By SALLEH SAID KERUAK
Of late we have been reading a lot of comments regarding the status of Sabah and Sarawak within the Federation of Malaysia, in particular in relation to the 5% oil royalty. Some commenters are not only asking for an increase in this royalty but are even suggesting that a Referendum be conducted as to whether Sabah and Sarawak should remain in the Federation of Malaysia or opt out for independence.
Most of these comments are made based purely on emotions and are devoid of legal facts. To argue that since Malaysia was created together with Singapore and since Singapore has since left Malaysia then that makes Malaysia null and void is like saying that since the company was formed with four partners and since one partner has left the company then the company is automatically wound up.
That is not how we should argue our case. In the first place, to even use the phrase ‘independence from Malaysia’ is suggesting that Sabah and Sarawak are being colonised. Colonisation is very different from federalisation, which is more what Sabah and Sarawak have been subjected to. Federalisation can be good and can be bad, of course. It all depends on what issues we are discussing. For example, in matters of national defence and foreign policy, federalisation may work better than Sabah or Sarawak trying to independently manage these affairs.
Then there are those who compare Singapore to Malaysia and argue that since Singapore left Malaysia it has succeeded economically while Malaysia is still very far below Singapore. That is a very unfair comparison. Singapore is a city-state so it should be compared to Kuala Lumpur and not to Malaysia. Singapore does not have a rural population or hardcore poor to worry about.
All its development is urban development. If Malaysia concentrated on just developing Kuala Lumpur while ignoring all the areas outside Kuala Lumpur then Kuala Lumpur would most probably be the most developed city in South East Asia. However, only about 10% of the population lives in the Kelang Valley. Hence the Malaysian government needs to also worry about the other 90%, which Singapore does not have to worry about.
By all means let us argue about getting a better deal from the federal government. That should be the focus of the discussion. But that does not mean to get a better deal means Sabah and Sarawak must leave Malaysia. If one feels that that is the only way to get a better deal then this argument has to be supported with examples on how an independent Sabah and Sarawak is better off than a Sabah and Sarawak as part of Malaysia.
In the UK, this same issue is being debated regarding the Referendum that is going to be held on 14th September this year to decide whether Scotland should continue being part of Britain or whether Scotland should be independent. And the best brains that are discussing this issue still cannot decide what would be the best for Scotland: stay as part of Britain or leave Britain. Scotland, too, feels that federalisation has some advantages and some disadvantages. But the disadvantages can outweigh the advantages in spite of Scotland’s oil wealth in the North Sea.
No doubt Scotland would be rich because it no longer needs to share its oil wealth with the rest of Britain. But that one advantage would be offset by other disadvantages: such as Scotland would no longer be able to use the Pound Sterling and would need to create its own currency and there is no guarantee that the new Scottish Pound would be at par with the Pound Sterling. And Scotland does not even face the problem of the risk of foreign occupation once it is independent like Sabah and Sarawak would face.