Hornbill Unleashed

December 29, 2009

Looking east – to Sabah and Sarawak

By Sim Kwang Yang

The running joke going the round in Sabah and Sarawak for decades has been that you hear about these two East Malaysian states only during the daily weather report following prime time news on TV.

Overnight within our new political landscape, these two large and largely forgotten, marginalised and neglected states have been the focus of media attention, thanks to the rumours of mass defection by Sabahan and Sarawakian MPs to the Pakatan Rakyat coalition.

On my recent trip back to my home town of Kuching, I was told that a senior BN Dayak politician has been informed by Anwar Ibrahim that if the federal government should change hand, the chief ministers of Sarawak and Sabah would be a Dayak and a Kadazan respectively. For those who know the politics and the demographic of these two unique states well, such an offer would tip the political scale there in a radical manner.

Then, there is the open offer by Anwar that if the Pakatan Rakyat should take power at the federal level, the oil and gas royalty for Sabah and Sarawak would be raised from 5% to 20%, one way or another. This is a sensitive issue that has hurt the feelings of Sabahans and Sarawakians since the early years of their independence through the formation of Malaysia.

Although the people in these two Borneon states face different problems, they do share a long-standing, widespread, and deeply felt disdain for all things West Malaysian. Though the seething undercurrent of resentment has seldom been aired openly, it has always festered beneath the surface, smouldering from one generation of Sabahans and Sarawakians to the next.

Observations about Sabah, Sarawak

Their common complaint is the perception that Sabah and Sarawak have been neglected by the central government in socio-economic development. Today, Sabah ranks as the least developed state throughout Malaysia, with Sarawak closely behind at number 11th.By most socio-economic indicators, these two states are many decades behind the Klang Valley.

These two states are also very rich in oil and gas. Therefore, there is the resentment that while they contribute so much to the national wealth creation through massive exploitation of the two states’ fossil fuel, they are not getting their fair share of the fruits of development. There is this common feeling that perhaps the original social contract via the formation of Malaysia has been betrayed.

In an opinion piece entitled Sabah for Sabahans that appeared in the Star on May 15, Fui K Soong has this observation to make about the dire strait of Sabah:

“Sabah ranked from being the richest state in the 1970s to being the poorest state. Using UNDP”s numbers, Sabah has a poverty rate of 23% compared to Wilayah Persekutuan-KL of 1.5%.”

“In the district of Nabawan, the poverty rate is as high as 70%, as 20,568 households living in hardcore poverty. The drop-out rate is 50%, twice the national figure, and most schools located in the rural areas are equipped with very poor facilities.”

“Children are so poor that they do not even have soap to clean themselves with. Children attend their classes naked because parents sell their free uniforms to feed their family.”

“In the 9th Malaysian Plan, the total allocation for Sabah makes up 7.69% compared with 15.06% for the Federal Territory.”

The situation in Sarawak is not much better. I should know, for I had travelled from one end of that state to the other during my tenure as MP, visiting hundreds of rural communities.

The employment prospect for Sabahan and Sarawakian youths in their home state is grim. There has been very little investment in industry. Wages are depressed. One hotel worker who has worked at the same hotel for 12 years still earns a miserly salary of RM400 per month, half that of an illegal foreign labourer in the Klang Valley.

Urgent unique problems

As a result, Sabahan and Sarawakian youths have migrated to West Malaysia in search of jobs, and I was told that there are 400,000 Sarawakians in Johore alone! As Gawai Dayak on June 1 approaches, these workers will be looking forward to making that trip back to their kampongs and their longhouses.

There are also a whole host of urgent unique problems haunting these two states.

In Sabah, the spectre of the massive presence of an alien population is their number one concern. Fui K Soong estimated the number of illegal migrants at two million, twice that of the native population of Sabah. According to her, Kota Kinabalu “is looking more like Manila than Malaysia.”

(A senior Sabahan politician once told me in private that Sabahan must quash their ambition to secede from Malaysia, or else risk being taken over by The Philippines!)

