Thursday, August 6

The devolved Warden Traffic Authority


SOON after 916, local authorities will be empowered with ‘warden traffic authority’ and allowed to use tyre clamps on vehicles at public roads and parking lots.

This was announced by the PM in his Malaysia Day speech in Kota Kinabalu “in keeping with his promise to grant Sarawak and Sabah more autonomy in their administration,”reported in the dailies.

I hope my good able friends – the Kuching Mayors and Padawan Council Chairman – did not choke on their coffee when they read the news. The authorities have been using tyre clamps to good effect – even the shopping malls in Kuching are aggressively exercising such ‘warden traffic authority.’

The mysterious document that the Sabah state government proclaimed as a “Malaysian document for the future generation” and supposedly to be signed by the PM and CMs of the two East Malaysian states was, somehow, lost in the haze.

The hope of Sarawakians and Sabahans for a roadmap of devolution and greater autonomy for the two states were dashed. Our Sarawak CM had probably got wind of it, hence his absence.

After all, the CM had boldly reiterated the wishes of Sarawakians, to the delight of all, that Sarawak did not partake in the formation of Malaysia only to have Britain’s colonial responsibilities over Sarawak handed over to the Federation of Malaya, at a state function to commemorate the supposed independence day of Sarawak on July 22.

In the Sarawak State Assembly, in May and August, the CM alluded to devolution of power by the federal government to the state, for financial, legislative and administrative autonomy of Sarawak and Sabah, pointing to Articles in the Federal Constitution and the warranties of the Malaysia Agreement.

He was keen to arrest the loss of autonomous power of the state, gradually eroded through the last 52 years. The restoration of the autonomy will be an onerous but a noble vocation.

But how far is the federal government agreeing to the CM’s vision for devolution of power? It is also unclear if his ideals are shared by his state colleagues.

For the PM, it appears that his notion of devolution of power is the streamlining of the administration, granting more power to the state government in decision-making in order to avoid duplicity of power and responsibilities.

In his speech on 916, the PM has made it clearer in the following terms: the number of local teachers in Sabah and Sarawak will be increased from the present 77 per cent to 90 per cent in three years’ time; that Sarawak and Sabah state governments will have a say in the approval and issuance of deep sea fishing permits; that federal government departments and agencies are allowed to make decisions at state level. In addition, the ‘warden traffic authority’ of course.

I am absolutely dumbfounded to find the PM saying the state legal counsels will be delegated with powers to prosecute offences under the state ordinances. It only goes to show that not just the Members of Parliament but many more were and have been sleeping in the last decades.

The PM is, therefore, consistent his notion of devolution of power is simply with regards administrative power.

To my amazement, many in the state are quick to come out and sing praises for the PM. A senior minister had even lauded the PM for having “demonstrated great courage and humility when agreeing to return some of the federal authorities to the state government.” What generosity!

From across the divide, only my learned colleague representing Semop was rightly inquisitive of the federal government’s concession.

Saying he was not exactly sure what it meant by ‘empowering the directors of federal government departments to make decisions without referring to their counterpart in Putrajaya,’ the chief political secretary to the CM added: “You can call it devolution or empowering or whatever, the most important to me is that the development fund upon request by the state government must be managed by the state government through the respective ministries or agencies. Planning, monitoring, implementation and appointment of the contractors including consultants must also be absolutely with the state government.”

The lawmaker from Semop has raised a pertinent question and broadened the scope of devolution that we should be concerned with.

By devolving powers, it involves legislative, administrative and budgetary autonomy of the states.

In the last State Assembly sitting held for one day, the CM had pointed out the areas that the state will seek autonomous power from the federal government, including education, public works, housing, environment, tourism, etc, but he did not enlighten the House on the state government’s vision of legislative, administrative and budgetary autonomy of the state.

We are, therefore, resigned to satisfy ourselves with the charity of the federal government on the devolution of restrictive administrative powers – that of a ‘warden traffic authority’.

Even the CM is to bear with the huge slash in the projects approved by the federal government under the 11th Malaysia Plan. The state government had requested for 1,792 projects, costing RM34.7 billion but only 915 projects with allocation of RM20 billion were approved.

At the same time, the CM has his ambitious Sarawak Social-Economic Transformation Plan (SETP) to ensure that Sarawak will catch up with the Malayan states by 2030. But what is his plan to obtain the RM180 billion required to finance this SETP, if we do not aggressively pursue greater legislative, administrative and budgetary autonomy of the state?

The PM had announced the setting up of joint committee, comprising the state and federal government to look into the issue of administrative empowerment to ensure that the devolution of power is smooth in terms of implementation and feasible in matters dealing with negotiations and preventing overlapping of functions between state and federal government agencies.

I hope the state governments of Sarawak and Sabah, will through the State Legislative Assembly, determine and set out the missions, objectives and terms of reference for the independent Joint Committee on Devolution in Sarawak and Sabah, or of the respective state.

Further, the state government of Sarawak and Sabah must also insist on the legislative, administrative and budgetary autonomy of the states in the broader areas of state constitution, taxation, health and social care, education and training, local government and housing, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, the environment and resources planning, tourism, sport, heritage, economic development and transport.

Sarawakians and Sabahans are asking for greater autonomy for their states.

There is no point in the PM saying the federal government understands and respects the rights of the states and the desires of the people if they are not given what they have had 52 years ago and assumed by the federal through these years.

No Sarawakian or Sabahan will be so gracious as to say it is a display of courage or humility of the federal government to give the state such administrative powers as a ‘warden traffic authority.’

Sarawak and Sabah certainly deserve more.