Mon, 20 May 2024


Sabah Day shows why having the right Chief Minister matters
Published on: Sunday, September 10, 2023
By: Datuk Teddy Chin
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Hajiji, Jeffrey at Sabah Day in Tambunan.
“It’s better late than never….”.

With these words, Chief Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Hj Hajiji Hj Noor officiated the second official Sabah Day celebration in Tambunan on August 31, 2023 some 60 years after the first one in 1963. Why only second? Well, you see, just 16 days after August 31, 1963 Sabah became part of Malaysia.

As the Chief Minister pointed out, over time Sabah Day became “overshadowed” by the National Day or Hari Kebangsaan, also known as Merdeka Day, which is also celebrated on August 31.

From what I gather from speeches and also video montages in Tambunan on that day, Sabah was to be one of the four entities that formed Malaysia; the others being Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore. In 1965, Singapore left Malaysia.

In other words, Sabah, Sarawak and Malaya were supposed to be equal partners.

But, slowly over time Sabah became just one of the 13 States of Malaysia instead of being an “Equal Partner” and has remained so since. There was a ray of hope when former Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin described Sarawak and Sabah as “Wilayah” (Province or Territory) and not States within Malaysia.

He was speaking in Kuching during a Malaysia Day celebration a few years ago. But nothing really materialised as Muhyiddin soon lost his job.

Nothing much happened during the short “reign” of Muhyiddin’s successor, Datuk Seri Ismail Yaacob either. To be fair, when Tun Dr Mahathir was PM for the second time between 2018 to 2020, he did initiate moves towards reviving the spirit of MA63, referring to the Malaysia Agreement signed in 1963. But he too lost his job before anything solid materialized.

After Anwar became PM in late 2022, hopes were raised again when he looked into the matter. According to Datuk Seri Panglima Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, Anwar told him soon after becoming PM: “No need to discuss, just implement (the MA63). Which led Jeffrey to ask Anwar: “Are you sure?”

Jeffrey’s question was not without reason. Until today, some nine months later, some if not most of MA63’s provisions are still on the discussion table. This includes the 40pc tax or revenue entitlement that the Federal Government collected from Sabah.

A group of Sabah politicians had brought the 40pc issue to Court and still pending trail. The politicians are from Pakatan Harapan. PKR and DAP YBs filed the case when they were still in the Opposition in Sabah. But now, despite being part of the Sabah Unity Government, they have no intention of dropping the case.

BN or rather Umno ruled Malaysia until 2018. Before that, it was sensitive to raise issue like MA63 or the 40%. Those brave enough to raise the issues better be prepared to face the consequences. The Internal Security Act or better known as ISA was still around then.

The most famous of the ISA arrests over the years was in 1998 – the Operation Lalang when more than one hundred people including politicians and academics were arrested. The PM cum Home Minister then was the Old Man.

When Najib was PM, the ISA was repealed, only to be replaced with Sosma which some say is equally fearful. Only it sounds better as the words ISA is no longer there. There have been attempts to ‘improve’ SOSMA since.

Talking about Najib, he was the one who while being PM declared September 16 as a Malaysia Day holiday. Before that, Sept 16 was also observed as a public holiday in Sabah but not as Malaysia Day but rather TYT’s birthday. Until then, Malaysia Day celebration was unheard of, officially at least.

Following September 16 being declared a Malaysia Day holiday, the Sabah Governor’s birthday was moved to the first Saturday of October. Coming back to Sabah Day, I understand that it may soon be gazetted by the State Government.

This means that once gazetted as a holiday, say beginning next year, we will have two holidays on August 31. Which means that September 1 will be a replacement holiday and Sabahans will have two consecutive holidays.

How old is Malaysia? This has always been a bone of contention. For example, the Malaysian Government has described the recent Merdeka Day celebration as the Nation’s 66th. Many Sabah (and may be also Sarawak) politicians, Hajiji included, do not agree and some had made noise in the past.

They argued that Malaysia was born only in 1963 so it should be 60.

That was why there was a time (a few years ago I think) when the Government didn’t mention how old the nation was. They just mention the year. I forgot how did this happen but now it seems it’s back to the Nation’s age.

In America, the age of USA is counted from the time of the American Independence, 1776, I think. Although some States joined USA only years later, they still regard the original date as the date of Independence or how old the nation is.

Until the fall of the BN government (aka ISA), not many Sabah politicians would champion things like MA63 or 40% or Sabah rights. 

Few would take the risk of being arrested. Dr Jeffrey Kitingan has been, and still is, one of the few (or may be very few) who dared to do so. For that he paid a heavy price. He was put under ISA arrest for almost 3 years (Initial 60 days plus 2 years detention).