In Sarawak, the widespread problem that haunts natives of all ethnic persuasion is the insecurity of their land tenure. They depend on their land for existence, especially in the deep interior. Their claim on land use is derived by a set of native customs, but in recent decades, their Native Customary Rights (NCR) have been summarily steamrolled by logging and plantation companies with horrendous consequence to the survival of the native farmers.

If the PR coalition make this one single promise to Sarawakian voters that, should they come to power in Sarawak, permanent titles will be given to NCR land owners eventually, the BN state government may also fall!

As long as the Umno dominated central government is strong and controls more than two-third majority in Parliament, the federal powers can afford to neglect and even ignore the issues burning in the breasts of Sarawakians and Sabahans. Federal ministers very seldom visit these two states, and the two chief ministers must kowtow to Kuala Lumpur for fear of having federal allocations being decreased or even cut off altogether.

But the last geeral election has turned the table around. Umno is able to hold on to power in KL at the pleasure of Sabahans and Sarawakians.

Those East Malaysian MPs of all races may all come from the BN camp. They may also swear allegiance to the BN. But they are Sabahans and Sarawakians first, and BN MPs second. They have deep primordial and abiding feelings for the land Below the Wind and the Land of the Hornbill.

That is why the Sabah MPs have been so characteristically vocal in Parliament during the past week, issuing ultimatum to the federal government that if things do not improve, nobody can blame East Malaysian MPs from jumping ship. It would seem that August is the dateline for the PM to turn his gaze seriously eastward.

Being active politicians, they are also pragmatic realists. They are aware of the changing mood of the people. The political tsunami that struck Peninsular Malaysia on March 8 may also sweep towards the north Borneo shores in the near future. The next big showdown will be in Sarawak, where a state general election id due in 2011.

With an ailing chief minister there in a state where the chief minister himself is the number one issue in state politics, there are many ways in which the Pakatan coalition can play their card. With Anwar Ibrahim freed from the encumbrance of directing West Malaysian politics then, he would be on the prowl in our Sarawak jungle, unless the Sarawak chief minister declares him as a persona non grata.

Issue close to my heart

Frankly, I do not think that Anwar has the numbers. There would not be enough MPs from Sabah and Sarawak who would jump ship and topple the BN federal government. And even if that is at all possible, the majority that Pakatan will enjoy in Parliament would be too thin for comfort.

Perhaps Anwar is merely playing a mind game with the BN leadership after all. If that is his intention, he has succeeded beyond expectation. He has exposed the long-veiled discontent from East Malaysia.

This is an issue very close to my heart. After all, I am an Anak Sarawak first, and a Malaysian second. I share this sense of identity with many of my Sarawak friends. Since I was born – at Jalan Padungan in Kuching 60 years ago – I have been nourished and nurtured by the sun and the rain over Sarawak.

I have suffered the pain of living under a polluted political sky in Sarawak all my life. I hate the backwardness, the poverty, the corruption, the primitiveness of politics in my home state.

Now I am 60, having fought the BN at the political front many times without avail. My dream is that the federal government should indeed change hands in my lifetime, and Umno be relegated to the opposition benches. With Sarawak and Sabah playing a king-maker role in this process, perhaps then we have a chance to review and rewrite that social contract first penned in 1963 when Malaysia was born.

If the Sarawak and Sabah MPs should jump and make this dream a reality sooner, then so be it. Who knows? This development may even be good for national integration!

This article was first published in Malaysiakini in  2009, and has been edited for Hornbill Unleashed.


