Are Sarawakians & Sabahans children of a lesser God?

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By Francis Paul Siah

THIS is getting clearer and more factual. Sadly, even after six decades of nationhood, Malayans have never learnt nor were they ever interested in understanding the sentiments and aspirations of Sabahans and Sarawakians.

Why do more and more East Malaysians feel “out of place” in this relationship with Malaya? Why do they feel that they have been treated unfairly by Putrajaya and not as an equal partner in this federation, as had been promised in 1963?

Are the people of Sabah and Sarawak “children of a lesser god” – inferior to Malayans?

The phrase “children of a lesser god” refers to people who are thought to be inferior to others. Google further and you will note it also means that people who are disabled must have a lesser god who created them, not the god of the rest of us.

I haven’t watched the 1986 romance flick, “Children of a Lesser God”, but I’ve read the synopsis and perhaps, it’ll be worth two hours of my time on my next movie night.

The movie is a love story between a young woman who is deaf and a rebellious teacher and the challenges they faced in communicating with each other.

Like the deaf woman, are Sabahans and Sarawakians handicapped in some ways, so much so that they are always deemed “second class”, deserving of only being treated as stepchildren by an evil stepmother?

I wish to alert Putrajaya to pay serious attention to what Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) leaders find very disturbing of late. GPS is an ally of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government, so national leaders had better sit up and take note.

This is a most recent example of being “inferior”. Some might want to brush aside this “ventilator” issue as a small matter but to the medical fraternity in Sarawak, it is a “big deal”.

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Yesterday, Sarawak Housing and Local Government Assistant Minister Dr Annuar Rapaee expressed his dissatisfaction with the Ministry of Health (MOH)’s explanation on why ventilators sent to Sarawak last week were inoperable.

“MOH should make known why obsolete or non-functioning ventilators were sent to Sarawak. To me, this is an insult to the people of Sarawak and personally, an insult to my profession as a medical practitioner. They don’t have any respect at all for us,” Annuar, who is a cardiologist, told the Borneo Post.

These are strong words indeed and rightly should be as life-saving equipment is surely a very serious subject.

As a Sarawakian, I wish to register my disgust at this nonchalant manner MOH treats its health departments and hospitals in Sarawak. It seemed that no enthusiasm was exhibited, otherwise, such oversight would not have happened.

Let’s be honest about it. East Malaysian affairs and issues are somehow of lesser importance and are placed at a lower priority. Even in the fight against the pandemic, judging from the snail pace of the Covid-19 immunisation programme in Sarawak.

Close to collapse

In another incident, last Monday in Sibu, Annuar who is also PBB vice-president took the health authorities to task when a vaccination programme had to be cancelled because of the non-delivery of the promised extra Sinovac vaccines.

Now, I hope I’m understood as to why I’ve used the phrase “children of a lesser god”. It seemed that Sarawak only deserves the used and inoperable ventilators. What Malaya finds useless can be dumped into Sarawak and Sabah. Our god in Borneo must surely be a lesser one, huh!

Still on Sibu, the city’s MP, Oscar Ling Chai Yew of DAP, also warned that Sibu Hospital might be close to collapse unless the MOH urgently supplies much-needed basic medical equipment.

Sibu Hospital. – Wikipedia photo

He said such equipment not only covered ventilators but also items such as syringe pumps and infusion pumps, which were also critically short.

It is clear that on many issues affecting the general interests of Sarawak and its people, opposing politicians in Sarawak would take a common stand. This is the right way to go.

Last week, state minister Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah of PBB also warned Putrajaya that if Sarawak’s rights continue to be divested, there is no stopping the younger generation of Sarawakians from wanting independence and for Sarawak to be separated from Malaysia.

He said the new generation of Sarawakians and Sabahans have their own way of seeing things, for they are well educated and knowledgeable.

Thus, if the conditions of unfairness or shortchanging persists in Sarawak and Sabah, nothing can stop these young ones from demanding equality, the state minister told the Dayak Daily news portal in an interview.

What is there to negotiate?

As for the frustrations of Sabahans, (which are similar to Sarawakians), the views of Jeffrey Kitingan that the federal government should start implementing the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) and Sabah’s rights under the Federal Constitution remain consistent but not acted upon.

I expect this MA63 negotiation to go on forever because I doubt the four prime ministers involved since the MA63 talks began are serious at all about returning anything at all to Sabah or Sarawak.

When talks started while Dr Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister, he shrewdly played along. During Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s tenure, he did not know what to do. Najib Abdul Razak knew he could pacify Sabah and Sarawak by dishing out money to them. When Mahathir returned as PM, he continued to play along, shrewdly again, of course. Current PM Muhyiddin Yassin has no time for this MA63 stuff; he isn’t sure how long he will be in charge. Poor thing.

At this stage of the game, I am doubtful of any happy closure to these talks. I remain a pessimist because I think a future prime minister will be no different as he would be deemed a fool to make concessions to any territory in the country he rules.

So, I maintain my stand and ask again: What is there to negotiate? MA63 was concluded and signed in 1963. After more than half a century, it has remained unimplemented and not complied with. So, to hell with any more nonsensical, unending negotiations.

As far as I’m concerned, if there is no genuine and sincere intention on the part of the governing coalition to amend the Federal Constitution to restore Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners in the Federation of Malaysia, we are merely wasting our time and effort “negotiating for something not negotiable”.

To those in Malaya who refused to let go of Sabah and Sarawak, please be advised that the people in the Borneo territories are not children of a lesser god. Both sides have to recognise their own ‘disabilities’.

It pays to accord Sabahans and Sarawakians more dignity and respect. Failing this, the ongoing mistrust and intolerance on both sides will only lead to further mudslinging and politicising and this will create further uncertainties for the nation.

At the end of it all, I feel that the best way to resolve this long-running uneasy ties between Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak could just be an amicable divorce. Seriously, the solution could be as simple as that.

Francis Paul Siah is the author of Hijack in Malaysia: The Fall of Pakatan Harapan. This piece first appeared in Malaysiakini