.            That Sarawak is the heritage of Our Subjects and is held in trust by Ourselves for them.
2.            That social and education services shall be developed and improved and the standard of living of the people of Sarawak shall steadily be raised.
3.            That never shall any person or persons be granted rights inconsistent with those of the people of this country or be in any way permitted to exploit Our Subjects or those who have sought Our protection and care.
4.            That justice shall be freely obtainable and that the Rajah and every public servant shall be easily accessible to the public.
5.            That freedom of expression both in speech and in writing shall be permitted and encouraged and that everyone shall be entitled to worship as he pleases.
6.            That public servants shall ever remember that they are but the servants of the people on whose goodwill and co-operation they are entirely dependent.
7.            That so far as may be Our Subjects of whatever race or creed shall be freely and impartially admitted to offices in Our Service, the duties of which they may be qualified by their education, ability and integrity duly to discharge.
8.            That the goal of self-government shall always be kept in mind, that the people of Sarawak shall be entrusted in due course with the governance of themselves, and that continuous efforts shall be made to hasten the reaching of this goal by educating them in the obligations, the responsibilities, and the privileges of citizenship.
9.            That the general policy of Our predecessors and Ourselves whereby the various races of the State have been enabled to live in happiness and harmony together shall be adhered to by Our successors and Our servants and all who may follow them hereafter.

The 9 Cardinal Principals were promulgated over 70 years ago but the essence of each principle still rings true to this day. On this anniversary of our Independence, let us renew our commitment and determination to strive for a government of Sarawak that will adopt and practise the 9 cardinal principles in carrying out its duties towards the people. Let us hold fast to our dream of a better Sarawak and let us, the people of Sarawak be always united in the face of negative influences from neighbouring shores.

I wish to also take this opportunity to wish our Muslim friends Selamat Berpuasa and Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri in advance.

Thank you.

Baru Bian
Chairman, PKR Sarawak









No comments: