THE return of Sabah’s lost rights will be on the minds of many Sabahans as Prime Minister Najib Razak, who had vowed to return them, begins his two-day visit to the state tomorrow.
This could be Najib’s final visit to Sabah as prime minister ahead of the 14th general election which is speculated to be held before June, although the Barisan Nasional government’s mandate expires in August.
Sabah’s opposition leaders, however, believe Najib will keep the state waiting for any news on the return of special rights due to the state under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) .
To them, his promises are merely election ploys and they see no reason for delays.
“Najib has come here so many times and all he had to do was just return our lost rights. What is there that is holding him back?
“Everything is laid out clearly in the Federal Constitution,” said Lajim Ukin, the president of Parti Harapan Rakyat Sabah, one of the four parties in the Sabah opposition alliance, United Sabah Alliance.
The restoration of state rights under MA63 has become a common call for parties on both sides of the political divide in Sabah and the hottest topic is the state’s 40% revenue entitlement.
A fact-finding groups formed by the government called the MySabah group found the federal government had halted payments of the entitlement since 1974.
The 40% entitlement was the reason why Sabah’s leaders had agreed to form the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, along with Sarawak, Malaya and Singapore, which broke away two years later.
Over time, Sabah’s political leaders said they have seen the state gradually cede its executive powers to the federal government in many areas ranging from oil resources, to education, power generation and other rights.
Sabah Star leader Dr Jeffrey Kitingan said Sabah suffered from a lack of development and had a higher poverty rate as a result of the erosion of state rights.
He said this was due to the lack of federal funds being put back into the state, despite Sabah contributing a sizeable amount to federal coffers from its natural resources.
Parti Warisan Sabah treasurer Terrence Siambun, meanwhile, said Najib should deliver his promise with no strings attached.
“The thing about MA63 is beyond politics. BN has been in power for over 20 years in Sabah but only made little effort to restore our rights.
“But now the prime minister is now going around making this promise just because the election is around the corner. If he is truly sincere, he should just implement our rights and not allow matters like the MA63 to be used as election bait,” he said.
The call for a return of state rights has gained political traction since the last two elections and Najib in his visit to Sabah has repeatedly promised their return.
Political observers expect Najib to announce some progress now that neighbouring state Sarawak has gone ahead to gain control of its upstream and downstream oil and gas industry thought state oil company Petros.
Sabah Umno leader Anifah Aman, who is also the foreign affairs minister, recently piled pressure by declaring he would leave Umno and refuse any federal cabinet post if Najib failed to deliver his promises on MA63. – March 20, 2018.