  1. Sir SKY,
    i wish to mention something that hs never been mentioned or commented by anybody because it happened to only a few people like myself.i hv served as a civil servant since 1979 and back then those who wanted to be confirmed in the civil service must get a credit in bahasa malaysia.i was one of those unfortunate few who cant really master that language because i was educated in an english medium primary and secondary school thus making me lose my seniority and salary increment because i cant get a credit in the bahasa malaysia which resulted in me being “di sahkah dalam jawatan dengan berdenda”(fined for not getting a credit in bahasa malaysia) after i finally get a credit in bahasa malaysia 6yrs later from the date of my first appointment that was 3-1-1979!I sincerely hope you can help me and some other people who are the victims of the federal government by highlighting this uncalled for form of punishment which contradict Article 153 and the 20 points agreement during the formation of the federation.Any chance for me to fight and win this case in court? melton 019 852 9889.fb/meltonkais

    Comment by muton kais — September 11, 2010 @ 11:25 PM | Reply

  2. A.M.D.G.

    Peace be with you!

    We are looking for the rosary prayers in all the languages of the world to put on this website of our Blessed Mother. If anyone knows any more prayers than the Ave Maria / Hail Mary, we would appreciate if they contacted us and let us know, in English what the language is, what the prayer is, and what it means. we have many inquiries into the Dunsun Witu language, but we know no more than the Ave Maria.

    Specifically, we are looking for the following prayers:
    Sign of the Cross
    Apostles’ Creed
    Our Father
    Glory Be
    Hail, Holy Queen
    Fatima Prayer – (Oh, my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all sould to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy.)
    The 20 Mysteries of the Rosary

    Thank you for any help you are able to give us in this matter.

    May God bless all of you, your families and loved ones. May He keep all of you forever …
    In the Hearts of Jesus and Mary,
    Mary and Joseph

    Comment by Mary B — August 10, 2010 @ 12:59 AM | Reply

  3. The sentiment here is shared by ALL of us from Sarawak and Sabah, but the problem is the way things are going, there’s NO HOPE for the two states.

    My PRPOSAL is to STAND ON OUR OWN FEET. Let’s go go independence with the WHOLE of BORRNEO ISLAND! I have some rough details how we going about it.

    For one thing is that I’ve once met several friends from Kalimantan three years ago, they too have the same feeling towards Jakarta.

    What is your say?

    Comment by WINNER2ME — January 8, 2010 @ 12:34 PM | Reply

  4. Sim Kwang Yang, whatever your personal motives and intentions are (yes, I don’t trust politicians), I believe all East Malaysians like myself deeply appreciate your article, for voicing out the truth. Yes, East Malaysians will forever be Anak Sabah or Anak Sawarak first and foremost, all else second. And thank you for daring to enlighten W. M’sia who have in ignorance been living comfortably off us for decades and have no idea their disdain for their ATMs are so very, very misguided. Should PKR or any opposition govt. want S&S’ help to win the next election, not only must they at least fulfill what Anwar has promised above (20% royalty only? Come on Anwar, you don’t think we are stupid, do you. And, will Anwar also promise it will go to the States and not some greedy mojos who ‘represent the states’), we should be compensated fully for all the funds robbed from us the past 50 years to finance WM.

    Comment by B — January 3, 2010 @ 11:36 PM | Reply

  5. What Sarawak needs is a home-grown opposition coalition, not a west Malaysian based one!

    Comment by Job — January 1, 2010 @ 5:38 PM | Reply

  6. “Dayak is a Bidayuh word means people, and so is the word Iban, a Kayan word, also meaning people,” he said.
    “Kadazan” also is an archaic term for “people” or “tuhun(Penampang), uhun (Papar), tulun (Interior), lun (murut/lundayo)

    In Kalimatan Tengah, a Dayak tribe found occupying the Dusun (Village/Desa) Witu of the Barito region, speaks
    DUSUN WITU which is 95% or more similar to the language spoken by the Kadazan in Penampang/Papar
    Dusun Witu is a Barito language spoken in Kalimantan, Indonesia.
    The language is: Dusun Witu

    Example: Translation of “Hail Mary”
    Dusun Witu ” Ave Maria, noponu di gracia, Kinohoyngan kohuang nu, tobetua ko id tenga di savi avi tondu om tobetua tuva di tinan nu Jesus.Amin”
    Santa Maria tina Kinohoyngan pokionuan za tuhun ki dose moino om id jam kapatazan za.
    Kadazan Penampang/Papar: “Ave Maria, noponu ko do gracia, Kinoingan kouvang nu, obitua ko id tanga do savi avi tondu om obitua o tuva tinan nu Jesus.Amin”

    So Dayak means “People”, Kadazan also means “People”: they are ‘blood brothers”.

