'Stephens opposed M'sia but British wanted it'
Published on: Wednesday, May 20, 2015
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Kota Kinabalu: Sabah's first Chief Minister Donald Stephens (died Tun Fuad Stephens) was initially against the idea of Malaysia until he was elected to the chair of the Malaysia Consultative Committee at a parliamentary conference in Singapore leading to the subsequent formation of the Federation of Malaysia.A member of the audience Tan Sri Majid Khan said this during the Second Session of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 Public Diplomacy with the Foreign Minister event, revealing that he was privy to a lot of first-hand information being in the inner circle of Stephens deeply involved in the processes with other leaders leading to the formation of Malaysia.

He narrated that Stephens seeing that the British preferred to see a Federation of Malaysia formed, told Sabah leaders like Tan Sri Ghani Gilong and others to make the best out of the situation then.

Majid told the attendees that came about because the British had decided to withdraw from East of the Suez in conformity to the UN decolonisation process, keeping only Hong Kong as a trading post.

Stephens and other leaders had considered the viable independence of North Borneo which they concluded as likely unworkable due to its size and other concerns, leading to the idea of a Federation of the (British) Borneo Territories with Sarawak and Brunei which was shared with Sarawakian leaders like Ong Kee Hui, Temenggong Jugah Anak Barieng and others.

Stephens met with Brunei leader Sheikh Azahari in Labuan who brought the idea to the Sultan of Brunei and the monarch was receptive to it and gave his blessing. At that time, Brunei had a more democratic system of government in Borneo with its first election held, prior to the Brunei Rebellion, put down with the help of the British.

Sheikh Azahari personally favoured Brunei's independence and merging with British North Borneo and Sarawak to form the federation with the Sultan of Brunei as the constitutional monarch.

However, the Brunei's People's Party was in favour of joining Malaysia on the condition it was as the unified three territories of northern Borneo with their own Sultan, and hence was strong enough to resist domination by Malaya, Singapore and the Malayan administrators.

However by that time, Tunku Abdul Rahman put forward the Malaysia idea at a press club meeting in Singapore and the British made it clear that they preferred the Malaysia concept to comprise Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Brunei North Borneo and Sarawak.

Majid claimed that Malaysia proponent Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore told Stephens to list down in writing what all his concerns were on various issues raised, and that subsequently led to the 20-Points formulated and finalised with other Sabah leaders of various parties, besides the 18-Points of Sarawak, and concerns of Brunei (which finally did not join in the Federation of Malaysia on points of disagreement).

The Federation of Malaysia finally became a reality on September 16, 1963. The audience was told that many following details were stated in a book – 'The White Headhunter in Sabah'.

Meanwhile, Frank Yapp, a member of the audience asked why only now leaders like Datuk Dr Jeffrey Kitingan and Datuk Yong Teck Lee are vocal about such issues, whilst they were quiet when in power in a position to do something.

Yap likened the enthusiasm of the leaders to be only 'Hangat-hangat tahi ayam' (a Malay proverb meaning that their enthusiasm will last as long as the heat endures from a pile of freshly defecated excreta of a chicken) until the next show time.

Jeffrey burnished his ISA detention record as proof of his vocalism, and Yong repeated Jeffrey's record of ISA detention as to the limitation on the freedom of expression in the past and he was appreciative of the current freer atmosphere of expression under Premier Najib.

Yong said that it was fortuitous that UMS supported and provided the venue for such public discourse considered sensitive by some quarters in the past and outside of the university, it would even be difficult to rent a balai raya (village community hall) for such agenda, what more other premises for such events.


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