Viewpoint: Merdeka Is Coming But How United Are We? – By Mariam Mokhtar

Are Malaysians aware of the significance of Aug 31? Are they puzzled that Sept 16 is also an important milestone in Malaysian history? So, which day carries more weight for Malaysians?

There is rising discontent among both Sabahans and Sarawakians over several issues, such as freedom of religion, allocation of funds for infrastructure, and the provisions for education and medical care.

We think Selangor has a problem with its menteri besar sitting on a RM3 billion stockpile.

Sarawak has an impressive RM22 billion in the state reserves. Although Sabah and Sarawak are major oil and gas producers, Sabah is the poorest “state” in Malaysia, and Sarawak is the third poorest. (Kelantan is the second poorest). Why are the Sarawak reserves not used to improve the lives of its people?

It seems natural for many East Malaysians to call for secession from Malaysia, but who would independence benefit the most? Perhaps, it is easier to ask, who would independence harm the most?

Sarawak is known as the vote-bank for Barisan Nasional. Secession will harm Umno and BN as they would lose power, without the Sarawak “fixed deposit”.

Many Sarawakians idolise Taib Mahmud. He is a wily politician and knows his people well. He may be tarnished by allegations of corruption, nepotism and cronyism, and be despised, by some, because he has not done enough for his people.

Despite their misgivings, the Sarawakians praise him for keeping the marauding Umno party at bay.

So, is secession justified? Many people think it is, because of the way leaders from the peninsula, have used race, religion, royalty and rural communities, to divide Malaysians.

Umno has created divisions between races and worsened the effects of this, by emphasising divisions between people of different religions, and the people of peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia.

Sabahans are mistrustful of those whom they consider “imports” from neighbouring countries, allegedly brought in by Mahathir Mohamad’s Project IC.

Before any talk about secession can be entertained, there are some important considerations.

If the oil fields are retained by Sarawak and Sabah, is there a guarantee that its leaders will use this money to help the people in the interior? Will the allegedly corrupt leaders siphon more money into their own pockets? Will penalties be paid to the various companies, if the treaties are broken? Who will pay these penalties?

For decades, the people have been forced into a culture of dependence, with handouts given every five years to trick the rural folk into thinking the government is assisting them. Will the politicians be less greedy, when more resources are available?

Merdeka is coming, but how united are we?

How will the problem of Sabah’s 1.75 million illegal immigrants, allegedly from Project IC, be handled? Will the illegal immigrants be absorbed into Sabah or will they be sent packing? Where to?

Many GLCs own and operate plantations in East Malaysia. If there were to be secession, what would become of the assets of the GLCs? Who would service the loans and pension schemes of the GLCs?

How will Sabah and Sarawak divide the military hardware, like submarines, ships, planes and defence buildings which are on their soil? Which bits will Putrajaya be allowed to keep? What about the armed forces personnel?

Who will pay the debts of Sarawak and Sabah? Will they retain the ringgit, or adopt another currency?

What about family ties? Many East Malaysians have made their homes in peninsular Malaysia and vice versa. Will they have to negotiate new work permits? Will new immigration rules be enforced?

Would Asean accept the membership of these two new nations? Navy vessels from the People’s Republic of China have come within 60km of the Bintulu coast. Could Sarawak defend itself? What sort of defence negotiations will be brokered, and between which nations? Singapore, Brunei or Malaysia? If Sabah or Sarawak were to be invaded, who would go to their defence?

What formula would be used to allocate gold reserves, between Putrajaya, Sabah and Sarawak?

East and West Malaysia do a brisk trade with one another. What are the opinions of industry and business leaders, about a break-up of Malaysia?

Peter John Jaban, the human rights activist and co-founder of Radio Free Sarawak, has added his voice to the debate on the secession of Sarawak.

He has joined 100 activists, NGOs and politicians, who have vowed to collect several hundred thousand signatures on a petition, which will be handed to the UN secretary- general.

The petition is to draw attention to the increasing discontent of the people of Sabah and Sarawak, and their demand for self-determination.

John Jaban said: “The spirit and the letter of the Malaysia Agreement have been ignored, relegating my homeland to one small, forgotten state in the Federation. Its religious and cultural mix is under threat, as evidenced by the ‘Allah’ issue, and its history is being wiped from memory.

“Many young people of Sarawak are unaware that their own country gained independence on July 22 1963. They have been indoctrinated into celebrating Aug 31 1957, a date of no significance to them,” he added.

John Jaban is in London, to encourage East Malaysians, to sign the petition, to defend their rights.

East Malaysians are especially dissatisfied with their leaders who have been pushing their own selfish interests and not the people’s.

One might compare East Malaysia with a company. If the directors make a mess of the company, siphon the profits, abuse the workers, and mismanage the organisation, what do you think the shareholders should do?

Before a major push for secession is made, a debate, and a referendum, will help clarify many points. What do you think?

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Catholic Lawyers Society Kuala Lumpur. CLS makes no representation concerning, and does not guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness or reliability of any statement, information, data, finding, interpretation, advice, opinion, or view presented.

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