The renewed demands by Sabah and Sarawak for oil royalties and greater devolution of powers is prompted by the federal government’s growing influence rather than any perceived vulnerability, said state leaders and analysts.
Despite controversies linked to Putrajaya, they said the federal government’s powers have not been reduced, which required both east Malaysian states to be more vocal in demanding a return of the rights they said were due to them according to the Malaysia Agreement 1963.
“It has nothing to do with Putrajaya being weak or strong,” Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing told Malay Mail Online.
“Sarawak is led by the leader (Tan Sri Adenan Satem) who finally realises that we have been short-changed all this while,” Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president said while declining to state who has short-changed Sarawak.
Sarawak, in particular, has become increasingly outspoken in protecting the state’s residents against perceived encroachment by peninsular Malaysians, and recently enforced a moratorium on work permits for non-resident Petronas workers.
Sabah and Sarawak each have autonomy over immigration in their states and residents from the peninsula must have a work permit in order to be employed there, but not vice versa.
The standoff with Petronas that is under the purview of Putrajaya is not solely over workers’ rights, however, but an extension of a long-running claim by both oil-rich states for a greater share of the revenue from oil and gas extracted from their waters.
The current demand is for a 20 per cent royalty, up from the 5 per cent they each receive from Petronas, but there are a growing number of voices for Sarawak to claim all revenue derived from its resources and for the state to pay Putrajaya a stipend instead of the other way around.
“We must not allow outsiders to have control over our resources,” Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS Baru) president Cobbold John Lusoi said, adding it was morally and logically wrong for Sarawak to get just 5 per cent of what Putrajaya earns from the state’s oil.
For Putrajaya, the concern is not solely in Sarawak. Neighbouring Sabah, among the country’s poorest states despite its resources, is also eyeing a greater share of revenue from oil extracted from its territory.
Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, a federal lawmaker from Sabah, recently announced that a panel of legal and financial experts is being considered for the proposed Sabah Revenue Rights Technical Committee to pursue what the state sees as its dues from the federal government.
The committee is expected to study several issues, especially Sabah’s 40 per cent entitlement of the net revenue collected by the federal government from the state, and the financial rights of the oil and gas royalty that was last paid in 1974.
Sabah leaders have lauded the formation of the panel, and called it a step towards honouring the Malaysia Agreement signed when the state joined Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore to form the Federation of Malaysia.
But as with Sarawak leaders, they were quick to downplay views that the timing of the push was due to any perceived weakness in the federal government, although some conceded that there might be a connection to the coming general election.
Both states are considered vote banks for the Barisan Nasional coalition and voters there have kept the coalition in power when its peninsular-based components other than Umno lost support in the previous two general elections.
“We need the voters to trust us in order to win the coming election. It is not an ultimatum or extortion, don’t get me wrong, but this is what the people want to gain their confidence after supporting them for so long,” senior United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Organisation (UPKO) leader Datuk Marcus Mojigoh told Malay Mail Online.
Other Sabah leaders such as Liberal Democratic Party president Datuk Teo Chee Kang as well as Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku’s (STAR) Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan said the state was long owed what it rightfully deserves for its resources.
“I would like to think that this is now or never for the federal government to prove their sincerity by fulfilling these rights before the 2018 general election,” Kitingan said.
Putrajaya’s readiness to consider the two state’s demands was more a sign of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s willingness to negotiate rather than any weakness, said political analyst Associate Professor Dr Jeniri Amir of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).
He also suggested that Sarawak’s increasing dissent may in fact indicate Putrajaya’s strong position and toughness in negotiation, but agreed that BN at the federal and state levels must resolve the differences before the next general election due by 2018.
Jeniri said Adenan’s recent warning to Putrajaya might have sent a wrong signal to the people that “there are some stumbling blocks that prevent the negotiation from going through”.
“Otherwise, Adenan would not have issued the warning,” he said.
SULOK TAWIE AND JULIA CHAN