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Opposers either left or remained – but sceptical
Published on: Saturday, September 16, 2023
By: Datuk Mohd Fauzi Patel
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This recollection of events of Sept 16, 1963 was penned by late Datuk Mohd Fauzi Patel who also reported the historic occasion for his then paper, North Borneo News & Sabah Times in 1963 of which he was Chief Editor after taking over from Donald (later Fuad) Stephens. It was published on 16.9.2010 in the Daily Express. Pic: Late Datuk Patel.
THE people from the State capital and neighbouring towns and villages before the sunrise on 16 Sept. 1963. 

They had gathered to witness the ceremony that would herald a new era for Sabah - an independent State within the new Federation of Malaysia.

As I stood under the shade of a huge rain tree on the west-side of the padang, I was overawed by their great excitement. They eagerly awaited the arrival of their leaders.

The ceremony also signified the end of the hard struggle they had endured between the pro and anti-Malaysia forces during the previous two years. They had assembled to welcome the creation of their new nation, Malaysia. 

I, too, had risen early that day despite going to bed almost at 3am that morning due to the heavy workload demanded of a working journalist by the historical occasion. 

Important guests filled the specially erected tent. Among them were former British officers who had served in Sabah headed by former Governor Lord Twining and a group of serving Labour and Conservative MPs. 

Tunku (left), Mustapha (right) at a gathering with colonial officials soon after the formation of Malaysia.

On the main dais were the newly appointed Yang di-Pertua Negara (originally the Head of State) was known thus Datu Mustapha bin Datu Harun, Chief Minister Mr Donald Stephens and Malayan Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak. 

Mustapha looked princely as he had donned a Sulu prince’s uniform (It is on display at the Tun Mustapha gallery at Menara Tun Mustapha at the Sabah Foundation Complex in Likas).

Stephens was in his traditional black and gold Kadazan dress and looked as regal as his blood brother, Mustapha. 

Tun Razak was in his Malayan Ministerial uniform and as usual he looked serious and in deep thought. 

Members of the Sabah police had mounted the Guard of Honour while schoolchildren in their uniform, representatives of government departments and members of voluntary community and service organisations made up the bulk of the parade. 

The ceremony began with the swearing-in of Mustapha as new Head of State and Stephens as Chief Minister of Sabah by Mr Justice Smith, a senior Puisne Judge. 

This was followed by reading of the Proclamation in English by Stephens, by Harris Mohd Saleh in Malay and Richard Yap in Kadazan declaring the creation of the new nation.

In his speech, Stephens said Sabah had made the right choice to be part of Malaysia as it assured great future for the State. 

Welcoming Sabah, into the new Federation, Tun Razak assured the people they would not regret their decision. 

In a moving ceremony at the Jesselton Wharf, the British flag was lowered and the last Governor Sir William Goode boarded the HMS Lion. Among those who were present to bid farewell to Goode were wet-eyed Stephens and Mustapha. 

In the evening, a glittering Reception was held by the Government for dignitaries. Cultural dances were also held to mark the occasion and entertain the people. To express happiness, some patriots celebrated Sabah’s independence by having open houses. 

The festivities continued for two weeks. 

Not everyone was joyous though. Some of those who had vigorously opposed the proposed new federation had left the country.

Others gave up their struggle but remained unconvinced for they believed promises were made to be broken. 

Moreover, many were sceptical as to the wholesale acceptance by the main political parties in Sabah of race-based Malayan political party structure. 

The Cobbold Commission in Jesselton, 1962. Seated from left, Sir David Watherston, Sir Anthony Abell, Lord Cobbold, Tan Sri Mohammed Ghazali Shafie, Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee. 

One leader who never accepted Sabah’s entry into Malaysia was G. S. Sundang, a Murut leader from Keningau who headed the National Pasok Momongun Organisation, a multiracial political party. 

True enough, from Day One, Kuala Lumpur set out to stamp its authority on Sabah. The local leaders were no match to more experienced and sophisticated Malayans who manoeuvred them to remove some of the important constitutional safeguards. 

The British officers, including Governor Goode, were doubtful whether it was in the interest of Sabah to join the new federation. 

Goode and Officer Administering the Government of Sarawak F. Jackway even made a hurried trip to London to convince White Hall that Malaysia was unacceptable to the majority of people of the two colonies and therefore the plan to formulate the new nation should be abandoned.

Both were bluntly told to the effect that they should return to their posts and ensure that the Malaysia plan was implemented without a hitch. 

I was the only reporter at the airport when Goode returned from London. He asked me to wait as he wanted to speak to Chief Secretary to the Government. R.N. Turner, who was at the airport to welcome the Governor. After his chat, he forgot that I was still waiting for him and left. 

Later on, I got a call from Lady Goode that the Governor would like me to come to the Government House, be there at 4pm the next day, and have a chat with him about his London trip over the tea. 

From the conversation I had with the Governor, I was surprised by his frankness. Some of what he said was on-the-record. 

However, most of the revelations he made were off-the-record. 

It was clear from the interview that come what may Malaysia would be a reality by August 31, 1963. 

That intimate, open and frank conversation with him made me aware that the dreams of the people may merely remain dreams following the formation of the new federation. 

Yes, I was fully aware of what was happening behind the scene. 