Speaking in Tambunan on August 31, Jeffrey said the detention almost broke him physically but not mentally and that today he is still fighting for Sabah rights.

For the Sabah Day celebration in Tambunan recently to materialize, Jeffrey perhaps has to thank Hajiji for lending an ear and listened. Hajiji is the first Sabah Chief Minister who agreed to bring the matter for discussion in the State Cabinet and got it approved.

This is only possible with a strong or powerful State Government. But the real credit should perhaps go to Jeffrey for his insistence and hard work since before.

From now on, it will be a yearly affair with the various districts taking turns to be the host for Sabah Day. The CM will decide the next venue. Hopefully, by the next Sabah Day (2024) it is already a holiday (in addition to Merdeka).

Sabah’s first appointed Cabinet on August 31, 1963 with Stephens as the first Chief Minister. Harris on his right is now the only surviving member. The Ministers continued in their posts well after the formation of Malaysia two weeks later. 

Tambunan was chosen this year partly because Mat Salleh led a revolt against the British. There is even a memorial of the late Paduka Mat Salleh there. This makes celebration of Independence (from the British) more meaningful. For next year, perhaps Keningau not far from Tambunan would be an ideal place.

I say this because in Keningau there is a Batu Sumpah which was erected almost one year after Malaysia was formed to appease the interior natives who still opposed Malaysia.

Also, early Independence fighters like Sundang was from Keningau. Incidentally, Jeffrey is both Tambunan Assemblyman and Keningau MP.

After which, Tenom which is further down the Interior road may be ideal because of the Rundum rebellion. Tenom is the heartland of the Murut people and I think it is appropriate for the district to host Sabah Day at least once.

Coming back to Jeffrey, the road has not been easy for him, vis-à-vis his political struggle spanning decades, most of the time with him in the Opposition.

He was lonely sometimes. To recap, Jeffrey became Sabah Foundation (YS) direct soon after his brother Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan became CM. It’s a powerful post, to the extent that some say they would rather be the YS director than a Minister.

I think they are referring to the timber concessions that YS controls. Jeffrey was still YS director when he was arrested under ISA soon after the 1990 State election followed by Federal elections. PBS was still in BN then and won the State election easily.

But days before polling for the national election late 1990, PBS pulled out from BN out of the blue, aligning itself with Semangat 46 led by Tengku Razaleigh. BN won again and the rest is history.

Early 1991 just a few months after the MP election, it was ‘Pay Back Time’. PBS, though still the State Government, was in the Opposition at the national level. Jeffrey was arrested.

Under the ISA, a person can be detained for an initial period of 60 days without trail. After which if the Home Minister so desires, the detainee will start a two-year detention at Kamunting Camp, Perak. I would like to relate an incident following Jeffrey’s arrest which is perhaps unknown to many Sabahans.

At the time of Jeffrey’s arrest, the PBS MPs were Opposition MPs in Parliament. It was the season of ISA arrests and many PBS MPs were wondering if they would be next. As such, most of them kept quiet although Parliament was in session then. 

Sabah Think Tank (now IDS) CEO Dr Maximus Ongkili was arrested around the same time. Dr Max was also Press Consultant to the Chief Minister Pairin, his uncle. I was then Press Secretary to Finance Minister cum Penampang MP Tan Sri (then Datuk) Bernard Dompok. He was in KL to attend Parliament and I was there to accompany him.

The very next morning after Max’s arrest, Dompok asked me to deliver a notice to the Parliament Speaker that he wanted to move an emergency motion in the afternoon regarding the ISA arrests, Max’s in particular. 

Those days, Parliament only sat in the afternoon. The Speaker accepted Dompok’s motion but when the House actually met in the afternoon he rejected it. For a Speaker to allow an Emergency Motion, it must fulfill three conditions. I forgot which condition Dompok did not fulfill.

However, the ‘Never Say Die’ Dompok found a way to deliver his speech later the same day when he participated in the Debate on the King’s Policy Speech while declaring the Parliament Session open.

Dompok hand-wrote the speech himself in English in the hotel room in KL the night before, using hotel stationary. I translated it into Bahasa till well past midnight.

When we were entering Parliament grounds the next afternoon, we noticed that there was a police Black Maria parked at the gate.

The Black Maris is so-called because it is a black police van with no window at the back so those brought inside it could not see where they are being taken to. Normally potential ISA detainees would be taken into the Black Maria.

Remember, this was the season of ISA arrests and every PBS leader would be wondering who would be next. They believed that the authorities had a shopping list. I became frightened and hoped that Dompok would not read the speech. 

