Sarawak legal counsel Dato Sri JC Fong has said that Sarawak should be given autonomy over education and health matters, instead of just seeking to amend Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution, in order to achieve equal status and equal partnership within the Federation of Malaysia.
He pointed out that even Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, recently, had rightfully said that Sarawak and Sabah were not asking for independence, but were seeking greater autonomy.
There are current provisions in the Constitution for the federal government to transfer executive authority over these matters to the Sarawak government.
He cited Article 80 (5) of the Constitution, which states executive authority can be transferred to the state with the federal government providing the funds.
If the two parties cannot decide on the amount of funds, the matter is to be resolved by an independent tribunal appointed by the Chief Justice.
“There are all these provisions that are in place. We have to do better. We are in a situation where we are not well served by the federal government,” said Fong.
“We are in the position to demand for greater autonomy. We must have greater autonomy in order to look after ourselves.”
“Because if we don’t have that level of autonomy, especially over crucial subject matters, not only education and health, but also tourism, welfare services and all that, we are not able as the state government to serve our people. And our people deserve better service,” he continued.
Fong made these remarks when presenting his talk entitled ‘Equal Status or Partnership for Sabah and Sarawak within the Federation of Malaysia’, during the Sarawak Rights Under Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) forum.
The forum was organised by the Sarawak Patriots Association and launched by Local Government and Housing Minister Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian.
Fong said equal status and equal partnership for Sarawak within the Federation of Malaysia could not be remedied by just amending Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution.
He explained that just amending Article 1(2) would be merely making cosmetic changes to the Constitution should there still be restrictions that stifle both Sarawak and Sabah.
Fong also said while many want Sarawak to reclaim rights under MA63, Sarawak would still be lagging behind even if these rights were reclaimed, as MA63 has no constitutional backing.
He pointed out the federal government had not reviewed the amount of financial grants to Sarawak since 1969, even though reviews should have been carried out every five years since the formation of Malaysia, with the shortfall in funds today said to be RM6.6 billion.
He also said the federal government had performed below par and let Sarawak down in terms of education and health infrastructure.
There are overcrowded public hospitals while many rural clinics have no treated water supply – some cannot be reached by tar-sealed roads.
The doctor-to-population ratio in Sarawak is 1 to 1,708, which could be lowered if the long-delayed hospital projects in Lawas, Sri Aman, and Petra Jaya are completed.