‘Hand over ed­u­ca­tion and health to Sarawak’

The Borneo Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Sa­muel Aubrey re­[email protected]­bor­neo­post.com

KUCHING: Sarawak should be given au­ton­omy over ed­u­ca­tion and health mat­ters be­cause the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has failed to per­form in these two ar­eas.

Sarawak le­gal coun­sel Dato Sri JC Fong said Sarawak should take the next step and fight for greater au­ton­omy, in­stead of just seek­ing to amend Ar­ti­cle 1(2) of the Fed­eral Con­sti­tu­tion, in order to achieve equal sta­tus and equal part­ner­ship within the Fed­er­a­tion of Malaysia.

He pointed out that even Prime Min­is­ter Tun Dr Ma­hathir Mo­hamad, re­cently, had right­fully said that Sarawak and Sabah were not ask­ing for in­de­pen­dence, but were seek­ing greater au­ton­omy.

Ac­cord­ing to Fong, there are pro­vi­sions in the Con­sti­tu­tion for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to trans­fer ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity over these mat­ters to the Sarawak gov­ern­ment.

He cited Ar­ti­cle 80 (5) of the Con­sti­tu­tion, which states ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity can be trans­ferred to the state with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment pro­vid­ing the funds.

If the two par­ties can­not de­cide on the amount of funds, the mat­ter is to be re­solved by an in­de­pen­dent tri­bunal ap­pointed by the Chief Jus­tice.

“There are all these pro­vi­sions that are in place. We have to do bet­ter. We are in a sit­u­a­tion where we are not well served by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. We are in the po­si­tion to de­mand for greater au­ton­omy. We must have greater au­ton­omy in order to look af­ter our­selves.

“Be­cause if we don’t have that level of au­ton­omy, es­pe­cially over cru­cial sub­ject mat­ters, not only ed­u­ca­tion and health, but also tourism, wel­fare ser­vices and all that, we are not able as the state gov­ern­ment to serve our peo­ple. And our peo­ple de­serve bet­ter ser­vice,” he said.

Fong made these re­marks when pre­sent­ing his talk en­ti­tled ‘Equal Sta­tus or Part­ner­ship for Sabah and Sarawak within the Fed­er­a­tion of Malaysia’, dur­ing the Sarawak Rights Un­der Malaysia Agree­ment 1963 (MA63) fo­rum on Fri­day.

The fo­rum was or­gan­ised by the Sarawak Pa­tri­ots As­so­ci­a­tion and launched by Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment and Hous­ing Min­is­ter Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian.

Fong said equal sta­tus and equal part­ner­ship for Sarawak within the Fed­er­a­tion of Malaysia could not be reme­died by just amend­ing Ar­ti­cle 1(2) of the Fed­eral Con­sti­tu­tion.

He ex­plained that just amend­ing Ar­ti­cle 1(2) would be merely ‘mak­ing cos­metic changes’ to the Con­sti­tu­tion should there still be re­stric­tions that sti­fle both Sarawak and Sabah.

“How can equal sta­tus be reme­died just by mak­ing changes to Ar­ti­cle 1(2)? Yes, changes should be made but it must be cou­pled with our in­sis­tence on proper fi­nan­cial re­view. We must get all money we are en­ti­tled to; we must re­cover our rights and rev­enue for the oil and gas, which are our key nat­u­ral re­sources.

“We must get rid of all these re­stric­tions that sti­fle us. They say they want us to be equal – how can we be equal? I hope the Min­is­ter of Law is lis­ten­ing, and that he would think of the big­ger pic­ture than just some cos­metic ad­just­ments,” he said, re­fer­ring to a state­ment by Min­is­ter in the Prime Min­is­ter’s Depart­ment Datuk Liew Vui Keong, who said the gov­ern­ment would amend Ar­ti­cle 1(2) of the Fed­eral Con­sti­tu­tion to re­store the sta­tus of Sabah and Sarawak as equal part­ners with Penin­su­lar Malaysia.

