Thursday, February 2

Looking forward to more announcements

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Photo, taken after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, shows Anwar addressing the media during a press conference at Perdana Putra. He is flanked by deputy prime ministers Fadillah (right) and Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. — Bernama photo

THREE days before Christmas 2022, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof was quoted by The Borneo Post to have announced that ‘more big announcements next month’ would be made by the ‘Unity Government’.

These must be about the decisions made by the Special Committee on the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).

It’s now the first week of January and any time now, the ‘big announcements’ will dominate the news. All the print media have been reserving space for these.

Normally, a new government talks about producing results of its plans based on its election manifesto within 100 days of the formation of that government after a general election.

However, this ‘Unity Government’ does not stick to the traditional timeframe; it has done what needs to be done, right from the day that the official mandate to govern was obtained.

From Day 1, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had already allocated a duty to his deputy Datuk Seri Fadillah to deal with the MA63 stuff within one month.

A tall order indeed!

Which would be the recommendations to be announced? 

I am hoping that one announcement would be about the restoration of 35 per cent East Malaysian seats in Parliament. In early September last year, Premier of Sarawak Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg had stressed the importance of restoring the parliamentary seats ‘to balance the distribution of power between Peninsular Malaysia and the Borneo states’ (The Borneo Post – Sept 12, 2022). In the same month, former minister in Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili, echoing the Sarawak Premier’s view in terms of the ‘balance’, revealed that the special parliamentary select committee chaired by himself had already endorsed a request to increase the number of parliamentary seats for Sabah and Sarawak ‘as far back as 2015’.

The issue was also discussed during the committee meeting chaired by the former prime minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob in October 2021. The committee had ‘agreed to pursue this with the Election Commission and the Federal Cabinet’.

Simple formula

To me, the simplest formula for a fair distribution of parliamentary seats is by referring to the 15 seats that Singapore had before it left the Federation in 1965.

By right, these seats should have been re-allocated equitably between the three regions – Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. That would have given Sarawak 31 plus 5, and Sabah 25 plus 5, and the rest for Peninsular Malaysia. It was never done for the reason best known to the lawmakers at the time.

This is a simple formula; there may be others that are more equitable or fairer than this. Please produce a much better one.

Anyway, at the end of the day, it is the job of the Election Commission to carry out the rest of the redrawing of boundaries of constituencies in accordance with its laws and regulations.

Normally, the revision of electoral boundaries is done every eight to 10 years, but a federal law may allow revision of constituencies any time it is deemed necessary.

We are in that situation now.

It is wise to start work on the exercise, the sooner the better, in anticipation of the approval to redraw the constituency boundaries.

Or short of amending the constitution, the government may amend the existing election laws wherever appropriate.

In the process of delineation, I hope the Election Commission would resist the temptation to be influenced by the politicians in power. They are the usual culprits when it comes to gerrymandering – redrawing existing boundaries of constituencies in favour of their own parties and in the process, disregarding the interests of the citizens, especially those belonging to the minority groups or communities.

It is important that the voters are given sufficient time to scrutinise any of the Election Commission’s proposals and the right to make representations by way of additions or amendments to the official proposals before these final proposals are presented to Parliament for further discussion and approval.

Public confidence in the work of the Election Commission is vital; public confidence is the reason for its existence. Anybody in doubt, please refer to Article 114 (2) of the Federal Constitution, which says: “In appointing members of the Election Commission, the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong shall have regard to the importance of securing an Election Commission which enjoys public confidence.”

I am assuming that many Sarawakians have no access to the details of the decisions or recommendations already made by the Special Committee on MA63 and which may be ready for release to the general public.

The announcement on Wednesday by the Finance Ministry to allow, respectively, the government of Sarawak and Sabah to have direct control of implementation of the federal-funded projects in these states costing less than RM50 million, may be the forerunner of many more announcements on other subjects to come.

Two years ago, we were told by the lawmakers involved in the discussions or reviews on the MA63 that some 17 recommendations had been made by the then Pakatan Harapan (PH) government. As to which of these recommendations would be announced by the present ‘Unity Government’, your guess is as good as mine.

The announcement made on the 4th of this month by the Prime Minister and his deputies in respect of powers to Sabah and Sarawak, respectively, of the direct control over federal funded projects costing less than RM50 million, may be part of the ‘big announcements’.

While I hope that one of them would be the restoration in respect of the parliamentary seats, I would be patient, though, to wait for the announcement of its approval should it be delayed this time around.

What I am looking forward to reading immediately is the news about the restoration of rights to our oil and gas found within our Sarawak’s territory and waters; if not autonomy, at least, devolution of federal powers to the state in education and healthcare; reassurance and guarantee of the religious liberty.

Let’s hope that our leaders would not fail us in our quest for justice in terms of the MA63 and related documents, plus assurances, in writing and otherwise, by the advocates for the formation of Malaysia 60 years ago.

Sarawakians have a long memory, you see.