Strong criticism over a golden opportunity missed.
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Sarawak chairman Baru Bian said he could not find any merit in Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) MPs and other opposition MPs’ arguments for not supporting the amendment Bill of Article 1(2) after listening to the various reasons and excuses given.
According to Baru, this was because the purpose of the intended amendment was to reinstate the position of Sabah and Sarawak to the pre-1976 amendment by adopting the exact phrases and wordings used in 1963, but without the mention of Singapore.
“This was after the proposal was made by the government MPs and the GPS MPs. The PH (Pakatan Harapan) government showed their sincerity and goodwill by acceding to their request, but when it came to the crucial vote, the GPS MPs showed their true colours by refusing to vote.
“Their behaviour begs the question whether they are sincere in wanting to restore Sabah and Sarawak’s status, which all Sabahans and Sarawakians have been dreaming of all these years,” Baru, who is Selangau MP and Ba Kelalan assemblyman, said in a press statement today.
In response to their arguments that the Bill should be referred to a select committee, to the State Legislative Assembly (DUN), or to the Agong, Baru said the question is whether this was the procedure in 1976 when Article 1(2) was amended.
“The answer is no – so why should it be so now? In fact, on the alleged need to refer the matter to the Sabah and Sarawak DUN, I would have thought that the proposed amendment in 1976 would have been sent to the Sabah and Sarawak DUN for their consent because it involved a downgrade in the status of Sarawak.
“In contrast, our recent proposal was not to the disadvantage of Sarawak, but instead to restore her to her former status, and therefore it was not necessary to bring the matter to the Sarawak DUN.”
As for the definition of ‘the Federation’, Baru said Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had explained why it was not in the proposed amendment.
“He said ‘The government does not plan to amend the interpretation because such interpretation is intended for use in some other provisions of the Federal Constitution which are still in force.’ That is a clear and simple explanation and in fact, that is true if one reads a further few Articles after Article 160.”
The accepted composition of ‘the Federation’ has also been as set out in Article 1, he explained.
“There must be a reason why the interpretation of ‘the Federation’ in Article 160(2) was not amended in 1963 when the Federation of Malaysia was formed, and in 1976 when the constitution was amended.
“The legal advisors to the government at those times were not so careless or ignorant to have omitted such a fundamental provision by oversight. In addition, the proposed amendment to Article 1(2) can be done independently of any other provisions of the Federal Constitution. So to talk of a holistic amendment as stated by the GPS MPs is but excuses without merit.”
Should there have been any doubts about the sincerity of the PH government’s moves to amend Article 1(2), Baru said these doubts should have been allayed by the clear, concise and precise assurance by the Prime Minister in his opening and winding-up speeches that this proposed amendment was merely to amend the law first, and that all of the other issues under Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) which remain unfulfilled are currently being discussed in the Steering Committee, the Technical Committee and the various cluster groups.
“Again, the proposed amendment here can be done independently of the present discussions under the Steering Committee. Had the amendment been passed, Sabah and Sarawak would have been able to participate in the discussions as rightful equal partners, their status having been restored.
“So as I had said earlier, the argument to have a holistic amendment after referring the matter to a select committee has no merit in light of all the committees that are discussing the MA63 – and there are Sarawak government representatives in every one of these committees.”
Furthermore, Baru said Chief Minister of Sarawak Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg had agreed with the Steering Committee to the amendment of Article 1(2) first, in the spirit of MA63, adding: “The actions of his MPs must have caused great embarrassment to him.”
“One telling fact from the vote on the April 9 is the fact that the Sabah opposition MPs (with the exception of one), whatever they may have said in their debates, voted with their conscience and principles to support the government’s bill, unlike Sarawak’s GPS MPs who preferred to abstain with Umno and PAS.
“That in itself, paints a very clear picture of these so-called Sarawakian YBs, and Sarawakians should question their motives. It would have been better for them to be elsewhere on the night of April 9, than being present in the Dewan and abstaining from voting. To me it was a clear dereliction of their parliamentarian duty and a betrayal of the trust given them by Sarawakians.”
