‘Hand over education and health to Sarawak’
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