Kota Kinabalu: “The recent poll results showing that 67% of Sabahans wanting autonomy for Sabah to be implemented is not surprising. In fact, if the pollsters had asked whether the people whether they wanted independence, the results may be similar in numbers” said Datuk Dr. Jeffrey Kitingan, President of STAR who is also the Assemblyman for Bingkor, Keningau, who had long championed for Sabah to be restored as an equal and autonomous partner in the Federation of Malaysia.

Not only has Sabah being denied its autonomy, its rights and special safeguards have been violated and many unfulfilled for the past 54 years since 1963.

To compound matters, Sabah and Sarawak were denied its fair share of its development despite contributing the bulk of the Federation’s revenues. Sarawak and Sabah being the 3rd and 5th largest contributors respectively to the Malaysian GDP.

Yet, in the National Budgets 2015, 2016 and 2017, there was very little federal allocations for development in Sabah and Sarawak. Although the off-budget Pan Borneo Highway is to be built, albeit 25 years late, and it is targeted for completion after 2022-2025, if on schedule.

To rub salt into the wound, the constitutional provisions for the return of the 40% net revenue derived from Sabah and other revenues, have continued to be ignored despite years of clamouring for the same to be paid annually.

Autonomy for Sabah is still a long, long way off.

Firstly, the federal government has maintained a parallel government to the Sabah government in the form of the Federal Secretary Office. The FSO is aided with all forms of federal departments and agencies, with many duplicating Sabah agencies, and headed by Malayans. Even teachers from Malaya are given priority even when there are many better qualified Sabahan graduates.

Secondly, the Sabah government is now a puppet government dictated by Umno Malaya with non-Umno BN components completely powerless. These non-Umno parties even have difficulty getting posts in local governments. The whispers in the corridors of power indicate that the signatures of Umno division chiefs are more powerful and carry more weight than the presidents of the component parties.

Thirdly, the federal government has entrenched and centralized all powers in federal ministries, departments and agencies and provided them with tons of money. Such is their power than many Sabah departments and agencies are left with little influence and little authority, even to the extent the issuance of fishing licences are issued from Putrajaya or powers usurped like LIGS being sidelined by RISDA. The Sabah departments and agencies are being made redundant.

Last but not least, the revenues and rich resources of Sabah are fully exploited by Malaya and the federal government. From 2017, Sabah will be producing some 65% of Malaysia’s crude oil production, up from 50% previously. Yet, Sabah is the poorest State in the country and burdened with high costs of living and a lower minimum wage compared to Malaya.

To restore autonomy to Sabah from being a vassal State, one of the first things the federal government and Umno need to implement is to withdraw Umno from Sabah and leave the Sabah government to local parties.

The people has spoken on autonomy for Sabah as set out in the poll results conducted by Merdeka Center and commissioned by The Malaysian Insight.

Will the federal government and Umno have the will to grant Sabah its overdue autonomy? That is a big question posed from the poll results.

If autonomy is not restored and quickly, do not be surprised in the next polls, the support for autonomy will be turned into support for independence.

Datuk Dr. Jeffrey Kitingan
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