An agreement forged and forgotten


The 18-points Agreement signed on July 9, 1963 before the formation of  Malaysia is an important document safeguarding the rights and autonomy of Sarawak and Sarawakians. So why don’t we know it?

Image from file

NOT many Sarawakians are well-versed in the 18-points Agreement and only some have heard some aspects if not all of the salient points representatives of Sarawak laid out prior to the formation of Malaysia.

A survey held by The Borneo Post, however, discovered that people are not only unsure of its contents, many did not even know what it was. One answer to the query about their opinion of the 18 points Agreement was this: “18-points?

Is that a hole on the golfing green?”

Contrary to some opinions, ignorance is not bliss. Without any knowledge of our rights as Sarawakians, what do we know of our place within the federation of Malaysia?

A little history

The 20/18-points Agreement or memorandum were the conditions laid out by Sabah and Sarawak respectively before agreeing to form the Federation of Malaysia with the Federation of Malaya and Singapore.

The agreements, which can be found in the Proclamation of Malaysia and also the Cobbold Commission reports, stated the conditions and rights that were meant to safeguard the autonomy and the special interest of the people of Sabah and Sarawak, protecting, among others, these regions’ rights on religion, language, education, administration, economy and culture.

Some of the points were incorporated into the Constitution of Malaysia while the rest of Sarawak’s 18 points are outlined as follows: Point

1: Religion Point

2: Language Point

3: Constitution Point

4: Head of the federation Point

5: Name of the federation Point

6: Immigration Point

7: Right to secession Point

8: Borneanisation Point

9: British Offi cers Point

10: Citizenship Point

11: Tariffs and Finance Point

12: Special position of indigenous races Point

13: State Government Point

14: Transitional period Point

15: Education Point

16: Constitutional safeguards Point

17: Representation in Federal Parliament Point

18: Name of Head of State


“The decision to accept the proposal by Tunku Abdul Rahman to become part of the federation of Malaysia was made by the people of Sabah and Sarawak on the understanding that the special interests of the state would be safeguarded. The interests of the two states were enshrined in the 20/18 Point Agreement.

Our rights were also inscribed in the London Agreements and Inter-Governmental Committee Reports.

When we agreed to form Malaysia together with North Borneo (Sabah), Singapore and Malaya 48 years ago, it was with the understanding that the safeguards were to be honoured and not taken away according to the whims and fancies of the federal government.

Based on the recommendations of the Cobbold Commission, Sabah and Sarawak would become equal partners of the state of the Federation of Malaya; not as one of the component states as stipulated in the original Article 1 of the Federal Constitution.

In other words, Sabah and Sarawak are partners of Malaysia, thus having a greater degree of fi nancial and political autonomy as compared to other sates in the Peninsula.

Sabah and Sarawak should not end up being merely one of the 13 states in Malaysia.

Therefore, it is paramount for the federal government to adhere to covenants for the purpose of safeguarding the interests, rights and autonomy of the people in Sabah and Sarawak.

The 20/18-point agreement should not be ignored or eroded.

Thus, certain policies and the relationships between Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak must be re-looked to address whatever imbalance in terms of infrastructure, social, economic or educational developments between the centre and periphery in the last 48 years.

More financial allocations should be channelled to Sabah and Sarawak.

The federal government should increase the petroleum royalty to at least 15 per cent from the current 5 per cent.

Therefore, the spirit of the 20/18-point agreement should be safeguarded and honoured for the interest of our future generations and more importantly to ensure a progressive, united and harmonious multi-racial nation.

Malaysia as a nation was formed of equal partners; Sabah and Sarawak did not join Malaysia. Together with Sabah, Malaya and Singapore, Sarawak formed Malaysia.

By implication, we are equal under the constitution. Our political leaders should understand, respect and honour the agreement.


“Let’s run through this love story – a handsome young man called Malaya had just held a lavish ‘coming-of-age’ birthday party on Aug 31 1957.

On the other side of the South China Sea, a beautiful young maiden called Sarawak celebrated her birthday on July 22, 1963.

This young man courted and subsequently won the heart of Sarawak and both were married on September 16th 1963 in a low-key ceremony and both took the common family name of Malaysia.

As in any marriage, vows and promises were exchanged and this lady was assured of her rights under a pre-nuptial document known as the 18-points Agreement.

The husband continued to celebrate his birthday lavishly every August 31 while the wife’s birthday was conveniently forgotten.

One fine day, the dutiful wife gently reminded the husband that August 31 was his birthday while September 16 was actually their wedding anniversary – she politely chose not to mention her own birthday or the broken promises and vows.

And with that, the couple celebrated their wedding anniversary and named it Malaysia Day.

But the wife was still hurt by the lack of attention and broken promises from the husband, though she continued to be the dutiful and responsible wife.

I believe it was with noble intentions that our leaders made that fateful decision on our behalf to enter into the Federation of Malaysia.

