By Jeffrey Kitingan
Celebrating Malaysia Day on Sept 16 would be meaningless, hollow and empty unless the special rights and autonomy of Sabah and Sarawak as agreed, promised and assured by the Founding Fathers of Malaysia are fulfilled.
The Founding Fathers of Malaysia from the Borneo states took great risks to agree and to be pushed and rushed into the merger with Malaya and Singapore to the extent of denying themselves (the Borneo States) the opportunity to attain political maturity first and to enjoy the freedom and practice of self-rule as what is now enjoyed by Brunei.
This is despite the fact that opinions and assessments from various quarters involved in the negotiations gave a clear and mature signal to the merger.
For example, according to British documents released recently, Sir William Goode (last Governor of British North Borneo) and Waddle (British Representative in Singapore) insisted “that Borneo
is not ready for self-government, which they fear would turn out to be an unequal partnership between the Borneo Horse and the Malayan Rider.
They warned of dangers of “shotgun marriage.” “None of the territories (Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei) would be ready for self-government earlier than 1970” and “All territories, Brunei, North Borneo and Sarawak were ‘unfitted’ to enter Malaysia on the basis of popular representation”.
Sel Kirk (British High Commissioner based in Singapore) gave Sarawak about 10 years, and North Borneo at least 20 years before a clear cut electoral opinion would be given on this subject.
Lord Cobbold, Chairman of the Cobbold Commission, even warned that “It is necessary condition, from the outset, that Malaysia shall be regarded by all concerned as an association of partners combining in the common interest to create a new nation but retaining their own individualities.”
Even the United Nation (UN) Team sent to ascertain the feelings of the people of North Borneo and Sarawak also came back with an inconclusive report saying 2/3 are not convinced to the formation of Malaysia.
Tun Fuad Stephens (Donald Stephens) himself expressed his concerns in a letter to Tunku Abdul Rahman (before the formation of Malaysia) – “If we had been asked to join Malaysia at the time Malaya achieved independence and Britain made it possible for us, the story would have been a different one”.
“Now that ‘Merdeka’ has been Malaya’s for some years, and we are still struggling towards it, Malaya’s proposal that we join as the 12th, 13th and 14th states savours of imperialism, of a drive to turn us into Malayan colonies…. to join Malaya, while we are still colonies… the implication is to hand (ourselves) over to your control.”
Then, to the Straits Times, Tun Fuad wrote: “We are against joining Malaysia as individual states, and want the Borneo territories to get together, so that when we talk with Malaya, it will be as equal partners and not as vassals…, and if we join Malaya now, the people who will come and take most of the top jobs will be Malayan… the new expatriates…”
Doubts and concerns expressed by the Borneo leaders to the status of Sabah and Sarawak in the Federation were subsequently addressed by Tunku Abdul Rahman and his team when they agreed to take into consideration the 20-Points conditions.
Tunku Abdul Rahman assured that “The granting of self-government too would enable Sabah to stand on its own feet as equal with Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore”.
“The important aspects of the Malaysia Ideal, as I see it, is that it will enable the Borneo territories to transform their present colonial status to ‘self-government’ for themselves and absolute independence in Malaysia simultaneously..”
“The days of imperialism are gone and it is not the intention of Malaya to perpetuate or revive them. When the Borneo territories become part of Malaysia, they will cease to be colonies, they will be partners of equal status, no more or less than the other states.” (the ‘other states’ refer to the other states’ entities of Malaya, Singapore and Sarawak).
Thus what eventually convinced the Borneo states leaders to form Malaysia beside the question of security, were the assurances that the merger would be that of equal partnership of the signatory states (Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak) to the Malaysia Agreement, the autonomy and special rights accorded to Sabah and Sarawak under the 20-Points, Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) Report and the Malaysia Agreement itself.
Have all these Agreement, promises and assurances been fulfilled? Is Sabah now secure and enjoying “absolute independence” in Malaysia? Are we now in control of our economic resources, our political franchise and our future? If the answer is “NO” then what are we celebrating on the Sept 16?
We might as well regard Sept 16 as a ‘Sad Day’ to remember when we ended freedom and independence to be taken over and re-colonized by Malaya.
Ironically, on Aug 31, 1963 (two weeks before the formation of Malaysia), Sabah was granted independence from the British to which Sir William Goode declared – “Today is a historic day for Sabah. It marks the beginning of self-government and independence and the end of colonialism”.
If anything at all, let Sept 16 be an occasion to reflect and review our position in the Federation of Malaysia and find a solution to save a potentially fragile nation from breaking apart.
Our state political leaders should use this occasion to rise above partisan political interest, fighting for self-interest in the name of development to one committed to the larger interst of Sabah and Sarawak and for the future well-being of Sabahans and Sarawakians.
The time to do this is right and most appropriate as Sabah and Sarawak are not merely “fixed deposits” States but they are actually the “Kingmakers” the “Penentu” as to who goes to Putrajaya and who will fulfill the promises of Sept 16, 1963.
Jeffrey Kitingan, a Harvard scholar, is a former ISA detainee under Dr Mahathir Mohamad regime, accused of purportedly wanting to take out Sabah from Malaysia. He was briefly vice-president of PKR before quitting the party accusing it of not listening to Sabah and Sarawak aspirations. He is currently leading United Borneo Front (UBF) which seeks a reinstatement of autonomy to Sabah.