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What can Malaysians learn from Sabah and Sarawak?

  • Sarawak is the only nation within the tripartite Malaysian alliance which practices “1Malaysia” on a daily basis.

By Mariam Mokhtar

We celebrated Malaysia Day as a country disunited by many decades of the policies practiced under the maladministration of Umno-Baru/BN.

Both the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak are blessed with natural resources like oil, gas and timber. The people should enjoy good education, healthcare, transport links and a high standard of living, but Sabahans are the poorest people in Malaysia, whilst Sarawakians are the second poorest.

So, where did the money from the hydrocarbon reserves go to?

How was this money spent? Was it mismanaged? Has the black hole of corruption sucked in most of the money meant for the rakyat?

If there were insufficient funds to improve the lives of East Malaysians, why did the leaders of Sabah and Sarawak not ask for an increase in their annual budgets?

Sarawak, Sabah, and Malaya formed Malaysia 56 years ago. Sarawak and Sabah are treated as states, and are not on equal terms with Peninsular Malaysia.

Sabah and Sarawak are being bullied and robbed, through Putrajaya’s abuse of power. Are the people of East Malaysia so disunited and absorbed by internecine wars, that they have little time or energy to bring their leaders to account?

Sarawak exports billions of ringgits of hydrocarbons. Why is only 5% of the oil royalty given back to the state? What has the chief minister of Sarawak done with the money allocated for the rakyat?

The erstwhile chief minister, now the governor of Sarawak, has seen his wealth grow exponentially, but few of the rakyat have seen any changes in their daily lifestyles.

The revenue from timber has benefited a few cronies. The jungles were cleared of mature trees, and the timber barons saw their bank balances grow.

After the timber was exported, the land was cleared to cultivate only one crop, oil palm. This set in motion, the next cycle of money-making. Oil palm plantations.

With no trees or vegetation, the future and lifestyle of the indigenous people will be under real threat. The various tribes survive in the jungle by harvesting the crops and hunting the animals living in them.

Once the rich diversity of plantlife has been destroyed, the animals are forced to migrate deeper into the jungle to seek food and shelter.

Plantations don't just harm the culture and livelihood of the tribesmen, they also harm the future survival of the plantlife and animals which once co-existed in the jungle.

Some people claim that eco-tourism will provide employment to the displaced tribes, but others are furious because hordes of tourists who enter the villages to see how the people live, are turning the villages into human zoos!

A few politicians tell the displaced tribes they should increase their income by making woven mats or selling basketry made from ratan. How do these politicians expect the indigenous people to source the vines because oil palm has replaced the vegetation and the people have to travel several miles inland to find the ratan. The ratan goods are sold, more often than not for a pittance, despite the high transportation costs and painstaking effort to make the baskets?

According to the 2010 national census, the religious composition of Sarawak is: 43% Christians, 32% Muslims and 14% Buddhists. The racial composition is: Ibans 31%, Chinese 28%, Malays 20%, Melanaus 6%, Bidayuhs 8% and Orang Ulu 5%.

Many Malaysians realize that Sarawak is the most racially harmonious place within the nation. The many indigenous populations exist in peaceful co-existence. Families have members of different faiths.

In Sarawak, a stall selling bak kut teh may nestle beside a Malay stall selling halal food without anyone batting an eyelid.

In Sarawak, an open house is a true open house where no special cutlery or crockery has to be bought specially for Muslim guests, and where people have no qualms about visiting a longhouse or a house which celebrates Gawai or Christmas. Peninsular Malaysians have much to learn from their Sarawak cousins about harmony and inclusivity.

Malaysians know only too well that the policies of the previous Umno-Baru/BN government from Peninsular Malaysia have little to offer, except the divisive politics based on race and religion.

Sarawak is the only nation within the tripartite Malaysian alliance which practices “1Malaysia” on a daily basis. Let us learn from Sarawak, the Land of the Hornbills.

(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)

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