Speech by Anwar Ibrahim on the occasion of Sarawak’s 51st Year of Independence on July 22, 2014
Federalism and what it means for Sarawak and Sabah
A brief history of Sarawak reconstructed
In a leading text on Sarawak history, Steven Runciman, the English expert on Byzantine studies and a contemporary of George Orwell,tells us that in return for successfully waging war on piracy and insurgency among the indigenous peoples,the Sultan of Brunei, the late Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin II, ceded amassive tract of land in the southwest area of Brunei to James Brook.
This generous grant was not only a surrender of land as such but a secession of sovereignty and heralded the birth of a dynastic monarchy that we have come to know as The White Rajahs who ruled the “Kingdom of Sarawak” from 1841 to 1946.
Between enemies and heroes
While that aspect of history is familiar to most of us, I am more concerned about the history books clichéd reference to “fighting pirates and insurgentsamong the indigenous peoples”. I believe the time is overdue for a reconstruction of this part of Sarawak history so as to get a balanced discourse.
The question is: what do you mean exactly by ‘pirates’ and ‘insurgents’? The answer depends on whose point of view we are taking. Indeed, if we view itfrom the perspective of the colonial overlord, or even from the ruler’s, they were pirates and rebels to be destroyed. But how about from the point of view of the indigenous peoples?
To my mind, those who might be seen as enemies by the colonial masters and domestic oppressors may well be celebrated as heroes for the native peoples. For example, Iban chief Libau ‘Rentap’ of Kanowit might have been James Brooke’s arch-enemy but to us as Malaysians, and definitely to the people of Sarawak, he remains “the Hero of Bukit Sadok”, no doubt a great Dayak Iban Warrior.
Similarly, Sayyid Mashhur bin Muhammad Al-Shahab, or more popularly known as “Sharif Masahor”, was also public enemy number one for the White Rajah but there is no doubt that he was one of the greatest Melanau warriors inour history. After forging an alliance with Rentap, their history of struggles can no longer be seen as rebellion but one of the earliest heroic struggles for freedom against British colonialism and oppression.
So, today we are here not only to celebrate an occasion or a day but also to commemorate the heroism, sacrifice and invaluable contributions of the people of Sarawak.
The concept of Federalism and Malaysia
Malaysia is a Federation, which is why we have what is called the Federal Constitution.
However, when we go through the Federal List, it would soonbegin to dawn on us that our Federation, for all intents and purposes, is more a unitary state.
The concept of federalism entails a division of power between the federalgovernment and the state governments while in a unitary state, power is centralised.
In a true federation, the distribution of power allows all the component states to work as separate units while the overall structure remains intact to allow theNational Government to move the nation forward as a sovereign state recognised in the international community. To maintain cohesiveness as a multi-cultural multi-religious nation, all national policies must be inclusive and sensitive to the fundamental rights of the diverse communities.
Bahasa Malaysia as the national identity
Language identity as a nation cannot be separated from the sovereignty and distinct character that makes one nation distinct from another. In this regard, any proposal to enhance federalism without giving pride of place to Bahasa Malaysia as the national unifying language for all Malaysians is doomed to fail.
Thus, the position of Bahasa Malaysia must not be questioned at all. This is a struggle not just for the champions of the language but a conviction for all of us regardless of our mother tongue. Indeed, Malay is the only language that will bind us linguistically as a nation.
We should be guided by such an overriding principle so as to maintain unity in diversity while preserving national sovereignty as a nation and this can done without an overconcentration of centralised power.
Rather than being fixated on amassing power at the centre, the Federal government must seriously consider a general decentralisation agenda that will add invaluable economic synergies and cultural empowerment to the states regardless whether they are controlled by Pakatan or Barisan Nasional.
To ensure the preservation of the national statehood, essential matters covered in the Federal List such as national defence, internal order and security and raising revenue should never be compromised.
The establishment of the Federation of Malaya – as a consequence to the opposition to the aborted Malayan Union – was, at least in theory precisely to allow for that unity without sacrificing the individual sovereignty of the states.
If we stop to ponder then that there would have been no Malaysia withoutbringing in Sarawak and Sabah, then our appreciation of these two states should grow by leaps and bounds.
