KUCHING: A political will is required to resolve any issues related to the state’s autonomy and privileges as enshrined under Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63), said state legal counsel Dato Sri JC Fong.
During a podcast interview with Professor James Chin, a professor of Asian studies at University of Tasmania in Australia entitled ‘The Malaysia Agreement (MA63) podcast No. 5 Dato Sri JC Fong’, Fong said both federal governments under Pakatan Harapan (PH) and former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had publicly said they wanted an amicable solution to be reached on this matter.
“There must have been a political will to implement what has been agreed to resolve their (Sabah and Sarawak) grievances,” he said when interviewed in his personal capacity and not representing the state government.
Fong, who is the former state attorney-general, said he has always opined that there are many task forces set up in the country, but their efficiency remained to be debated.
“They (taskforce) can say whatever they want but when it comes to implementation, they do not have the political will to do it on the part of the federal government.”
Fong admitted there were indeed some erosions of Sarawak’s rights and autonomy accorded under MA63, including those related to the education system, dilapidated conditions of schools as well as healthcare facilities and the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed many of these shortcomings.
He said there were many contentious issues surrounding the state’s autonomy, such as the hotly debated Petroleum Development Act (PDA1974), adding that Petronas has never had within the PDA1974 provisions exemption not to comply with state laws.
On a personal level, Fong felt that it is time to put these issues to rest by getting a definitive ruling from the Federal Court.
“Whichever way the decision goes, it does not matter as at least there is clarity and there is an opportunity for the political leadership at federal and state levels to see how the matter should be dealt with after the federal court has given its opinions.”
“That would be the best way to resolve this,” said Fong.
He opined bringing the issues to the Federal Court would be able to resolve the matter once and for all and the political leadership can decide the next course of actions after a judicial decision has been reached.
“I think overall, if a case is properly made up to the court to safeguard the special interests of Sabah and Sarawak, the courts would not fail to uphold them,” he said earlier in the interview.
He also said there were provisions in the Federal Constitution granting some executive authority to be transferred to the states of Sabah and Sarawak and the federal government is required to fund the performance of these executive duties or responsibilities.
Fong also pointed out the former Law Minister Datuk Liew Vui Keong had intended to table a fresh bill to amend Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution – which incorporates most of Sarawak’s demands – in the Dewan Rakyat’s during the March session this year but it did not materialise following the change of federal government.
Basically, Fong said the state government would want more than just an amendment of Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution, as the state government opined it should insert tourism sector into the concurrent lists together with environment sector, introducing reinforcement into the provisions for the return of lands to the state and address certain native issues, among others.
Moreover, Fong said procedure rules were drafted for the five-yearly review of special grants and revenue sources given to the state by the federal government but the federal Finance Ministry under former Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng did not agree to it in the end.
Despite that, he said the PH government doubled the special grant to Sarawak in the federal Budget 2020 but no proper review of the special grants took place.
“(Nonetheless) My policy has always been (that) I advised (but) it’s up to the people whether to take my advice onboard on what they are doing or not. I don’t force my advice on people,” he said, adding that he only acts on the state government’s instructions.