But the fearless Dompok went ahead to read the speech that afternoon, in the presence of then PM/Home Minister Dr M who was staring at him from across the floor as he read his speech.

I told myself ‘Finish’ and as soon as Dompok finished his speech, I silently recited the Rosary, asking for Divine Intervention. It must have worked because Dompok later gestured me to follow him to the canteen and we had a drink before leaving Parliament House. 

Later as we passed the gate the Black Maria was still there but we were not stopped. Praise the Lord! But why was I so frightened and what was in the speech? Just an excerpt so you know what I mean.

“Tuan Speaker, sebenarnya rakyat Sabah tidak benci kepada Kuala Lumpur. Hanya Perdana Menteri yang benci kepada rakyat Sabah kerana menolak ‘Anak Mas’ nya iaitu Berjaya dalam 1985. “Tuan Speaker, apa sudah jadi dengan ikrar Perdana Menteri bahawa BN akan “Swim or Sink with Berjaya?”. Tetapi lepas pilihanraya hanya BN yang Swim sedangkan Berjaya Sink.”

Mind you, as Dompok was speaking Mahathir was staring at him angrily from across the floor. Dompok was then seated among Opposition MPs who included DAP and PAS. All sorts of thoughts came across my mind. Those days there was no hand phone yet. 

How am I going to tell my wife if I am arrested alongside Dompok? If even I had a hand phone, they can always confiscate it. Normally they will notify your family themselves later. Imention all this because I thought Sabahans need to know the real Dompok. He is an often misunderstood man.

But he is definitely not the ‘Pengecut’ type. 

For his outspokenness, he was almost arrested under under ISA not once but twice. Yes, he left PBS and formed PDS (which later became Upko) and became CM but different people have different ways of doing things. The late Datuk Clarence Mansul used to say: “Lain Manusia Lain Ragamnya”.

For argument sake, didn’t PBS eventually returned to BN after more than 10 years? Only to dump it again after the 2018 election? So what is the difference? After his release from ISA, Jeffrey also joined BN once through PBRS and later Akar.

He even became a Senator and Deputy Minister. Remember, he won an Assembly seat on a PBS ticket in 1994.

Jeffrey finally settled down in his own party, STAR which initially was part of the Sarawak Star. It is now on its own. In fact, Jeffrey has joined so many parties that he was branded “King of Sabah Frogs”.

To this, Jeffrey replied that he didn’t mind to be called as such as long as he achieved what he set out to do 2-3 decades ago, that is for the sake of Sabah.

It was hard for Jeffery at first, he was the lone Star Assemblyman after the 2013 election. Then the number increased to 2 after 2018 and eventually 6 after 2020. He must be doing something right. You have my respect. 

Carry on brother. The recent Tambunan event is perhaps the culmination of Jeffrey’s struggle all this while. He finally achieved what he set out to do 20-30 years ago –recognition of Sabah Day and fighting for Sabah’s rights through MA63 including the 40%.

Among the few thousand people present that day, Jeffrey must have been the most satisfied or proudest.

In conclusion, ever since 1967 which witnessed Sabah’s first political ‘Frog”, all those who jumped or switched parties have been called ‘Frogs’. Upko Assemblymen jumped to Usno. Then Usno Assemblyman jumped to Berjaya. 

Then Berjaya Assemblymen jumped to PBS. Then PBS Assemblymen jumped to BN/Umno. Then BN Assemblymen jumped to Warisan. Then Warisan Assemblymen jumped to Bersatu (later GRS). No end. Is it fair to call them frogs, bearing in mind this is democracy and there is such a thing called Freedom of Association?

For half-a-century, these people have been called frogs. Recently, Nominated Assembywoman Datuk Amisah Yassin said these people shouldn’t be called frogs. She argued that these people were merely pratising ‘Hijrah’, a move for the better which they are entitled to.

I agree with her. ‘Hijrah’ is an Islamic term and ‘Maal Hijrah’ is the Muslims’ New Year, meaning looking forward to something better.

Prophet Mohammad led his followers to move to another city for the better and that’s why you have the term ‘Maal Hijrah’.

I am not a Muslim and I may be wrong here. But I fully agree with Amisah who is well-educated. People who jumped also have their basic rights, especially if it’s for the better as in ‘Hijrah’. Happy Sabah Day. Looking forward to the next one in 2024 and hopefully it’s a holiday by then.

Salam Sabah Maju Jaya.

- The views expressed here are the views of the writer Teddy Chin and do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Express.

- If you have something to share, write to us at: [email protected]


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