Indeed, the wealth of resources they bring are immense but this is not the point Iam making. More important than anything else I am talking about the rich diversity in people, culture and religion that cannot be measured in economic terms that Sarawak and Sabah bring to the very concept of Malaysia as a nation.
Pakatan’s 7-Point Proposalfor Sarawakand Sabah
They say that celebrating the Independence Day of Sarawak is a very brave step. Indeed, it is. But I believe the people of Sarawak deserve more and in conjunction with this 51stanniversary, and in line with the true concept of federalism, the following 7-point plan is proposed:
1. In recognition of the spirit of the federal compact signed in 1963 known as the Malaysia Agreement, to:
Recognise – in the Federal Constitution, text books and official discourses – Sabah and Sarawak as special states that are equal partners to the Peninsula of Malaysia within the Federation of Malaysia; and
Recognise three National Days: August 31 as the Merdeka Day for Malaya and Sabah, July 22 as the Independence Day for Sarawak and September 16 as Malaysia Day – with national celebrations for August 31 and September 16.
2. In the spirit of true federalism that values unity in diversitywhile preserving a cohesive nation, to:
Uphold Bahasa Malaysia as the national language unifying all Malaysians regardless of faiths, ethnicity or mother-tongue;
Protect the freedom of expression and information in all languages, as enshrined in the Federal Constitution, including the use of Allah in the Malay and Iban-language Bibles and other publications; and
Establish a television channel for Borneo
3. In full recognition of the injustice in the marginalization and poverty suffered by Sarawak and Sabah despite their rich resources, as a result of corruption, nepotism and cronyism by both the Federal and State Governments, bring about the following economic reforms and developments when Pakatan Rakyat forms the new federal and state governments:
a. Federal-state sharing of petroleum wealth and power in Petronas, with
a director each from Sarawak, Sabah and all other petroleum-producing states on Petronas’ Board;
the establishment of state-owned second-tiered Oil and Gas company as Petronas’ partners; and
20% royalty for those states;
b. The abolition of cabotage policy to eliminate the artificial price disparity that burdens the people of Sarawak and Sabah;
c. The construction of a Pan-Borneo highway of comparable quality to those highways in Peninsular Malaysia
d. The supply of electricity and tap water to 90% of households in Sarawak and Sabah
4. To correct and prevent the illegal naturalization and enfranchisement of foreigners and the failure in safeguarding the border of Sabah, establish permanent joint Federal-State Commissions in Sarawak and Sabah answerable to both the Federal Parliament and the respective State Assemblies in order to oversee:
The naturalization of foreigners in Sarawak and Sabah;
The trans-migration of other Malaysians into Sabah and Sarawak; and
Border and coastline security in both states
To ensure protection of the native communities and environment:
Establish State Land Commissions in Sarawak and Sabah, with institutionalized representation from the native communities and answerable to the respective State Assemblies, to administer land especially Native Customary Rights (NCR) lands, undertake surveys, investigate and resolve land disputes; and
Establish elected third-tiered governments at city and division level, with the boundaries of rural divisions taking into account socio-culturalboundaries of native communities where possible, to facilitate participatory decision-making and indigenous autonomy.
Guided by the spirit of the 1963 Malaysia Agreement, support human resource development in Sarawak and Sabah, with no discrimination on the ground of religion, through:
Borneonisation of the state public service in Sarawak and Sabah with transparent and meritocratic recruitment and promotion;
Recruitment of more Borneans into the Administrative and Diplomatic Services and appointment of more Borneans as Ambassadors and High Commissioners; and
Both scholarships for both Bornean students in general and Bornean native students in particular with no discrimination on the ground of ethnicity and religion
7. Establish a Royal Commission of Inquiry to commence a study on the health of federalism in Malaysia within the first year of the new Federal Government and complete it within 3 years, to reform and rejuvenate our federal system before GE15 to better serve the nation and all the states and territories.
A federation of states is only as strong as the sum of its parts. The call for real federalism and greater devolution of powers is intended to strengthen these parts and that in turn will strengthen the entire federation. This will augur well for the future of Malaysia.