Emphasis on August 31 unfair to Sabah and Sarawak, say leaders

Enough Sarawakians qualify as teachers, Masing tells minister

With only eight days to go before the 57th Merdeka celebrations, two politicians from Sabah and Sarawak have criticised Putrajaya for putting too much emphasis on August 31.

Sarawak minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing (pic) and the MP for Penampang in Sabah Darell Leiking told a forum today at Sunway University in Petaling Jaya that making August 31 a more important date than September 16 would worsen already strained ties between Sabah and Sarawak, and the peninsula.

They argued that Malaysia only came into being on September 16, 1963, whereas August 31 marked the date when 11 Malay states gained their independence from the British.

Continuing to harp on the importance of August 31 instead of September 16, they said, would only heighten the anger of Sabahans and Sarawakians, who already feel that they are being robbed of development funds by Putrajaya.

Until 2004, September 16 has never been a public holiday, unlike August 31. The latter has traditionally been given greater prominence by the Barisan Nasional federal government.

The bigger significance given to August 31 has always caused ill-feelings among Malaysians from Sabah and Sarawak, who believe it is yet another example of how Putrajaya alienates them.

They have long complained that Sarawak and Sabah do not get enough development funds despite the fact it provides billions to Putrajaya through the sale of its petroleum.

Leaders from Sarawak and Sabah also claimed that successive Prime Ministers from the peninsula-based Umno party have breached the 20 and 18-point agreements signed between Malaya and Sabah and Sarawak in 1963.

The agreements lay out vast powers of autonomy that give Sarawak and Sabah rights to self-manage among others, their civil service, finances and relations between the scores of indigenous tribes.

Masing, the Parti Rakyat Sarawak president, said Sarawakians in their 50s and 60s are still upset that Putrajaya teaches their children that August 31 is Malaysia’s independence day.

“Even my children are given the wrong idea. I tell them Malaysia came into being on September 16. They won’t believe me and say it is August 31,” said Masing, who is Sarawak minister of Land Development.

“Our school textbooks and our songs also do not teach the right facts. There is no Malaysia before 1963.”

Masing was speaking at a forum at the book launch of “50 Years of Malaysia, Federalism Revisited”.

The book is a collection of essays experience of Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak as subjects of the Malaysian federation and the state of relations between them now.

The book launch and forum was organised Sunway University and the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation.

Leiking, who is from Sabah PKR, said that the huge celebrations on August 31 were to benefit a certain a political movement rather than marking an important date in the nation’s history.

“August 31 is a wrong date and many are unhappy with it. It is only to appease a certain political movement.

“I agree that we should only talk about Malaysia from September 16, 1963. The agreements make this clear”. – August 22, 2014.