By Social Activist Mohd Ustar Abdul Ghani
KOTA KINABALU: This 31st August marks the 65 years of independence for a nation initially known as the Federation of Malaya and on the 16th September, Sabahans will be rejoicing its own story of independence, “Hari Malaysia”, the day when we shilly shally joined that federation, supposedly as an equal partner to form a nation called the Federation of Malaysia. The irony is, after almost 60 years we are still struggling to grasp whether that purportedly blessed day befits independence we yearned as a fount of our identity, spiritual fulfillment, legitimate hope and solace.
The word independence has unhappy connotations of more than just being the poorest state in the Federation. It bears an ugly episodes of continuous political manipulation, a trampled hope, a dictation of destiny or even worse, the subjugation of a feebler tribe existing from reneged and broken promises etched in the sacred agreement of 1963.
We dreamt of a utopian independent State. A space where shared values, dreams, aspirations, integration and equality could be realised through that independence epoch. But “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”, the more things change, the more things remained the same for Sabah. That has been the sad story of a wealthy State, often neglected and often disenfranchised of real opportunities to develop herself. A bedlam ubiquitous through a seemingly forced bonding.
Fifty nine years have passed since joining the Federation of Malaysia. The treatment often perceived as disappointing and lacking sincerity, befitting Tun Temenggong Jugah’s utterances of Malaya’s observation of Malaysia as “tanam tebu di tepi bibir” a colloquialism of mere sweet talk. A resourcefully rich State having full potential to dictate its own destiny is now seen carrying a heavier “kavadi” and shackled to become the poorest state in the Federation.
In the early years, Sabah was an eminent example of racial and religious tolerance. The more than thirty eight ethnics found in Sabah, professing diverse religions, cultures, traditions and beliefs, ably living peacefully and harmoniously, was once an imminent attribute of a State sobriqutted as ‘land below the wind’. An exemplar of integration, emphaty and understanding. Its rich resources of oil, timber and palm oil, like Sarawak, could comfortably put the State as one of the richest states if not the richest State in Malaysia.
That epitome dramatically changed after the 1985 election and the coming of UMNO and other national parties to Sabah. Some Sabah political leaders were hastily opening the doors to the knocking of some West Malaysian leaders and allowed annihilation of our political system which led to political perdition. That was probably the start of a more continued control of Sabah unlike Sarawak. Some said it was necessary for UMNO to come to Sabah whilst necessity is someone else’s word, I call it exploit.
Sabah is now more fragmented, dichotomised and segregated and politics taking a leading role in expediting the final demise of racial and religious tolerance. Politics should be deployed as a tool to govern the country and to unite the people. That is just mere rhetoric for those who understood how politics works in Malaysia. Sabah had often been denied the fair treatment it should be getting and worst still certain political portfolios are taboo to Sabahans. Sabah’s rights under the Malaysian Agreement of 1963 and those enshrined under the Constitution were abrogated and quickly eroded through politics.
What prospect are we left with when our very own politicians whom we trusted as our last bastion to defend the very rights enshrined in the Constitution are now becoming political judas, conspiring with rogue politicians to allow consistent and persistent plundering of our wealth. What disgrace and stigma do we have to endear when the nation bear witness to sporadic corruption, unnecessary politicking and the quest for political power leaving a ruined society. Where is our sense of allegiance to this wealthy country when we willingly and shamelessly rally behind corrupted leaders and unprincipled political leaders.
This blessed country have seen the passing of good and strong leaders. It is now facing a political predicament of searching trusted leaders to move this country forward. Any political exploit should be wisely addressed and judged. We should not allow those who have ruined this country and causing great embarrassment lead this country again.
As we rejoice in the coming independence celebration, we should reflect on the many years of Malaysia’s existence as a nation. We should be envious of our neighbour Singapore for its continued prosperity though god given resources are scarce. As for Sabahans we should now reflect on the many years of independence through Malaysia. We should not allow further discrimination and political exploit. We should now unite and find the best amongst us to negotiate our existence and lead our State in the coming years.
It has been fifty nine years of independence for Sabah and we are still lagging compared to the other West Malaysian states. We are not asking for a special treatment but demanding equality. There are still dilipidated schools, poor roads and poverty in Sabah. Sabah political leaders should come to a “consensus ad idem” to fight for Sabah and not to succumb to continued political pressure and political exploit. We should not wait for another fifty nine years and rue a missed opportunity.
Where time is our greatest enemy, opportunity makes a good friend.