The Malaysia Agreement, signed in 1963, has lost its legitimacy among its entities.
By Joseph Wilfred Lakai
The Malaysia Agreement 1963 is a binding treaty that was signed by several representatives from the five parties, namely United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo (Sabah), Sarawak and Singapore.
The main objective of this agreement relates to the formation of Malaysia.
The entry of the United Kingdom as a signatory to the treaty was to ensure, especially for Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore, that their sovereignty and jurisdictions were in force in the agreement.
It can also be said that the United Kingdom was one of the main observers of the agreement .
The British role was to see the last delivery of the sovereignty and jurisdiction of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore in the formation of Malaysia.
The British were also to see that the states’ main requirements, such as the “20-point” Sabah protection rights, were incorporated, implemented and respected when they agreed to join the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia.
The Malaysia Agreement combined with the various related documents including the Bill of Malaysia, is now called the Malaysia Act 1963.
All these documents also included entry requirements and the constitutional reference to Sabah and Sarawak to form Malaysia.
The Malaysia Agreement also required all partners to be signatories before a final decision was made.
The intention of including all four signatories was to ensure they were in full knowledge of the agreement between the Federation of Malaya and the sovereign states of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore when forming Malaysia.
Therefore, Malaysia has been described by various parties as a coalition of partners coming together to form a unified new country and with many of its respective sovereign features included.
When Singapore was removed from the Malaysian Federation in 1965, questions arose and continued to persist as to what had happened to the Malaysia Agreement signed by all parties in 1963.
The absence of Singapore has directly resulted in the constitutional treaty, which included the constitutions of Sabah and Sarawak in the Federation of Malaysia, being invalid.
The Malaysia Agreement is now neither valid nor legal in that the Federation of Malaysia is now an illegal entity because of the removal of Singapore which was one of the signatories to the agreement, which led to the origin of the federation itself.
Neither the Malaysia Agreement nor the Malaysian Federal Constitution provides for the removal of any partner in the Federation of Malaysia.
In which case, does the Prime Minister or Parliament of Malaysia have the power to state that Singapore should not be based on the resolution of the Parliament of Malaysia?
Partners have the same rights
Do they have the power to allow all 104 Members of Parliament from the 11 states of Malaya to determine – which is contrary to the minority of the 36 MPs from Sabah and Sarawak – their future?
It is disappointing that while Sabah and Sarawak had disagreed with the dismissal of Singapore, the Malayan states could still get a two-thirds majority or more to decide on the destiny of the Borneo states.
The 11 states, which form the starting line-up of the Federation of Malaya, should not have the rights to decide whether Singapore could or could not be removed from the Federation of Malaysia.
This is because Malaysia was not formed by the federated states alone.
Through the Malaysia Agreement, each state that signed the agreement are assumed as a couple (partners) who have the same rights.
They have formed Malaysia with Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak.
One vote per partner
Because the four signatory states have signed the Malaysia Agreement as private partners and independent of other members (spouse-free), it is appropriate that each signatory has the same ballot (that is, one vote per state) to determine whether a sovereign state (Singapore) should be removed from the Federation of Malaysia.
In this case, each state of Malaya should not have rights or power to determine the destiny (expulsion) of Singapore from the Federation of Malaysia. This is because they are only entitled to one vote only as determined by the Federation of Malaysia. Sabah and Sarawak also have one vote each.
This view is consistent with their status as Malaysia’s free and private partners to the agreement.
Thus, the decision to remove Singapore from the Federation of Malaysia should be made by the three signatories to the agreement.
Issue of consent
Singapore’s removal also brings up an important core issue – consent.
Thus, the failure to seek consent from Sabah and Sarawak as to the removal of Singapore from Malaysia has had an impact on their representation in Parliament.
For example, to make amendments, especially on the 20-Point Agreement, relating to special privileges given to Sabah, Parliament must get the votes of two-thirds of its members.
In fact, before the removal of Singapore, all the MPs in the Peninsula could not make up the required two-thirds majority unless they were supported by Sabah, Sarawak or Singapore.
