What does Sarawak autonomy do for you?

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By T.K. Chua

Many issues are being tossed around for the impending Sarawak state election. Are these issues real or just gimmicks? Are these public interest issues or are these parochial or vested interest issues?

State autonomy is one of the major issues. But what exactly will state autonomy accomplish?

Take the state’s autonomy over immigration as an example. What is the overarching principle: to protect ordinary citizens from undesired influence or unfair competition, or to shield vested and political interests from being challenged?

If the European Union has allowed movement of citizens across borders within the community, why do we still restrict the free movement of Malaysians within the country, almost arbitrarily and without checks and balances?

When we talk of autonomy in administration, does the state really want its own people to fill up the rank and file of the state administration? Can the state trust its own people? Are the state policies in sync with the aspiration of its own people? I am not very sure, are you?

How does state autonomy affect development issues? Has the state used its autonomy to alleviate poverty, enhance rural development, build more infrastructure and bring about better education and health care for the people? Has the state used autonomy to preoccupy itself with timber concessions, large scale land alienation and build more white elephants?

Whatever way we may choose to argue about, Sarawak is an integral part of Malaysia today.

The wellbeing of Sarawak is ultimately dependent on Malaysia as a whole. If Sarawak is poorly managed, it will affect the people of Sarawak. If Malaysia is poorly managed, it will also affect the people of Sarawak. Autonomy or not, it can’t save Sarawak from the fallout of GST, frail ringgit, 1MDB, poor resource allocation and weak budgeting.

Be that as it may, I believe state autonomy is an appealing concept that the ruling government and the opposition parties are willing to hawk. It is a good sell because it gives Sarawakians a sense of entity, privilege and entitlement.

But as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Autonomy is not a panacea that will lead Sarawakians to a bed of roses. It is not a replacement for genuine democracy and good governance. I think the earlier Sarawakians realise this, the better.

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T.K. Chua is an FMT reader

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