    The late Datuk Peter Mojuntin defined Kadazan as the “good Spirited people”, Gundohing Ignatius Buji defines them as “sakag do Kinoingan – children of God” Kadazan actually refers to the “spirit” of the living human being, as opposed to “tombiivo” – spirit of dead person.

    We should think global and return to our “Promised Land – USB: United States of Borneo” Koum Dam Pater – Arise People of God. At least we should make our presence known in Cyber space.

    Comment by Joel Kadazan — December 31, 2009 @ 12:20 PM | Reply

  7. […] Sarawak coalition will be PBB followed by PRS. The party will look forward to a good outing in the next state elections due to be held in […]

    Pingback by 201 to 66 « Audie61’s Weblog — December 29, 2009 @ 9:41 PM | Reply

  8. I spoke to a senior SUPP member over coffee this morning.His honest opinion is that, Of the 19 seats to be contested by his party,17 are black areas and these include Miri stronghld.

    Comment by Aki — December 29, 2009 @ 6:24 PM | Reply

  9. HAH! Now do the Semenanjung Malaysians know the importance of the state of Sarawak and Sabah? What? You only know about it now? All this while you makan duit gas and balak from this two state and you don’t know? smilies/angry.gif Must be because you are so confortable here in the Peninsular. You don’t have regular blackouts (one of my friends celebrated Christmas this year using candles), enough supply of clean water (the Borneo states have ‘Paipsi’ for their drinks), you have good roads, (Sabahans and Sarawakians have ‘gravel’ or ‘grabel’ road as the Sabahans call it), low goods prices, etc.

    I have doubts about Anwar then, and I still do now. 20% of gas royalty? Chief Minister from Dayak and KadazanDusun? How about restoring the 20 Perkara first? Then we talk. smilies/angry.gif

    Comment by Michael — December 29, 2009 @ 5:42 PM | Reply

  10. The people of Sabah and Sarawak should realised by now that they had been hoodwinked for so long and from a relatively resource rich states are now being bankrolled by the small elite group of BN leaders who care for their own and family pockets.

    The Penans etched a relatively poor and miserable life and yet we hear that those Penans requiring aid must have their Mycard first. What a farcical thing when these are the real Bumiputra’s of Sarawak.

    It is ironical that tons of aid had been poured into Acheh for rebuilding and welfare after the Tsunami and yet no aid for our bretheren within Malaysia.

    If they continued to be hoodwinked, then the Native leaders of Sabah and Sarawak should be blamed and no one else.

    Change is definitely for the better.

    Comment by mslam — December 29, 2009 @ 3:23 PM | Reply

  11. ohana means family. family means nobody gets left behind. not juz certain states are conveniently left behind, non-bumis are left behind bcos of the Ketuanan Melayu, most Malays are also left behind bcos of Ketuanan UMNO! din the rakyat got screwed enuf for over 50 yrs & they are still voting for them?! wake-up, people! change the gomen! it is time to leap into the future! forget about being left behind for so long! let’s show BN_UMNO our behinds and leave them in a time capsule meant for the muzium …

    Comment by pinsysu — December 29, 2009 @ 3:14 PM | Reply

  12. Dear Sim, thanks for your timely article on the largely forgotten, marginalised and neglected states.

    I pray that the ‘rakyat’ of Sarawak and Sabah will rise up and use the power of their votes for transformation to a better Malaysia. Change is in the air and reformation is much needed to right the wrongs done by the Power-that-be.

