Published on: Sunday, January 05, 2020
Text Size:

Tan Sri Peter Lo was the first CM to introduce the idea of press conference.


1.  Illegal immigrants (Indonesian Chinese fleeing to Sabah in large numbers) **

During Peter Lo’s tenure, refugees (mostly Indonesian Chinese) fled to Lahad Datu, Tawau, Semporna and other east coast towns. They were hiding sometimes with the sympathy of locals. Peter Lo had good understanding with the Special Branch Chief, Fairbairn, someone very sympathetic to these Chinese refugees. Peter Lo also discussed with the late Tun Ismail, the Home Minister then (later Deputy PM), who gave Fairbairn the go-ahead signal to deal with the problem in a humanitarian fashion.

* Source: Daily Express July 1 1965 & July 23, 1966 p.8

** Source: Daily Express August 27 1995

With the Federal Government’s assistance, a scheme was then worked out to grant these refugees amnesty. When it was implemented, the Chinese began to come out of hiding and applied to live in Sabah on Permanent Resident (PR) status.

2. Indonesian Confrontation

Thailand mediated on the matter by bringing both parties (Malaysia and Indonesia) to the round table.

2.1 Bangkok Talks

In one of these meetings sponsored by Bangkok, Tun Razak specifically requested Peter Lo to be present. He was the only one from East Malaysia. The others included Tun Ghafar Baba and Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie. Peter Lo was summoned by Tun Razak explain to Subandiro about Sabah being happy in Malaysia… and that the peoples of Sabah chose to join Malaysia of their own free will.

Singapore’s separation from the Federation, a bombshell that came 6 months after Peter Lo took office, also made Peter Lo’s position as a Chief Minister difficult.

Singapore (Premier) Lee Kuan Yew’s People’s Action Party (PAP) had campaigned vigorously for a Malaysian Malaysia and soon did not see eye-to-eye on many issues with the late first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman (Founding Father).

Following the withdrawal, both Tunku and Tun Razak made separate whistle-stop tours to explain and reassure the people that they would swim or sink with Sabah. 

On concerns or affirmative action programmes, they emphasized that those were only of a transmitted nature.

This tipped the scales in favour of Sabahans remaining steadfast with Malaysia.

3. Corruption

Corruption was never an issue in Tan Sri Peter Lo’s time. They were working in a system of government whereby he was not a CM who had control over forests and lands. Tan Sri Thomas Jayasuria was the Minister of Natural Resources and everything went through him. If a licence is to be issued, he will prepare a cabinet paper for Peter Lo’s approval which then goes before the cabinet for everybody to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

That is Cabinet Government based on the principal of collective responsibility, but he himself has never approved, let alone, issued any license.

Lo served as Chief Minister – the first and only ethnic Chinese to date – in one of the most turbulent periods of Malaysia’s history.

Before the close of 1964, the late first Premier Tunku Abdul Rahman, after concurring with his deputy, the late Tun Abdul Razak, told him: “Peter, you better go back to Sabah as Chief Minister.”

Those words by the nation’s founding father took effect the first day of January 1965, when Sabah was only one-and-a-half years old as an independent State within the Malaysian Federation.

The electoral system was another two-and-a-half years into the future, thus making Lo one of only two people in the State’s history to be appointed to the post (after Donald Stephens). 

Also the first Chinese to date. Barely three months earlier, he was the first Sabahan appointed to the Federal Cabinet as Minister without Portfolio attached to the Prime Minister Dept.

Sabah was wracked with more than teething problems then which, Peter Lo says, “Kuala Lumpur knew all along was coming.”

“There was crisis all the time deliberately created or otherwise (after Mustapha was appointed first Governor and Stephens first Chief Minister) from the word ‘go’.

“Mustapha wanted to be Governor in a mistaken belief. Under our Constitution, unlike the British Governor, he was only a ceremonial head of government. Whereas the British colonial Governor was an all-powerful man who (acted as) both the ceremonial head and CM. When Mustapha realized this he became frustrated.”

Lo’s mission then was to be a compromise candidate while the problems were sorted out.

“I accepted the offer without knowing the size of the problem and the extent of British ambition.” Says Peter Lo.

“The Sabah Alliance (Mustapha’s Usno; Stephen’s Upko and SCA) were split. There were several claimants on both sides of the political spectrum who wished to the CM. 

“There was a lot of bickering and everyone was fighting each other,” he says, adding that the British were contributing their share of problems.

