Sarawakians hope for autonomy, a better deal, ahead of Wednesday’s MA63 announcement

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is expected to make an announcement on Malaysia Agreement 1963, better known as MA63, on Wednesday.

On Dec 6, Anwar tasked his deputy, Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof, to help resolve some outstanding issues pertaining to Sarawak and Sabah.

East Malaysians are waiting to see if the federal government will adhere to the original terms and conditions of the agreement, signed in July 1963, that saw North Borneo (Sabah), Sarawak, and Singapore, joining the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia.

The document was also signed by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, making it an international agreement.

According to MA63, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore are allies or equals within the Federation, and each has autonomy. Singapore, however, left the union in 1965 to be an independent country.

MA63 changed after the Constitutional Amendment of 1976, which listed Sabah and Sarawak as states, rather than as distinct entities.

After years of discussions, Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution was amended last December to restore Sabah and Sarawak to their former status as equals.

However, most East Malaysians were not satisfied as they felt the federal government had benefited from the natural resources of both states – oil, gas and timber – while receiving measly amounts in terms of annual budgets in return.

Sarawak Premier and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) chairman, Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg, has said that the state wants authority over agencies in Sarawak, such as the Public Works Department (PWD) and the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID), and for them to carry out federally-funded projects in the state.

That is music to Sarawakian Bong Wei Wei’s ears, as he said the roads in the state are in bad shape. He said having Sarawakians leading agencies such as the PWD would benefit the people as they know the roads and local conditions best.

“I know Sarawak is huge (90 per cent of Peninsular Malaysia’s land area), but that is no reason for the roads to be full of potholes and eerily dark,” said the 43-year-old from Kuching.

“It is ridiculous that a night drive to Bau, about 35km from Kuching, is largely in the dark as there are hardly any streetlights or reflectors.

“The stop-start Pan-Borneo Highway is also causing problems as the worksite heading to Bau is not well lit, and the lanes crisscross, so a driver or motorcyclist can be easily confused.

“There have been a few accidents,” added the contractor.

Recently, Deputy Premier Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas said the Sarawak side of the Pan-Borneo Highway is 89 per cent complete. It will reach 95 per cent this year, and will be fully ready by 2024.

Bong’s sentiments were echoed by Yuriga Garine Anap, 29.

“I am from Kampung Munjat. It is a little more than 100km from Kuching, and roads are horrible and dark,” said the purchasing agent with a local company in Kuching.

“It takes several hours to travel from Kuching. We have to ensure the car is in good condition since we cannot afford for it to break down as the mobile phone coverage is poor.

“Abang Jo(hari) is right that the state government should be in charge of the PWD.”

Yuriga hopes Abang Johari will look into the mobile phone coverage in the state too.

Separately, the cost of living is a cause for concern for Nyunyah Ngabek.

The housewife said it is getting more expensive to buy groceries, and her family has had to cut down on eating pork.

“One kilogramme of fresh pork is RM45. That is just too expensive. We cannot afford to buy it often, even though that is our favourite meat,” said the 70-year-old.

“Last month, my daughter went to town to buy eggs. It was RM30 for a tray of 30. It was not even Grade A. It used to be RM15 a tray, not too long ago.

“Sarawak’s precious minerals have been going to the federal government, but the state only receives a small royalty.

“Sarawak is a rich state, but the people are poor. Something is not right with the subsidies and royalties.

“Will amendments to MA63 make a difference? I hope so,” Nyunyah said.

Classmates Vincent Khoo Cheng Xin and Normanson Clinn Davidson Clinn – who are in Form Six in SMK Bau – are worried about the country’s economy.

“I do not know what to expect (on Wednesday), but I do know we need to do something about the economy,” said Khoo, 18.

“We feel more confident with the new government. It is more inclusive than before, with several East Malaysians in the Cabinet. That gives me hope that Anwar will give us some good news.”

Normanson agrees that reviving a sagging economy should be the government’s No. 1 priority.

The 18-year-old said he also believes the new government would be able to carry out its duties with integrity.

“The prices of essential goods is too high now. There must be a way to reduce the cost. Once that happens, the people’s support for this government will increase,” said Normanson.

“I understand that some of the prices of goods are beyond the government’s control, but if they give some goodies to the state government, the people might benefit, too.”

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