Was State Legislative Assembly Speaker Salleh Keruak 'directed' by 'party bosses' to comment on the 20-point document 'to gain favour ahead of the election'?
Sabahans usually discover, to their chagrin, that the bounty that rightfully belonged to them and which they should in fact be harvesting now and for future generations has long since disappeared.
What they are seeing are, as one farmer-turned-political worker in Kota Belud said, “paddy fields that have long since been taken over by a plantation company sowing a new crop”. This grim message was drilled home to them by no less a person than the State Legislative Assembly Speaker Salleh Keruak last month.
Salleh said the 20-point agreement was “no longer valid” as many of the guarantees the document contained had already been incorporated into the Malaysian Constitution.
A public outcry followed this provocative statement. A few politicians on both sides of the political divide told him off for not defending Sabah’s rights.
The rest maintained a diplomatic silence, focusing instead on praising each other for the “progress” and “development” the state has seen since the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition came to power in 1994.
But the big surprise was the warning issued by two NGOs headed by Lajim Ukin – the influential Sabah Umno warlord who is rumoured to be having second thoughts about Umno which he joined almost 20 years ago.
The NGOs wanted Salleh to retract his statement and issue an apology to the people of Sabah and Sarawak.
Speaking in his capacity as the president of the Sabah Bumiputera Cultural Heritage Association (Waris) and United Sabah Bisaya Association (PBBS), Lajim said Salleh’s statement had deeply hurt the feelings of the people in both states.
He said that Waris, PBBS and other NGOs like Amanah Sabah headed by Wilfred Bumburing – deputy president of the United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko) which is a BN member – had agreed to give Salleh time to tender an apology.
Why did Salleh say it?
An angry Lajim also demanded that Salleh reveal when did the federal and/or state governments “ever” discuss revoking the 20-point agreement signed by Sabah and Sarawak leaders during the formation of Malaysia as recommended by the Cobbold Commission.
“I don’t know what is his real intention. To me, the people of Sabah and Sarawak are very angry with the statement,” he had reportedly said.
Lajim, who is a deputy federal minister and Beaufort MP, is said to be fighting an internal party battle to be re-nominated for a seat in the coming general election.
The latest furore has given him an opportunity to cement his patriotic credentials by criticising Salleh for ignoring Sabahans’ plea to the federal government to honour the 20-point agreement.
“What is his motive? … maybe he was directed to make the statement by party bosses to gain favour ahead of the election”, said Lajim, who also urged Salleh to relinquish all his posts in Umno as he should be seen to be unbiased as Speaker.
He also took a swipe at other party leaders.
“He should be neutral but at the moment, his views seemed to be similar to the party’s stand he is representing now,” he said.
Lajim also scoffed at Salleh’s claim that the issue was being used by the opposition to influence the youths to go against the government.
“The youths today are not like in the 1970s. Being professionals and educated, I am sure they can make they own decision without having to be told by anybody including the opposition.
“They know what is good with regard to the 20 points, ” he said.
‘Issue never came up’
Lajim also pointed out that up until now the issue had never been raised at the Umno supreme council meetings.
“Umno at its supreme council meetings has never brought up the issue, so why has Salleh suddenly come up with such statement that only hurts the feeling of the people of Sabah?” asked Lajim, who is also a Umno supreme council member.
He said the issue had also never come up at the federal level during his current tenure as Beaufort MP as well as deputy federal minister.
If an apology from Salleh is not forthcoming, the NGOs will hold a signature campaign to “call for a referendum to ask the people if they agree with Salleh’s view”.
“We may also hold a peaceful demonstration when Prime Minister [Najib Tun Razak] visits Sabah,” Lajim said.
Salleh’s statement comes on the heels of a High Court ruling dismissing a government bid to strike out a suit brought by two Sabahans seeking a declaration that the federal and state governments had “failed and/or neglected to expeditiously and fully carry out the Borneonisation of the federal public service in the state”.
Justice David Wong ruled on May 25, a day before Salleh made his remarks, that their suit and claim were not a frivolous one.
His ruling has a clear bearing on the relevance of the 20-point agreement.
The ironical thing about all this is that the very people Sabahans distrust the most – politicians in general whom they blame for greedily signing away Sabah’s rights and immense wealth to stay in power – are suddenly hoisting the state flag high.