Basically, I am an optimist. I always hope for the best when it concerns my country and the well-being of people. Being a journalist, I am also a realist who does not live in a dream world.

I, therefore, would like to think that Sabah and Malaysia have a great, bright future despite all the problems that Sabah and Malaysia face currently. 

I see no reason not to be optimistic about the future because we have abundant natural resources to sustain the healthy economic growth.

The reforms announced by the Najib administration, if implemented without unduly watering them down for political expediency, should be able to regain most of what has been lost. 

I have high hopes for both Malaysia and Sabah provided those who lead the nation and State are men and women of high integrity, dedicated, service-minded and possess strong political will to meet the challenges the nation may face. 

Unfortunately, some vested interests have been pressurising the Government with the hope that it will abandon most of its political, social and economic reforms claiming that they infringe on the constitutional safeguards accorded to the definitive race. 

The unwillingness of the Government to get the bull by the horns has also created doubts among the people as to whether the Government has the necessary political will needed to pursue its own agenda. 

I am confident that the Government can and will overcome all the obstacles in its path because it is the right thing to do. If the current leadership cannot surmount the impediments, a new and stronger leadership will emerge who can. 

And, the Prime Minister is aware of this. He is also aware of the problems facing the nation for he has worked out programmes and strategies to solve them. 

There are signs that some extremist elements within our society have caused unwarranted tensions in order to achieve their political goals. 

Instead of dealing with these elements fairly - without fear or favour - the Government seems to be partial towards some groups causing loss of faith in these programmes. 

The Government urgently needs to ‘move beyond the rhetorical stage of its reform agenda and begin implementation which the people have been patiently awaiting for some time. 

The programmes, especially Malaysia and those related to performance and delivery system of the Government need not be delayed any longer. 

Some of the economic reforms promised by the Prime Minister also can be carried out without causing undue anxiety among the people. 

As for Sabah, it is one of the best places in the region to stay, work and do business. However, it is spoilt by rouge politicians who not only have failed to protect the State’s assets but also have masterminded the plunder. 

Sabah once amazed visiting foreigners by its unique racial harmony and religious understanding and tolerance. It was not unusual to find friends belonging to different religious denominations having coffee at the same coffeeshop table. 

It is no longer the case. Racial harmony and religious tolerance still exist but sign of friction among the people have appeared causing valid concerns. 

Since Independence, Sabah has gone through tremendous amount of social, political, economic and demographic changes. Not all that has changed, however, is beneficial to the State. 

The rapid economic development has brought unprecedented prosperity. But, the development is not well-balanced and the gap between the haves and have-nots has widened. 

Basically, the economy also has remained resource-based despite the well-intended intentions and efforts of the Government to industrialise the State. 

The poor management of resources has resulted in the plunder of the State’s assets by the corrupt politicians and civil servants. 

For example, timber thieves have devastated the forests with impunity and without fear of prosecution with the protection they get from those in power. Efforts by the authorities are afoot to salvage what has been left over. Nevertheless, it would take years to reforest and restore the repeatedly logged over forest areas. 

The land management has also been extremely poor causing serious losses to this valuable State asset. 

Large plantations have gobbled up thousands of hectares of land but the sector has not brought the economic advancement to local people. 

Undoubtedly, it has contributed a great deal to the national economic growth. However, even the jobs created by the plantation sector have been taken up mostly by legal and illegal foreign labour that number more than a million causing serious social and political problems.

In the urban centres, even the open spaces have been alienated to the politically connected for commercial development for profit thus depriving the people, especially the children, of recreational facilities.

Nor are there any public parks in Sabah towns where families could go in the evenings or during the weekends to recharge their family spirit. 

Native peoples, particularly those living in the interior regions, have lost their lands which they held under the customary rights.

The present State Government has begun to issue community land titles for such land as a means to resolve the long standing explosive issue.

Among the chronic social issues that plague the State is the presence of thousands of illegal migrant workers, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia. 

The people would have accepted these workers had they entered legally by the front door. The State needs them to toil in the agriculture and construction sectors. 

However, the people suspect that the ruling party is responsible for issuing some of them with fake citizenship papers to enable them to vote in the general elections.

Therefore, they strongly resist their presence. 

On the political front, Sabah has the unique distinction of having truly a multi-racial political party Berjaya that ruled the State for nine years.

Under the Berjaya State Government, no ethnic group was marginalised because all of them received fair and just treatment.

Its success drew favourable comments from the then Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad who wanted other BN component parties to study the Berjaya administration and adopt what was good for their own success. This was despite him heading a coalition of parties that championed the cause of their own single race. 

I believe that had PBS, also a Sabah based multiracial political party that overthrew Berjaya in 1985, continued with Berjaya’s style of a true multiracial Government by being fair to all ethnic groups, it would not have faced problems with Umno-led Federal Government. 

With Berjaya’s defeat and eventual dissolution, Sabah’s love affair with the multiracial political experiment ended. 

The success of Pakatan Rakyat in the last general elections has shown some signs that people are ready to discard race-based politics. One sincerely hopes that multiracial politics will take root in Malaysia. 

Undoubtedly, the State and the nation have been facing many complex problems, However, since the problems are man-made they could be solved. 



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