Labuan (too many failures) should return
Published on: Sunday, September 12, 2021
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I CONCUR 100pc with Ibrahim Kalali in last Sunday’s Forum letter “Returning Labuan to Sabah will be a right decision”.  In addition to the reasons, all valid, stated by Ibrahim, I would like to add my perspective of the eventual, inevitable return of Labuan to Sabah.

(1) Labuan fits naturally into the Sabah mainland socio-economic fabric; 

(2) Labuan shares none of the socio-economic and, indeed, political complexities of KL or Putrajaya from where Labuan is governed by remote control;

(3) Labuan is too far away (from KL/Putrajaya) and way too small to be of any significance to the Federal Territory Ministry and “officials up there” who already have their hands full because of the many intractable problems in KL, inspite of their multi-billion ringgit budget each year;

The fiasco and economically damaging management of Labuan ports, and the ridiculously long period of ship crew quarantine, is but another example of the insensitive bureaucrats controlling Labuan. 

The closing of Labuan Hotel and the now abandoned Waterfront Hotel are two glaring failures of Labuan as a F.T.

To add insult to injury, Labuan is not even allowed to commemorate its anniversary date as F.T. (April 16) but is lumped together to commemorate KL’s FT date on February 1. 

(4) Labuan Bridge. This is another inevitability. Someday, economic reality and political conditions will overcome the stinginess of the Federal government to build the bridge connecting Labuan island to Sabah mainland. 

With Labuan back as part of the Sabah immigration zone, there will be no need for immigration control at the Labuan bridge. 

This bridge will serve to incorporate the outsized Labuan airport as part of the aviation infrastructure of Sabah. Passengers will be able to fly in and out of Sabah using both the Labuan and Kota Kinabalu airports. 

Water supply pipeline can be built along this bridge. Goods and services at Labuan will become more accessible to a much bigger market. Prices of consumer goods will come down. 

(5) The eventual return of Labuan to Sabah will bring about a closure to a sad chapter in Sabah’s history. 

Many Sabahans still remember the arbitrary detention without trial of several Sabahans who allegedly distributed leaflets opposing the “federalisation of Labuan”. 

That was the era of the draconian Internal Security Act.

On the eve of the handing over of Labuan (on 16 April 1984) at Labuan, the top Leaders of the then Sabah State and Federal governments (including the Prime Minister) flew into Labuan. That evening, the national BN (Barisan Nasional) ruling coalition expelled local party Usno (United Sabah National Organisation) which opposed the handover. One year later (22 April 1985) BN was wiped out in the Sabah elections. 

Ordinary citizens were given a “show of force” by army and riot police, complete with bayonets, in an anti-riot drill at the town padang. The handing over ceremony was not something that ordinary people rejoiced. I know because I was there. 

Within days, my flight back to Kota Kinabalu was to a different immigration zone. 

The MAS boarding pass was stamped by the Sabah Immigration. Labuan was no longer Sabah’s.

Finally, can the return of Labuan to Sabah be done? Yes. 

If necessary at a later date, I will outline the political process and constitutional procedure necessary to return Labuan to Sabah. 

I repeat what I first said in 1986 – “What is done can be undone!” I quoted the return to Malaysia of Carcosa. Carcosa, built in 1897, was the home of the first British colonial master of Malaya. Upon Malaya Merdeka in 1957, the then Malayan government had given Carcosa to the British (who returned it to Malaysia in 1987).

When Labuan is returned to Sabah, Labuan will get to keep its sole MP seat. I do hope Labuan will be given three Sabah Assembly seats in recognition of Labuan as an important player in Sabah’s government. 

Datuk Yong Teck Lee

SAPP President, Lawyer


Aerial view of Labuan as it is now.

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