Friday, August 12

MA63 amendments passed

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Historical milestone for Sarawak; GPS to continue fight to restore our eroded rights

SARAWAK’s efforts to regain rights under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) received a big boost this year when the constitutional amendments related to the Agreement came into effect on Feb 11.

This was after the Bill to amend the Articles 1(2), 160(2), 161A(6), and 161A(7) Federal Constitution to give greater recognition to MA63 was successfully passed by the Dewan Rakyat on Dec 14 last year.

On Dec 23 last year, the Bill was then passed in the Dewan Negara and later, it received the assent of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on Jan 19 this year.

The Bill had been tabled by Sarawak-born Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law) Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar from the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS).

These significant amendments have long been awaited by the people of Sarawak and their Bornean neighbours in Sabah as the changes under Article 1(2) and Article 160(2) clarify the terms of the federation in line with MA63.

Restoring state’s autonomy

Amendments to Article 161A(6) and Article 161A(7), meanwhile, allocate that the definition of the original races in Sarawak is no longer subject to provisions under the federal constitution, and can instead be determined by the Sarawak government.

The amendments involve the list of the states of the Federation in Clause 2 of Article 1; the definition of the Federation and the new definition of Malaysia Day in Clause 2 of Article 160; the indigenous races of Sarawak in Clause (6)(a) of Article 161A; and the removal of Clause 7 of Article 161A.

Before that, Sarawak and Sabah had been downgraded to mere states in the constitutional amendment made in 1976, which many East Malaysian MPs claimed was a violation of the federal constitution as stated in article 161E.

The country’s first Premier

Abdul Karim shows the Constitution of the State of Sarawak (Amendment) Bill 2022 prior to tabling it at the State Legislative Assembly on Feb 15, 2022. – Photo by Roystein Emmor

On Feb 15, just days after the constitutional amendments took effect, the Sarawak State Legislative Assembly (DUN) passed several amendments to the Constitution of the State of Sarawak, amongst which made Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg as the country’s first Premier.

Said to be in accordance with the amendment of the Federal Constitution, the amendments involved restyling the term ‘Chief Minister’ to ‘Premier’ and also the term ‘Assistant Minister’ to ‘Deputy Minister’.

The amendments took effect on March 1, following the gazettement of the Constitution of the State of Sarawak (Amendment) Ordinance 2022.

Minister of Youth, Sports and Entrepreneur Development Sarawak Dato Sri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah, who tabled the Bill in the DUN, had said the amendments to the Federal Constitution restored the original spirit of the MA63 when Sarawak agreed to participate in the formation of Malaysia, where its status as one of the three provinces (Federation of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak) should be maintained.

Therefore, he said, it placed Sarawak as one of the three provinces and considered its status was not the same as other states in the Federation of Malaya.

He also said as practised in other Commonwealth territories where the establishment was similar to Malaysia, including Australia and Canada, the Head of the Federation is referred to as the ‘Prime Minister’, and the Head of the Territory that forms the Federation is referred to as the ‘Premier’, while other states are headed by the Chief Minister.

As such, he pointed out the changes would properly portray Sarawak’s status as different from other states in the Federation.

Constitutional amendments for more autonomy powers

Abang Johari has, on numerous occasions, said efforts to return Sarawak’s rights as enshrined in the Constitution and MA63 would continue. – Photo by Muhammad Rais Sanusi

Deputy Minister in Sarawak Premier’s Department (Law, MA63 and State-Federal Relations) Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali also regarded this amendment to the Sarawak Constitution as a significant step towards restoring state rights that had been eroded over the years.

Following these constitutional amendments, there have been calls for Sarawak to strive for more autonomy powers since matters involving the interests and rights of the people of Sarawak must be prioritised.

Abang Johari had, on numerous occasions, said the efforts to return Sarawak’s rights as enshrined in the Constitution and the MA63 would continue, and he had also said that Sarawak – as one of the regions that formed Malaysia – would continue to remain in the Federation.

According to him, most of the conditions in MA63 have been eroded and negotiations are being conducted between the federal government, Sabah and Sarawak to restore the conditions.

Dismissing a proposal for a new Malaysia Agreement, he said what Sarawak wanted was the implementation of the conditions enshrined in the MA63 and the results of the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) Report.

He had said that the current MA63 negotiations with the federal government also involve special allocations to Sarawak as enshrined in Article 112D of the Federal Constitution.

According to him, Sarawak wants the special allocation to be distributed according to a formula with the best percentage of revenue generated by the state to be returned to Sarawak.

Many Sarawakians have also been calling for Sarawak to be given autonomy in education and health.

Speaking to the media after the presentation of sacrificial meat in conjunction with this year’s Hari Raya Aidiladha celebration in Gedong, about 90km from Kuching, recently, Abang Johari said most of the conditions in MA63 had been eroded and negotiations were being conducted between the federal government, Sabah and Sarawak to restore the conditions.

Abang Johari: We don’t need new agreement

“We don’t need to make a new agreement. If it’s a new agreement, it means you invalidate the old agreement. If you invalidate the old agreement, then the formation of Malaysia would be questioned,” said Abang Johari.

He also said the current MA63 negotiations with the federal government also involved special allocations to Sarawak as enshrined in Article 112D of the Federal Constitution.

According to him, Sarawak wants the special allocation to be distributed according to a formula with the best percentage of revenue generated by the state to be returned to Sarawak.

MKM63, and state autonomy on public health, education

Muhyiddin (centre) chairs the inaugural Special Council on Malaysia Agreement 1963 on Dec 2, 2020, flanked by Maximus and Hanifah Hajar.

Many Sarawakians have also been calling for autonomy or devolution of powers on public health and education, with Wan Junaidi having said that such issues would remain an important agenda of the federal government and were being considered by the Special Council of MA63 (MKMA63).

The MKMA63 is now chaired by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who took over from his predecessor Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

This special council had been established during Muhyiddin’s time as prime minister, and it includes the Sarawak Premier, Sabah Chief Minister and eight federal ministers as members.

Muhyiddin had also created a new portfolio – Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Sabah and Sarawak Affairs) – in his cabinet, and this has continued after Ismail Sarbi took over.

The minister in charge of this portfolio is Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili from Sabah, with Datuk Hanifah Hajar Taib from Sarawak appointed as the Deputy Minister.

Maximus had recently said that a supplementary deal to incorporate unfulfilled promises of MA63 would be ‘possible’, and should be considered and sought by the MKMA63.

According to him, the MA63 document was ‘a sacred document that led to the formation of the country, and the foundation should be respected instead of disregarding or abandoning it’.

Maximus himself had led a team to a week-long trip in June this year to the British National Archives in London to search for and study documents related to the MA63.

A similar effort had been carried out by the Sarawak government five years ago.