However, after Singapore’s expulsion, this was seen as unnecessary for Peninsular Malaysia.
The Peninsula no longer needs to gain support from Sabah and Sarawak as it is now able to secure the two-thirds majority or more in Parliament.
This means that Peninsular MPs can easily make amendments to the Federal Constitution any time they like.
To quote author Shafruddin Hashim’s “Reflection on the Malaysian Constitution” (1986): “With the removal of the monopoly of Singapore then returned to the composition of the ethnic Malay Peninsula.
“This episode is a clear proof of the failure of the federal system and national unity.”
Kuan Yew convinced Borneo states
For this reason, there should be a revision of or research into the conditions of admission of Sabah and Sarawak to Malaysia.
Sabah was not told when Singapore was removed from the Federation of Malaysia. The failure to obtain consent or notify Sabah of Singapore’s removal, is in itself a breach of the terms in the Malaysia Agreement.
Sabah, which is an equal partner in Malaysia, was ignored in this decision (to expel Singapore).
Discussion on the expulsion of Singapore was very important for Sabah as Lee Kuan Yew had worked hard to please the leaders of Borneo to convince them to participate in the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.
At the Association of Commonwealth Members of Parliament meeting in Singapore in July, 1961, the leaders of Borneo (the British were not present) had met with Lee who was then a strong supporter of the idea of Malaysia.
Lee used his genius to persuade the leaders of Borneo to join Tunku Abdul Rahman and support the proposal (reference: Interview of Ong Kee Hui by JP Ongkili in his book, “Nation-building in Malaysia, 1946-1974”).
‘Similar policy’ to Australia, New Zealand
The Federation of Malaya and Singapore favoured incorporating Sabah and Sarawak to form Malaysia.
For example, in a speech at The Foreign Correspondents’ Association of South-East Asia in Singapore on May 27, 1961, Tunku said that Malaya would not be willing to go on its own.
He had suggested that Malaya would soon be having an understanding with Britain and Singapore , Sabah (North Borneo), Brunei and Sarawak (Nation-building in Malaysia, 1946-1974).
Also in 1961, Lee said: “The combination will occur not due to the requirements of the People’s Action Party or because of the requirements of the federal coalition government.
“But the matter cannot be avoided… (Nation-building in Malaysia, 1946-1974).”
The formation of Malaysia was also a British requirement.
The Times newspaper reported on July 28, 1961 that “the desire of the British… in this area is also desired by Australia and New Zealand which will also form the same policy” (Nation-building in Malaysia, 1946-1974).
The term “area” referred to Southeast Asia and the purpose of enforcing “the same policy” in Malaysia was perhaps to enable them (British) to maintain their influence despite the effects of nationalism.
The chairman of the Cobbold Commission also made an important point.
He said: “From the start, Malaysia should be considered by all concerned as an equal member of the coalition, combined to accelerate the common goal to establish a sovereign but retains its own characteristics of those states.
“In the event of any attempt by Malaysia to ‘take over’ the boundaries of the Federation of Malaysia and Borneo… then I think Malaysia is mostly not acceptable or successful” (Nation-building in Malaysia 1946-1974).
In reality, the gradual “erosion” in the protection of the Borneo states by the Federal Government, was an act that destroyed its own states.
Therefore, if the agreement is not valid in Malaysia, then Malaysia as a nation is not valid .
It has lost its legitimacy among its entities.
Malaysia has been and is still in operation for 48 years after the expulsion of Singapore.
As has been disputed, political developments during that time did not allow the parties to the Malaysia Agreement to study the matter or question the issues.
Today, the situation is different. The political circumstances have turned towards evil.
It is now important and urgent that the terms of the Malaysia Agreement be reviewed.
Going back to study the validity of the agreement is very important.
Capt Joseph Wilfred Lakai is mechanical engineer of native Murut descent. He engineered the formation of United Borneo Front (UBF), an NGO committed to the terms of the Malaysia Agreement.