Minister: Amending constitution to shed ‘state’ status for Sabah, S’wak first step in equality plan

Liew Vui Keong.

KOTA KINABALU: De facto law minister Liew Vui Keong today underlined the importance of amending Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution to restore Sabah and Sarawak’s status as equal partners before any further amendments are made.

Liew said this was a “major” step in moving forward towards achieving equal footing for the Bornean states with that of the peninsula.

He also said the bill for the amendment was ready and would be tabled as scheduled in the Dewan Rakyat, adding that he expected to do the first reading either this week or next week.

“So it’s putting Sabah back to the pre-1976 position,” he said, referring to the amendment to Article 1(2) which has given Sabah and Sarawak the “state” status in Malaysia.

Following an amendment made in 1976, Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution says that the federal states comprise Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Penang, Perak, Perlis, Sabah, Sarawak, Selangor and Terengganu – effectively reducing the status of Sabah and Sarawak to be on the same level as the states in the peninsula and not as two separate territories or equal partners with Peninsular Malaysia.

“From there we will move forward. The other amendments can come in (later) because there are certain amendments that are consequential in nature, that may not necessarily require any tabling in Parliament,” Liew told reporters after the opening of the Kota Kinabalu court complex here today.

Sabah opposition leader Jeffrey Kitingan had recently urged the government to defer the amendment, saying more consultations with stakeholders were needed.

Jeffrey, who is Keningau MP, said amendments to other articles in the Federal Constitution such as Article 160 were needed in order to restore an equal partnership.

To this, Liew said Article 160 was not “relevant and applicable” in this matter.

“That definition was made in reference to the Federation of Malaya agreement back in 1957 when Sabah and Sarawak had not come into being there (as part of Malaysia),” he said, adding that it was only applicable before Merdeka Day (Aug 31,1957).

On Jeffrey’s claim that the proposed amendment seemed shrouded in secrecy, Liew explained that the Cabinet paper was listed as confidential.

“It is governed by the Official Secrets Act (OSA). It cannot be made known to the public yet, until and unless we have tabled it for the first reading,” said Liew.

Liew also said he had been meeting MPs from both sides of the divide and that they were agreeable that this was good for the country. He said he would continue to meet MPs to gather feedback on this matter.

To criticism that the government had not consulted all interested parties, Liew said everyone, including NGOs and activists, could relay their views to their respective MPs.

Sarawak DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen had previously confirmed that the bill to amend Article 1(2) would be tabled in Parliament on April 8 and 9.