Greater autonomy for all states almost impossible, says ex-judge

Retired judge Gopal Sri Ram.

PETALING JAYA: A retired judge says giving more power to the states will be an uphill task given the historical facts of the Malaysian Federation.

Speaking to FMT, Gopal Sri Ram said it was only theoretically possible to decentralise several matters in West Malaysia.

“The reality is that in the states controlled by the opposition, the majority central government will prefer to deal with problems through federal agencies to ensure that the people in those states realise it is Putrajaya that is attending to their needs, not the state government,” he added.

He said this was a populist move to win the hearts and minds of voters in those states.

He added however that Sabah and Sarawak were different as they had joined the federation as equal partners.

“Therefore, they are entitled to a greater degree of autonomy.”

Sri Ram was responding to Yang Di-Pertuan Besar Negeri Sembilan Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawir who had expressed hope that the new Pakatan Harapan government would practise fiscal decentralisation and autonomy of policy in states.

He also encouraged Putrajaya to draw on best practices from other democratic federations around the world.

Last week, Penang assemblyman Gooi Hsiao Leung (PKR-Bukit Tengah) also called for less control by the federal government to allow more flexibility for individual states to run their own affairs, including in matters such as education and policing.

Gooi said the current “federalist” nature of Penang, like other states in the country, had stifled its autonomy and the return of taxpayers money to which it was entitled.

Sri Ram said the Malaysian Federation was very different from the US, India, Canada and Australia.

In the US, he said, it was the product of a revolutionary war with Britain, followed by the negotiated entry of the various states.

“So the states have far greater autonomy in the US,” he added.

India, meanwhile, did not accept the constitution given by the British in 1939 and instead drafted its own constitution which accommodated several regions, he said.

“There was British India, the Princely States and Territories. The federation had to cede greater autonomy to the states on several matters.”