The Queen’s Obligation: Malaysia’s forgotten history-by design?


There was no Dan Brown, nor was there a Professor Robert Langdon to sleuth for symbols nor were there any Da Vinci codes to lead the audience. But what Zainnal Ajamain led the audience through was as much pulsating and exhilarating and real but with much more shattering consequences. This was no novel he was leading the audience. This was a narration of the book he wrote, “The Queen’s Obligation.”

He was leading the audience through the missing link of Malaysia’s formative years and the consequences of the legislation that led to Sarawak’s nationhood.

The interpretation of the legislation of the treaty and the committee report veers Sarawak towards a totally different outlook of our relationship with Malaya.

The status and rights of the state and the deviations that have actually been carried out by the Federal Government over the years leading to the status that we stand today are a mix of bad interpretation, illegality and colonisation. Was this by grand design of the Federal Government or was it ignorance on our part?   Were our State leaders cohorts in this grand subversion?

Recent outcry for autonomy by groups such as the S4S and their constant reference to the 18/20 Points is the use of a wrong reference point. The 18/20 Points giving the autonomies in the various sectors were mere agreement between political parties, is not of legal force and is not the source the authorities that Sarawak and Sabah can stand by to negotiate to take back such autonomies from the Federal goverment.

He argued that if we thought that the British left Sarawak and the then North Borneo without a care, and leaving us to be abused by the Malayan Federation, then we are mistaken. While the overall policy was to leave all colonies east of Suez, the British Government did try to leave a legacy of stability and integrity for the peoples they left behind in each country, not without various sets of problems of course.

In May 1961, when Singapore was self-governing, Lee Kuan Yew, in anticipation of Singapore’s independence, had proposed to the Tunku of a greater Malaya, not merely a merger of Malaya and Singapore but one including Sarawak and North Borneo.

Lee Kuan Yew was well aware of the upheaval within Singapore, given the trade unionist and the communists.  The Tunku, aware of the 1.6 million Chinese he needed to absorb from Singapore into his federation had therefore looked to the Bumiputras of the Bornean states to balance the population, mistakening them for “the Malay stock.”  Incidentally, the times of chaos within Singapore is captured in “The Journey- Tumultuous Time” in the NTV7 series currently showing.

The Federation of Malaya was herself beset with problems where each of the nine states were still feudal and lack economic independence.

At the British end, they did not just abandon us to the Federation of Malaya as a new colonial master. The British Governors from North Borneo and Sarawak, Sir William Goode and Sir Alexander Waddell were sincerely concerned about our welfare after independence. Goode had said, “Tunku must avoid “Taking over” Borneo territories as Colonies.”  They were aware of the predatory behaviour of the Malayans who insisted that the Bumiputera of Sabah and Sarawak were also of the Malay stock.

Peter Mooney had remarked that the Dayaks at the time were only aware of the relations between longhouses, and nationhood meant nothing to them.

Funnily, Sarawak initiated the whole legitimising of the Federation of Malaysia arising from a petition from the Baram people for the continued protection of her Majesty until the people were ready for self rule and to which the British assured her people in Sarawak, “not surrender final responsibility for the development of Sarawak until they (the Queen) were satisfied that the people as a whole were able to play their full part in the government of the country.”

Hence the start of the process of putting in place the whole system of independence within Malaysia and yet protection for the two States.

The Cobbold Commission was set up in 1962 to inquire of the wishes of the people here.  Some may have pooh-poohed the Cobbold Commission. Peter Mooney had in the interview in the book  “50 Years Of Malaysia – Federalism Revisited” had asked what the members of the Commission could do when the members could not speak the local language and they came here merely for about two weeks and interviewed some 4000 people only.

The Cobbold Commission nevertheless did elicit the view of the people and ascertained that many wanted certain rights protected such as on education and faith.

However, the Cobbold Commission was more than that (fact-finding), it was also to set up the constitutional safeguards for the two states when the states formed Malaysia with Malaya and Singapore. This was also reflected in the words of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan about ‘traditional British tenderness for minority groups.”

The importance of the Cobbold Commission was later to be seen in the multitude of references to this commission and the inclusion of much of what was stated in the commission.

From there arose the numerous protections that are entrenched in the Malaysia Act 1963 (MA 63) as well as the Report of the Inter Governmental Committee (IGC).

The IGC headed by Lord Lansdowne was to work out the constitutional structure including the safeguards for the special interests of North Borneo and Sarawak. Thankfully, there were 39 British officials against 16 Malayan officials so the protection of the Borneans was always going to bear out against the self interest of the Malayans.

MA63 is an international treaty between the Queen, the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore. It results from the recommendation of the Cobbold Commission, and the various meetings of the IGC. It therefore is the crux from which Malaysia was born.

Zainal argues that this is more important to Sarawak than the Federal Constitution as this is an international instrument which cannot be amended unless with the signing parties agreeing to it, meaning the British, Sarawak, Sabah and Malaya. The Federal Constitution is a local legislation, which indeed has been amended 600 times, and reliance on the Constitution and arguments about its interpretation means going to the local court whereas complaints under the MA63 goes to the international court of Justice and international arbitration court.

Hence, Sarawak went into the MA 63 as an independent region, and Malaysia is a confederation of four independent regions.

Another question that begs answers is who is at fault for such later legislations that watered-down the status of our state ?

Zainal’s interpretation would be that it was purposeful neglect by the Malayans. In fact, earlier dealings of the Malayans, right from the initial idea of Greater Malaysia, had been to extract from the two states.

Peter Mooney also had sharp perception of the issue. Personal interests of the Sarawak political leaders in government had led to the indifferent development. In a nutshell, “He used them and they used him.”

Zainal was however also heartened to note that perhaps the Dewan Undangan Negeri of Sarawak was indeed waking up to be aware of the potency of these two instruments.

The call of James Masing to relook the Malaysia Act and the calling of the member of Kota Sentosa to set up a select committee to consider and review the terms of the Malaysia Act in the areas of education, healthcare, internal security and taxation are signs of awareness of the force of these documents.

Has Sarawak now awaken to the force of these instruments by their call in the August House on 8 December 2015. Let that be recorded in the annals of Sarawak. May the force be with us!

Next week we shall see where the protections are and where our economy has suffered.

Write Straight, Write Sharp!