These intentions were reinforced with the incorporation of the 18- points Agreement to safeguard the rights and autonomy of our state, notwithstanding the benefits of joining the Federation.

These 18-points took into account our ‘uniqueness’ in terms of demographics, culture, racial composition, religious diversities as well as our ‘less-developed’ status as compared to our counterparts in Malaya and Singapore, at that critical point of time.

We were also assured of autonomy in the administration of land and immigration matters.

Education, extended usage of English and the ‘Borneanisation of the Civil service’ were also mentioned.

Moreover, we were also assured of ‘special rights and privileges’ for our natives as enjoyed by their counterparts in Malaya – ‘guaranteed’ would be a more appropriate word.

It was also mentioned that our Head of State would not be eligible to become the Agung and secession from the Federation is not an option.

However, over the years, it appeared that these 18-points were often not honoured or were slowly eroded, with justifications for better political, economic, social and administrative ‘uniformity.’

While the state may need to give way to facilitate a smoother implementation of policies in areas like education and development, many Sarawakians begin to feel that the state is giving too much and receiving too little in return.

Common grouses take the form of our relatively poorer basic infrastructures like roads, electricity and public transport.

There are also the issues of lesser opportunities in the civil service where senior positions are usually held by West Malaysians, running contrary to the ‘Borneonisation’ of the Civil service as spelt out in the 18-points Agreement.

Of late, even the ‘sensitive’ issues of race and religion have been hogging the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

May this celebration of Malaysia Day lead to greater peace and harmony among Malaysians from all walks of life and May our leaders renew the vows and promises made on that fateful day of Sept 16 1963 – Malaysia, truly Asia, unity in diversity.

‘Happy Malaysia Day’.


“I remember Point 1 although some people still refuse to accept it because it states that Sarawak has no official religion.

It is good because we have freedom of religion in the state especially in a multi-ethnic and multi-racial society in Sarawak.

Another one I remember is Point 2 in that English is the official language in Borneo. It should be after all we were under the Rajah Brooke and also the British.

They took so much from us and I do not see why they cannot leave their language as a legacy for all Sarawakians. In fact, we should use it apart from our mother tongues all the time officially and unofficially since we are living in a border less world.

Doesn’t that count?

Every Sarawakian should read the memorandum.

Yes, we are free from the British colony, but to date, there is so much more that needs to be done. We hope to get our fair share in the future and that my generation will see a better Sarawak and fair Malaysia.

Happy Malaysia Day to all in truly Malaysian spirit.


“The 18-points Agreement made between Sarawak and Malaya during the formation of Malaysia is crucial to Sarawak’s standing in the country as a whole, and to the preservation of the identity of the state.

Point 2(c.) States that English should be one of the official languages of the state indefinitely, which I agree wholeheartedly with since English is an international language.

I also believe that Point 11, which states that Sarawak should retain control of its own finance, development and tariff, is crucial to the state as it gives us a certain degree of autonomy over our own finances and economy.

Point 16 of the 18 Points Agreement touches on Constitutional safeguards for the Sarawak State Constitution, which is the foundation of any legislation passed in the state.

The point states that no amendment, modification or withdrawal of any special safeguard granted to Sarawak should be made by the federal government without the consent and approval from the state itself.

Coupled with Point 17, which guarantees Sarawakians representation in federal parliament, it ensures that the wants and needs of Sarawakians will not only be heard, but also be processed and executed via the proper legal and executive channels.

In short, I believe that the federal government should honour the 18-points Agreement with Sarawak, for as long as Sarawak remains in the Federation.


I would also like to express my hope that all current and future Sarawakian state assembly and Parliament members will always carry out their duty entrusted to them by the people of Sarawak and protect the 18-points Agreement.”


“The way Malayans treat us, I believe gives us all reason to get out of Malaysia.

But at this stage I think it is not possible. The Malayans have been violating our 18-points Agreement, particularly points 2, 12 and 15.

Point 12 says special rights are to be accorded to the natives of Sarawak on par with those enjoyed by Malays in Malaya.

How many Dayak/Ibans are successful in business, education, or in the top government position?

We are still lagging behind compared to West Malaysia and we are still developing our urban and rural areas.

People in the city are fi ne but those in the rural areas still lack basic infrastructure like water, road and electricity.

We are considered a developed nation but we still live in undeveloped conditions.

The 18 points is our right and something has to be done about it.

Luckily we have autonomy on immigration or else it would have opened the floodgates for others from other state to take what is ours, especially in the economic and business aspect.

I like it to remain our status quo and should stay under the state control because that was part of the agreement.

It should be exercised purely to safeguard the interest of the Sarawakian people at large.

However, Sarawak and Malaysia as a whole is a peaceful nation and I hope that our leaders do something more positive on the 18 points so that our interest will continue to safeguarded.

Sept 16 1963 was a historic moment and let us celebrate this Malaysia Day 2011 with hope and optimism.”