Baru said: “Do not forget that we in the opposition in the Sarawak State Assembly supported the government’s motions on the Territorial Sea Act and the demand for 20 per cent oil royalty (both of which originated as opposition motions) because we knew it was the right thing to do in safeguarding Sarawak’s interests.
“It is truly shocking that the GPS MPs do not hold similar principles but have proven that they are willing to betray Sarawakians at such a crucial moment in our history, which any reasonable person would suspect, in all likelihood was for their own selfish political gains.”
Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal yesterday expressed his disappointment over the failure to amend the Constitution as the people of Sabah had been waiting for it for a long time.
He said Sabah and Sarawak missed a golden chance to restore their status as equal partners with the peninsula after the bill to amend the constitution was defeated in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.
He said this was the first step towards getting other constitutional amendments, including the rights owed to both states following the formation of Malaysia in 1963.
Shafie said efforts had been made to restore the original wording in the bill to match the pre-1976 amendment.
“Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad read it, and he said it was back to its old form which was signed by our forefathers in 1963,” he said.
“You can imagine, in particular, fundamental things that we cannot agree on and vote for it, what more other things that we can realise.
“It’s already 55 years, we have waited for such a long time…we are not saying that we should be in a hurry but, for God’s sake, this is 55 years, this is a fundamental thing,” he said.
Shafie, however, said the failure to secure two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat for the Constitutional Amendment Bill to restore the status of Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners with the Federation of Malaya as enshrined in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 is not the end of the road.
He said he felt saddened because when the opportunity finally arrived it was not taken.
“This was not a small feat for us…much has been said by many leaders. Only this time, our voice is heard and the matter was tabled in Parliament.
“But, unfortunately, it cannot succeed because to amend the Constitution, you need a two-thirds majority,” he said.
Out of 222 seats out of the Dewan Rakyat, only 139 voted for it, which is short of the required 148 votes.
Shafie stated that they have done their level best and that he has spent his time mingling after the deliberation at Parliament to explain that what they wanted was to reinstate what was agreed by the forefathers in the creation of Malaysia in 1963.
“We will continue our effort to ensure that we can realise the desire of fellow Sabahans here…make sure what are the rights of Sabah, including the 40 per cent tax collected by the Federal and royalty for oil,” he told a press conference held at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) shortly after arriving on the 11.45 am flight from Kuala Lumpur.
Shafie said they were aiming for the amendment to Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution, which would restore the status of Sabah and Sarawak.
“This is the first step after 55 years, it is only to legitimize and spell out what was stated in 1963 and put it back in the Constitution,” he said, adding that it does not mean that that was enough and stressed that the struggle will continue on after that.
“If there is need to amend the Constitution, by all means, we are there supporting. But this was a stepping stone, the first step for us for our way forward to voice out our rights,” he went on.
“Tapi datang ke parlimen kita tak bagi pulak (but when it arrived at Parliament, we did not allow it to proceed),” he lamented.
He stressed that cooperation was needed to change the Constitution and it needed all parties to come together, Sabah, Sarawak and the Federation of Malaya.
“This would have been the time for us to realise it,” he added.
When asked if Sabah would talk to Sarawak on the matter, Shafie replied: “Of course.”
“Engagement has already been done at the PM’s (Prime Minister’s) Office. We had discussions there before.
“I was made to understand that opinions had been gathered, even to the extent of the last minute on what were the concerns of the Sarawakian delegation,” he said.
Shafie was also asked if he felt that Sarawak government, being the opposition, was merely ‘playing politics’.
He replied that he won’t say this was the case.
“I don’t want to accuse my counterpart. We are working with them. I will reach out to them to see how to make sure it can be done. I do hope to get into another chance to table it in Parliament,” he said.
As for Parliament members from Sabah, Shafie also refrained from accusing anyone, and told reporters that he was not keen on making speculations. Nevertheless, he added, this was for the interest of the state.
He also expressed his gratitude to Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and mentioned that the latter was very knowledgeable about the issue.
– The Borneo Post