“Several key players did not want me to be CM because it put a spoke on their wheels. The British favoured the post held by someone from the main indigenous community so they could still divide and rule. Being not in the calculations of many, my work as CM was always sabotaged.” 

Peter Lo got a foretaste of what lay in store the very day he was sworn - in as Chief Minister. 

“The Information Department man who took my swearing-in photo told me the next day “sorry boss no film inside.” That was a clear sabotage.” 

A mock swearing-in had to be held the next day for picture purposes. 

“On another occasion when I opened a function the microphone went dead for a long time. I later found out it was carried out on the orders of someone said to be a future CM’s eminence grise.” 

Unable to get work done properly and finding it not worth the RM2,240 monthly salary, Peter Lo aired his frustrations to Tun Razak, including the idea of quitting. 

“He (Tun Razak) told me not to resign under such pressure. Tun Ismail (later Deputy PM under Tun Razak) suggested I take the bull by the horns. But I never got to it. My body would have been in the longkang (drain).” 

Lo thinks being CM is much less taxing today. At least, he says no one rocks the boat anymore and Malaysia is secured and strong. 

“In my time apart from anything else, I had to wrestle ‘daily with leaders in the coalition who were known to be giants in Sabah politics. 

Lo said he never had the chance to administer Sabah the way it is done now. 

“Sabah politics today is fairly stable... I had everybody breathing down on my neck. Malaysia, too, was in danger of breaking-up.” 

He adds: “I tried to do the best under the circumstances. I provided political stability by trying to be fair to all and certainly did not surrender any State rights.” 

Lo reserves least compliments for the British. 

“We were coming out oldie colonial cocoon. KL had certain powers but the British influence was still very strong. They were the big players. 

They had a lot of sympathisers who saw them as capable of doing no wrong. That what they said was gospel.” 

“The Permanent Secretaries, Residents, District Officers all the police top brass were British. So were the judges and most of the magistrates and the Special Branch which fed me all sorts of rubbish. 

Even my secretary was a Special Branch woman who had the good sense to leave when things got too hot. Not forgetting also the British military presence. Sabah was a big military camp those days due to the Confrontation (posed by the Indonesian Government). 

“Tun Razak was mad enough to call up senior British officers and tell them they were here to make Malaysia work and will not be staying long… that if they had to bellyache, to do it in the privacy of their home.”

To cap it all, a hostile belonging to different political interest groups played havoc on his administration. 

“I had no Paper to counter the lies and distortions that seemed to be my daily fare. More often than not I was completely blacked out. So much for a so-called responsible Press.” 

Faced with myriad obstacles, Lo said he nevertheless tried to run the Government according to the Constitution and be fair to all, including Upko, which “kept trying to remove me.” 

Six months of taking charge came the bombshell separation of Singapore from the Federation which Tan Sri Peter says “made my position as a Chinese Chief Minister more difficult than it already is.” 

Yet life would have been a different course for this first home-grown lawyer to practise in North Borneo (as Sabah was then known) had he not been drawn into the Malaysia project. 

Having spent five years with top Singapore law firm Donaldson and Burkinshaw, Lo set up a law firm which today is Sabah’s oldest.

Lo was three years into his own and appointed to the Legislative Council when Tunku made a proposal that would change the colony in more than just name-merger with Malaya, Singapore. Sabah and Sarawak. 

“People came to me on how to answer Tunku’s proposal.” 

“The initial response of those thorn Peter Lo represented through the United Party (UP) then as its Secretary-General and headed by the late Datuk Khoo Siak Chiew, was to oppose. 

Preferring independence first, they maintained this stand also before the Cobbold Commission that came to gauge the peoples’ views. 

“Our opposition was well-reasoned. When it became inevitable that Malaysia will come about as surely as the sun rises, we decided to accept the invitation by Donald Stephens to put up a common front and concentrate on the terms of entry, instead.” 

Lo said overnight the 20-points were born, with him and two others contributing some 13 points and the rest coming from the other components, which he also helped draft. 

With humility, Tan Sri Peter Lo says he also fought strongly for a ministerial-type administration and moved a Motion in the Legislative Assembly to this end in order to pre-empt any possible bid to fall in line with the practice adopted in West Malaysia, i.e. a CM having executive Councillors, instead of ministers. 

Source: Daily Express 20th August 1995, p. 4-5

Other News

Follow Us  

Follow us on            

Special Reports - Most Read

What the people say
December 20, 2014