CONTEMPORARY MALAYSIA

con·tem·po·rar·y - Modern times in its generic sense, living, occurring, or existing, at the same time; often also used as a synonym for "modern" Ma·lay·sia - A country of southeast Asia consisting of the southern Malay Peninsula and the northern part of the island of Borneo.

Taken from The Star

A shift in position by Sabah Barisan Nasional leaders is causing ripples in the country’s political arena. Among the more vocal of the leaders is former Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Yong Teck Lee. The 50-year-old Sabah Progressive Party president speaks to Sunday Staron why they are making their stand clear.

Your meeting earlier this week (May 13) with Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is seen as a move by the Prime Minister to head off any possible crossovers by restless Sabah MPs. What did the Prime Minister tell you?

A: My discussion with the PM was cordial and friendly. The PM reaffirmed his commitment to the matters that have been brought to his attention before. I mentioned that the answers given by his Cabinet Ministers in Parliament (in the current session) are not satisfactory because they are noncommittal.

On my part, I made it clear that the Barisan leadership should not rule out the possibility of a crossover of MPs in the future because the issues raised by the MPs are real and affect the daily lives of the people. The window of opportunity is limited.

Q: Do you expect something substantial to come out of it?

A: No, I do not expect anything substantial. But I still hope to see some progress or express commitment to address the many issues.

We keenly await the answers to be given by the ministers in Parliament in the coming week to see if there is positive response from the Government.

Q: What are the key issues that SAPP is

raising for the Federal Government to resolve?

A: The key issues are illegal immigrants, unfair taxes such as the Cooking Oil Subsidy Scheme, imprudent extension of federal laws to Sabah that are costly to the state, political autonomy, closure of JPPS, recognition of the special status of the High Court in Sabah and Sarawak, development and so on. Details are found in the SAPP website www.sapp.org.my.

Q: You spoke about Petronas oil royalty where you have supported the building of the Sabah-Labuan bridge instead of Penang’s second bridge. You have also highlighted issues of double taxation of oil palm. Can you elaborate?

A: We see that the Labuan bridge is a necessary infrastructure project that will benefit Labuan and southern Sabah such as Beaufort, Sipitang and nearby Sarawak districts. Labuan’s international airport can serve this region.

The physical integration of the Labuan economy to the mainland would bring much growth and opportunities to the whole region.

As for the Cooking Oil Subsidy Scheme, it was implemented on Jan 1, 2007 as a response to the shortage of cooking oil last year.

Millers were unwilling to produce more cooking oil because of price control on the item.

Millers prefer to produce CPO and other products because of higher profitability.

Profiteers, hoarders and smugglers took advantage of the shortage and low prices. The Government should have penalised these culprits instead of the planters.

The term “double taxation” came about because of the Sabah state sales tax that oil palm people also pay to the state.

Since the Federal Government pays for the fuel subsidy and padi subsidy, it is only right that the Federal Government also pay for the cooking oil subsidy.

Why penalise the oil palm planters? Since Sabah pays for almost 70% of this subsidy, it means 10% of the population (Malaysians in Sabah) subsidises 70% of the cooking oil in the country.

This is an unfair tax.

Q: Your demands for political autonomy from the Federal Government has raised eyebrows as some even associate it to Sabah’s status in the federation. Tell us what you mean by political autonomy?

A: Political autonomy is not sovereignty. Political autonomy means that the people in Sabah should be able to determine their own political status, participation and elect their own state government.

The Chief Minister should be based on the state elections instead of the current practice of appointment by the federal leadership, that is, the PM.

We can learn from Perlis and Terengganu.

To us, political autonomy also means not having Sabah MPs and potential candidates losing their dignity to kowtow to machais (henchmen) of central leaders in lobbying to be election candidates.

An example is when Sabah Umno leaders had to camp in KL to lobby for candidacy or to oust an incumbent chief minister, because they are all appointed by KL, not selected by the people.

Q: What sort of political scenario is SAPP looking at for Sabah?

A: We want to see the political scenario for Sabah as one that will be determined by state-based parties. National parties may exercise their right to participate in state and parliamentary elections in the state but should not force the state-based parties to share seats with them or the national coalition such as Barisan.

Q: You gave an August deadline for Kuala Lumpur to meet Sabah demands. Is such a stand realistic? Some see it as a political psy-war being played out by Sabah MPs and parties. Do you see it that way?

A: The August deadline is practical and realistic because some of the issues are easily within the capability of the Government to solve.

As for longer term matters like security, the Government must show political will and determination to act. Matters like illegal immigration are the basic duty of the Government. There should be no need for political pressure to get the Government to act.

The Government has failed miserably on this score. People are getting fed up. After August, the nation will be busy with other things such as the fasting month, Hari Raya and Umno elections. By September, the national media and the country as a whole would have gotten tired of the Sabah issues. We (Sabah) will be forgotten again.

For instance, the national media were rarely keen on the issues affecting the people in Sabah. Only when the speculation of “crossovers” surfaced did the national media become interested in Sabah – because the “crossovers” would affect the national government.

If not, the national media is not interested about Sabah issues.

Some may see this as a political psy-war. I don’t know. But the issues are real. People are serious.

Q: If a situation arises where you are unable to obtain the concessions for the state, what will your next move be? Does pulling out of Barisan constitute one of your options?

A: If we are unable to achieve results after this window of opportunity has closed, then either we become subservient to the federal establishment again like in the last few decades or else the situation will explode. Explosion means that the mainstream Barisan people will have no control over the political process. Opposition parties, NGOs and people power of some sort might emerge. This is because people might lose hope in the Barisan political process. By then, whatever SAPP does is not relevant to the political process. Whether SAPP or some other component party pulls out or not is no longer important.

Q: Your party has only two MPs and four assemblymen. Do you think you make a difference? What can be achieved?

A: In terms of numbers, SAPP with two MPs and four assemblymen makes no difference. This two by four box is too small to rock the boat.

Q: Why is Sabah the only state making its voice heard louder than, say Sarawak, which has similar issues and concerns? Are Sarawak MPs doing it more subtly?

A: Sarawak has a closely-knit leadership. The CM there is all-powerful. But their feelings and aspirations are similar to Sabah. They will wait for the easterly wind to blow before they make known their feelings.

Q: Have you met Parti Keadilan Rakyat adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim or his intermediaries? If no, why is this talk of crossover so hot?

A: You do not need a meeting with Opposition leaders for talk of “crossover” to become hot because the underlying causes are the real issues facing Sabah and the people.