Wednesday, July 17

Devil in the details

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No compromise on terms of restoring Sabah and Sarawak’s rights, says GPS parliamentary chief whip  

Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof

KUCHING: Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) parliamentary chief whip Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof has affirmed that there shall be no compromise when it comes to restoring Sabah and Sarawak’s rights, and protecting their joint interests to the fullest.

He said the imperfection in the proposed Bill to amend Article 1 (2) of the Federal Constitution was the reason GPS MPs abstained from voting on the Bill.

“Yes, our Sarawak Chief Minister (Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg) did give his agreement in principle. But the keyword is ‘principle’. The devil is in the details,” said Fadillah, who is Petra Jaya MP, in acknowledging that many were disappointed that the Bill to restore the original wordings of Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution was not passed in Parliament on April 9.

“Several (quarters) have started pointing figures and finding faults, following this disappointment. When it comes to Sabah and Sarawak’s rights, VK Liew is not our enemy, Chong is not our enemy and Baru Bian is not our enemy,” he said, referring to federal de facto law minister Datuk Liew Vui Kong who is a Sabahan, Democratic Action Party (DAP) Sarawak chairman Chong Chieng Jen, and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Sarawak chairman Baru Bian.

“No one is more passionate about this than us here in GPS. We are well aware that we will face a big political backlash from those who may not understand the issue or do not understand our passion and resolve for Sarawak rights.

“No one should question that we at GPS love Sarawak more. That is why we have stood firmly even though we know that there would be certain political backlash,” said Fadillah.

He said GPS proposed in the Bill that the Federation should be known, in Malay and in English, by the name ‘Malaysia’ and that the States in the Federation pursuant to the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) should be: (a) the ‘States of Malaya’, namely, Johore, Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Penang, Perak, Perlis, Selangor and Terengganu; and (b) the ‘Borneo States’, namely Sabah and Sarawak.

In the present Federal Constitution, there is no mention or recognition of MA63 in the Constitution, he pointed out.

“Even in Article 160(2), the interpretation of ‘the Federation’ refers to the ‘Federation’ pursuant to the Federation of Malaya Agreement 1957. This is meant to be the general definition.

“The words ‘unless the context otherwise requires’ should be interpreted to denote the general rule, not the exception. In the Federal Constitution, the general rule is 1963 federation, not the 1957 federation. It is an issue that would require the attorneys-general (AGs) of Sabah and Sarawak, and the federal AG to discuss because it involves legal interpretation.”

Fadillah said the issue over the amendment, as stated on the Bill, could have been settled if the amendment proposed by GPS – which was to put in the word ‘pursuant to Malaysia Agreement 1963’ in the Article 1(2) itself – was done.

“It’s important that MA63 be given its due recognition by being included in the Constitution, and not just in the spirit for the following reasons. Many would argue that the spirit of MA63 could not be legally binding.

“An example being, when the PM brushed aside GPS’ proposal that the spirit of MA63 would require consultation and the matter be referred to our State Assembly, by saying that, ‘that is not provided in the law’.

“Merely changing to the original words of the MA63 does not guarantee a return of our equal status, because such change is superficial. Only MA63 and its accompanying document – that is the IGC Report – have the provision recognising our equal status,” said Fadillah.

The current situation, he added, occurred because people ‘forgot about the spirit of MA63’, adding that if the proposed amendment was allowed to pass then the same situation would occur to Sarawakians in the future.

“Many of us feel that the original wordings of MA63 and the draft Bill could be improved and strengthened further. We’re not asking for more than we’re entitled to under the MA63, but merely to strengthen and resolve any possible loophole in order to better protect our interests.

“The Federal Constitution was drafted more than half a century ago. Things have changed since then and you cannot expect it to be a perfect document, without loopholes. From experience over the years, we have encountered many grey areas and loopholes such as found in Article 161A(7).

“The list of races that are indigenous to Sarawak does not include the Ibans, the Bidayuhs or Lun Bawang.

“Even the definition of ‘Malaysia Day’ is missing in the Constitution’s current form. That is why we seek to amend the draft Bill to account for these and other weaknesses,” said Fadillah.

The Petra Jaya MP also stressed GPS did not reject the Bill.

“We abstained from voting; we abstained because while we wanted the Bill to be passed, we felt that it could be improved (further). The failure of the Bill to be passed last week was not the end of the story, or the end of the line. I trust in the sincerity of the federal government that they would table the Bill, again with the amendments that we seek.

“We have waited for so many decades for this Bill. Surely we could wait three more months until the next Parliament sitting, for a revised bill to be tabled?” he asked.

Fadillah said the GPS had also explained which clauses of the proposed Bill that it wanted to be amended and why this was necessary, so that the people would understand the coalition’s concerns and sincerity.

“If we wanted to fix this, let’s do it right the first time around – eliminate all the loopholes and the grey areas before we pass the final Bill in July,” he pointed out.

Fadillah said towards this end, GPS would meet all the relevant stakeholders including legal advisors beginning this week.