    Comment by PH Chin — December 29, 2009 @ 2:45 PM | Reply

    • I pray more for wisdom and for leaders who DO care for the people instead of their own political agenda.

      Comment by dee — December 29, 2009 @ 10:26 PM | Reply

  13. sang kancil, why don’t you shut your ignorant trap? We quite liked the White Rajahs, thank you very much. An independent Sarawak under the administration of the White Rajah would have become the best country in South East Asia. Down with Malaysia!

    Comment by Sarawak nationalist — December 29, 2009 @ 1:30 PM | Reply

    • Sarawak nationalist, as a Sabahan, I agree with you fully, and wish the same for Sabah. Sabah & Sarawak would be one of the best places in the world under ideal circumstances/politics, but as you know, there can be no heaven on earth, so perhaps S&S being a part of Malaysia, is to make these two places flawed enough to exist in this earthly world. Otherwise, it would be like living in heaven, and that’s an oxymoron, no?

      Comment by B — January 3, 2010 @ 11:24 PM | Reply

  14. I doubt the Sarawakian BN Yb’s will ever want to join the Pakatan rakyat. They are so confortaable with what they already have with the majority sarawakians “respecting them”.

    Let sarawak be the major financial contributor to malaya and let the dayaks continue support BN

    Comment by Khobu — December 29, 2009 @ 11:11 AM | Reply

  15. Sarawak exchanged the White Rajah for the White Haired Rajah. It is not too far from the truth to say that Sarawak and Sabah have been colonized by Umno.

    But changes are brewing in these fair lands. The politicians may be self-serving but it is the people who will decide. The tsunami in the Peninsula have caused them to wake up and realize there is an alternative.

    Frankly I don’t think Umno can claim Sarawak and Sabah to be their fixed deposit of parliamentary seats come next election. No more clean sweep save one. BN may lose at least 10 MP seats each in the 2 states.

    Look at Yong Teck Li of SAPP. This is a far-sighted politician who can feel the winds of change coming. If you look into Yong’s political history, he has been right on many counts before when he predicted the future.

    Comment by KB — December 29, 2009 @ 10:57 AM | Reply

  16. 400K Hornbillans in Johore alone.
    What a damning verdict to obscenely long & stinky rule by Pek-mo!
    Yet he’s so big-headed to think he’s the best thing that has ever happened to Sarawak. His senior Maha-tieu also pales into insignificance when compared to him… No book to tell!

    And he ain’t gonna let go until he drops dead!
    But no worries, death is certain and coming soon, very soon &
    all too soon.


    Comment by harwin — December 29, 2009 @ 10:18 AM | Reply

    • The thing is… he has a few rich men behind him keeping him where he is so that businesses and projects will go to these rich men as well.

      Take a look at Sarawak’s development projects… whose are they?

      Once these businesses have flourish, they will “donate” the political figure so that he will remain in power and make economy to be in the hands of these “donors”.

      And the cycle goes on…

      Comment by dee — December 29, 2009 @ 10:57 PM | Reply

      • It’s time to break this cycle. Together with you and I and all the ‘rakyat’ who yearn for a just, transparent and accountable government can do it with the power of our votes. Just do it during the next GE !

        Comment by PH Chin — December 30, 2009 @ 11:34 AM | Reply

  17. Oils revenue goes to federal govt.
    Timber goes to foochows and white termites cronies.
    What is left for sarawakians are only bones and leftovers.
    Building roads,bridges go to CMS.
    Prime lands go to Naim Cendera.
    Its time for rebels and revolutions before the ordinary sarawakians like you and me starve to death.
    Awake,awake,dear sarawakians.before corrupted,greedy worms eat your bodies and lead you to a life of poverty and starvations.
    Think for yourself,your families and next generations to come.