An amend­ment to Ar­ti­cle 1(2) in 1976 down­graded Sabah and Sarawak to the 12th and 13th states of Malaysia, re­sepc­tively.

“The ques­tion we need to ask is, even if we amend Ar­ti­cle 1(2) and re­store it to what it was orig­i­nally stated that the Fed­er­a­tion com­prises Malaya and the Bor­neo states, would that help us in any way to im­prove the cur­rent po­si­tion of Sabah and Sarawak within the Fed­er­a­tion of Malaysia?.

“In other words, are we go­ing to be equal part­ners or hav­ing equal sta­tus?” he ques­tioned.

Fong also said while many want Sarawak to re­claim rights un­der MA63, Sarawak would still be lag­ging be­hind even if these rights were re­claimed, as MA63 has no con­sti­tu­tional back­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to him again, the words ‘equal sta­tus’ and ‘equal part­ner­ship’ were not in MA63, but the then-deputy prime min­is­ter of Malaya Tun Ab­dul Razak Hus­sein had said in 1962 to bring the other ter­ri­to­ries to form Malaysia as ‘equal part­ners’.

On a re­lated mat­ter, he said all Sarawakians must sup­port the Sarawak gov­ern­ment’s move to im­pose a five-per cent sales tax on petroleum prod­ucts start­ing next year, as a new source of rev­enue to sup­port the devel­op­ment agenda.

He said the fed­eral gov­ern­ment had not re­viewed the amount of fi­nan­cial grants to Sarawak since 1969.

Fong pointed out that re­views should have been car­ried out ev­ery five years since the for­ma­tion of Malaysia, with the short­fall in funds to­day said to be RM6.6 bil­lion.

He also said the fed­eral gov­ern­ment had per­formed be­low par and let Sarawak down in terms of ed­u­ca­tion and health in­fra­struc­ture.

He pointed out that Sarawak not only has 1,020 di­lap­i­dated schools, but also 428 schools with no treated wa­ter sup­ply, and 651 schools with very low en­rol­ment of 150 stu­dents or less, in­clud­ing 190 schools with 50 or less stu­dents.

As for health, he said the fact can­not be de­nied that there are over­crowded pub­lic hos­pi­tals while many ru­ral clin­ics have no treated wa­ter sup­ply – some can­not be reached by tar-sealed roads.

The doc­tor-to-pop­u­la­tion ra­tio in Sarawak is 1 to 1,708, which could be low­ered if the long-de­layed hos­pi­tal projects in Lawas, Sri Aman, and Pe­tra Jaya are com­pleted, he said.

“Are we go­ing to con­tinue to al­low them to fail us on such im­por­tant sub­ject mat­ters such as ed­u­ca­tion, which re­ally needs to be given the fullest at­ten­tion by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, if we’re to de­velop hu­man re­sources ca­pa­ble of pro­pel­ling our devel­op­ment agenda?

“As for health, it is im­por­tant in en­hanc­ing so­cio-eco­nomic devel­op­ment and en­sur­ing that the wel­fare of the peo­ple is well taken care of,” he said.

Fong also pointed out that English was once the medium of in­struc­tion in schools, un­til it was dis­con­tin­ued in 1974.

Pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion was also once un­der Sarawak, with many schools man­aged by lo­cal coun­cils, be­fore it was handed over to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, he added.

There are all these pro­vi­sions that are in place. We have to do bet­ter. We are in a sit­u­a­tion where we are not well served by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. We are in the po­si­tion to de­mand for greater au­ton­omy. We must have greater au­ton­omy in order to look af­ter our­selves. — Dato Sri JC Fong, Sarawak le­gal coun­sel

(From right) Fong, fo­rum speaker Datuk David Teng, and SPA chair­man Datuk John Lau pose with a book on the Fed­eral Con­sti­tu­tion. — Pho­tos by Chi­mon Upon

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