Fine line between ‘joined’ and ‘formed’
Some Malaysians still clueless over distinctions in Malaysia Agreement 1963
“I AM a Malaysian! Why do I need to go through Immigration to get a social visit pass to enter Sabah?” asked an indignant Ipoh-born friend, adding, “I don’t need such a document when I enter Selangor from Perak.”
He was planning to fly from KL International Airport to Kota Kinabalu International Airport to visit my home state for the first time.
“Well, you must understand that Sabah and Sarawak, through the Malaysia Agreement 1963, have control of who enters their states,” I said.
“What Malaysia Agreement?” he queried.
Some Malaysians, especially those who have not visited the Borneo-side of the country, are clueless about Sabah’s 20-point agreement and Sarawak’s 18-point agreement which the two autonomous territories negotiated prior to the formation of Malaysia.
Point 6 in Sabah’s 20 points states: “Control over immigration into any part of Malaysia from outside should rest with the Central Government but entry into North Borneo (as Sabah was known) should also require the approval of the State Government.”
Point 13 states: “There should be a proper Ministerial system in North Borneo.”
That’s why there are ministers in the Sabah Cabinet and not executive councillors like Selangor and other peninsular states. For example, in my state, it is Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment minister whereas in my adopted state, it is Selangor Tourism, Environment, Green Technology and Consumer Affairs exco.
For the benefit of some Malaysians in the peninsula who are unclear about the formation of Malaysia, here’s a quick history lesson on the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.
Fifty-four years ago today, four territories -- Malaya, Sarawak, Singapore and North Borneo -formed Malaysia.
Take note of the word “formed” because Sabah and Sarawak never “joined” Malaysia as they couldn’t have joined something that did not exist.
On Aug 9, 1965, Singapore was either expelled or left Malaysia.
In 1976, the Federal Constitution was amended and the “numbering” of the states was changed. Instead of Malaya states, Sabah and Sarawak, it stated the names of the 13 states.
To narrow the South China Sea divide that separates Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak, we also need geography lesson. The best geography lesson is to cross the South China Sea and explore our diverse country.
This might help to correct certain geographical misconception of Sabah and Sarawak. For example, Sabahans and Sarawakians get annoyed when they noticed that the map of peninsular Malaysia is sometimes presented as bigger than that of Sarawak and Sabah.
In fact, Sarawak is the largest state in Malaysia. It is slightly smaller than peninsular Malaysia. Sabah is the second largest state and Pahang is third.
Sarawak has Sungai Rajang (760km), the longest river in Malaysia, Sabah has Sungai Kinabatangan (560km), the second longest, and peninsular Malaysia has Sungai Pahang (435km), the third longest.
Many in peninsular Malaysia do not realise that Sabah and Sarawak are “big countries.”
I’ve travelled by road from Kota Kinabalu to Kuching twice. It is roughly — depending on driving speed and road condition — a 19-hour drive or 1,044.8km. Compared that to Kangar to Johor Baru which is about a nine-hour drive or 826km.
For the Kota Kinabalu to Kuching road trip, you need to stamp your passport 10 times — exit Sindumin in Sabah to enter Lawas in Sarawak, exit Lawas to enter Temburong in Brunei, exit Temburong to enter Limbang in Sarawak, exit Limbang to enter Bandar Seri Begawan, exit Kuala Belait in Brunei to enter Miri.
Certain parts of the road — unsealed and slippery — are dangerous.
The trip will give you an understanding of why the PanBorneo Highway is essential in integrating Sabah and Sarawak. Both states are too far apart that sometimes I do feel that some Sarawakians are too parochial.
In 1990, Tourism Malaysia had the unforgettable song, To know Malaysia is to love Malaysia. Malaysians from both sides of the South China Sea divide should cuti-cuti Malaysia (holiday in Malaysia) to appreciate each other’s diversity.
This may also reduce the number of times I hear this question occasionally asked by ignorant peninsular Malaysians in Kuala Lumpur, “You are from Sabah, when did you arrive in Malaysia?”
Sometimes I feel like answering, “We, Sabahans, formed Malaysia bah!”
Instead, I smile and say, “I travelled by train from Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Lumpur and arrived last month.”