    Comment by H.G.Wells — December 29, 2009 @ 10:17 AM | Reply

  18. Dear all,

    The problem with politics in Sabah and Sarawak, and west Malaysia is no exception, politician can be bought. The moment they are in positions of power, these politicians are easily bought by the leaders from the federal government. I have relatives in KK and I visit them quite regularly and I have been told that these politician are given land and timber concessions in exchange for their support at the federal level. So at the end of the day it is those ordinary peasants who have been made used of to support and satisfy these politicians’ greed for money. It is not important for them that Sabah and Sarawak are invaded by illegal immigrants. It is not important for them that development in the two states is far behind those in west Malaysia. What is important for these corrupt politicians is that they get the money and the perks.

    Comment by Ho Chu Chuan — December 29, 2009 @ 10:16 AM | Reply

  19. Dear Mr. Sim,

    I reside in KL. I read with profound sorrow on the bad condition of our people in Sabah and Sarawak. As you have mentioned in you article above, on the state of poverty experience by some of our people.

    I do think it is a lopsided development, very much lopsided in comparison of the West being advance and the East going backward. Then again, my understanding of Sabah and Sarawak, in every aspect, is very little. I want to thank you for your committed writing such that it provide more insight into East Malaysia for people like me.

    I sincerely thank you for your tireless work in highlighting the problems as well as trying to solve them.


    Comment by Jack Ng — December 29, 2009 @ 9:42 AM | Reply

  20. If the Sarawak & Sabah MPs’ mind are rakyat 1st and their personnel interest 2nd, then the great tsunami will come soon. But, I doubt that most of the MP (west & east malaysia) are putting their own personnel interest in 1st place rather then rakyat.

    Comment by vp — December 29, 2009 @ 9:17 AM | Reply

  21. Dear Mr Sim

    Please continue educating the people of West Malaysia on the
    situation in East Malaysia through your writings.

    West Malaysian politicians paying more attention to
    Sabah and Sarawak — isn’t it wonderful what a bit of
    popular democracy (as expressed in the 2008 General Election results)
    can do?

    Comment by Phua Kai Lit — December 29, 2009 @ 9:08 AM | Reply

  22. Anak anak MALAYSIA, be it Malaccan, Sarawakian, Sabahan MUST wake up to the fact that the time has come for us to rise to the call of of our beloved Malaysia to see these UMNOputera scumbags off our shores. Rise and be counted and lets show them that we are MALAYSIAN first and foremost. We are borned Malaysian and will die a proud Malaysian.

    Fellow Sarawakians, you had fought off the White Rajahs but they are still here in the guise of your CM Taib. Rise, please rise up and reclaim the land that belongs to you and your forefathers.

    For you and the Sabahans, the state elections are your calling. Do make all MALAYSIAN proud and anwser the CALL.

    GE13 is our greatest opportunity and we must move in ONE VOTE and reclaim our beloved MALAYSIA from these scumbags. Please show us the way and let all anak anak MALAYSIA response in this CALLING.

    Humbly yours,

    anak Melaka
    sang kancil

    Comment by sang kancil — December 29, 2009 @ 1:41 AM | Reply

    • What you forgot is that Sarawakians NEVER actually and directly fought their White Rajahs. Since the arrival of the White Rajahs, they had been advocating the abolishment of headhunting and raiding/pirating. These two activities were the centerpiece and the core of the native’s tradition and culture.

      Therefore, the “fight” was actually to retain their way of life.

      On my part, as a Sarawakian, I am glad the White Rajahs came to rule. Charles Brooke, the longest ruling Rajah, did not allow too much exploitation of the country’s natural resources because he believed that it should be “harvested” by the people for the people themselves whenever they were ready.

      Charles Vyner Brooke was not too interested to be a Rajah and he tried albeit at his own pace to steer the administration of the country to that by her own people. This is the first step to bring Sarawak to adopt and rule by way of democracy.

      Maybe… just maybe… if it had not been for the Japanese Occupation, would Sarawak democratic government materialised? My bet is also that she would not be in the Federation of Malaysia either…

      Too bad… God has other ideas… What is He trying to teach us?

      Comment by dee — December 29, 2009 @ 11:11 PM | Reply

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