YEARS AS A NATION
(Extracted from The Making of a Malaysian (1991), pages 43 - 50)
Datuk Seri Panglima Joseph Pairin Kitingan MP MLA JP
Today is very significant and meaningful to us here in Sabah as it is to the people of Sarawak, and I hope to the people in Semenanjung Malaysia also where, sadly, today is just an ordinary working day.
For Sabah and Sarawak we are celebrating 25 years of Independence through Malaysia. 25 years is not long in the life of a nation, but it is long enough to produce a generation of young people who were born in 1963. They have all reached adulthood and many, I am sure, have joined the workforce in whatever capacities and contribute to the development effort of this country. Some have set up homes and families, and most are able to enjoy the benefits that have come with independence.
Our progress and achievements in the last 25 years are not easily quantified or measured. But on a historic occasion like this it is important that we pause and reflect and take stock of what we have done or have not done so that we can look to the future with perhaps a clearer perspective and move forward with renewed vigor and confidence.
The date 16th September 1963 is a very special date for all Malaysians. It was the day when the Federation of Malaysia was inaugurated. In celebrating the occasion today, we must keep in mind that when the idea of forming a larger federation comprising the then Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak was first proposed by Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1961, it did not materialize overnight. The proposal was discussed and debated at great length by prominent leaders from all communities. The ordinary people of Sabah and Sarawak were also given a chance to freely express their views and to decide whether to be part of the new federation or not.
The public opinion survey carried out by the Cobbold Commission of Inquiry in 1962 indicated that the people of Sabah wanted to be part of the proposed federation. We wanted to call ourselves Malaysians.
And so we were given self-rule from the British on 31st August 1963. On 16th September 1963, we hoisted the Malaysian flag for the first time.
On this very special occasion, we must remind ourselves that when Malaysia was formed our leaders in Sabah and those in Sarawak believed whole-heartedly that Malaysia would offer us the best avenue for political independence and socio-economic development.
The leaders were committed totally to the Malaysian concept and believed fully that Malaysia was the best choice for our people through which we could gain sovereignty.
Twenty-five years have passed since we formed Malaysia. During this period, we have achieved much progress despite numerous obstacles and challenges. Through our efforts under the five Malaysia Plans, we can see with our own eyes that Sabah has come a long way in terms of the State's socioeconomic development. The economy has not only grown in size but has also diversified from one purely subsisting on the extraction of forest products in the 1960s to one that is more resilient and less vulnerable. We now export palm oil, cocoa, rubber, processed timber, and fishery and marine products. Our export items are increasing steadily.
In terms of income levels, GDP per capita has increased from $1,278 in 1971 to $5,884 in 1986. The incidence of poverty has correspondingly decreased from 58.3% in 1976 to 33.1% in 1984. And in terms of infrastructure and modern amenities, a larger section of the population now enjoy a more extensive and better network of roads linking many remote areas to the main urban centres. Electricity and piped water supplies have increasingly become commonplace throughout Sabah.
Of course, this does not mean that we are satisfied with our economic progress. As a state leader, I am well aware that the level of poverty in Sabah is still high relative to most of the states in Semenanjung Malaysia. I also know that basic infrastructure and amenities, the communication system, water and electricity supplies are still underdeveloped. Even education facilities still lag far behind those available in the rest of Malaysia, particularly the Semenanjung states.
We in Sabah look to the Federal Government to take note of our problems and to do everything it can to ensure that Sabah gets adequate help to catch up with the other states. In this we are heartened by the Barisan Nasional philosophy that there should be no disparity between regions or states in terms of socioeconomic development. We are even more heartened to be assured by our national leaders from time to time that the federal government leadership remains committed to this philosophy. We also believe that although development funds should be distributed fairly among the states, due consideration should be accorded those states which contribute enormously to the nation's coffer, especially those which are least developed, like Sabah.
When the Federation of Malaysia was formed, one of the undertakings made by leaders of the then Federation of Malaya was that Sabah would receive help to achieve and enjoy economic development and prosperity to the level enjoyed by the other states. We have ever since looked to the federal government to step up development efforts in Sabah.
As we celebrate this important occasion, we cannot help but observe that Sabah and Sarawak are the only states which celebrate this momentous occasion. The 25th anniversary of Malaysia is meant for all Malaysians, not just Sabahans and Sarawakians. After all, we are celebrating the birthday of Malaysia. It is an event for everyone to honour and celebrate Malaysia is 25 years old today.
Looking back over the years that have come to pass, I thank God that we have stood together in the past 25 years to face all the challenges thrown at us. During times of adversity, particularly earlier in the history of our nation, we stood together, united in our determination to survive and prosper as a nation. And we should remember our friends who helped us all the way.
National unity and integration is undoubtedly our primary, and perhaps, the most urgent national goal. This is because without and national integration there can be no economic prosperity and development. In this year's National Day celebration, we also picked the theme BERSATU because unless we are united, all our efforts in nation building may come to nought.
There is no denying that in the last 25 years we have come a long way towards national unity despite various obstacles, including the problem of geographical separation. Even though Kota Kinabalu is 1,000 miles and more than 2 hours away from Kuala Lumpur this barrier has not impaired our deep sense of belonging to the nation.
We must, of course remember that national integration has many dimensions. It has the political, economic, social, psychological and cultural dimensions. Political integration was easily accomplished. It was achieved by a stroke of the pen, which took place 25 years ago.
Economically, there has been substantial integration between the economies of Sabah and Semenanjung but Sabah's open economy has until today orientated more towards the outside world than towards the rest of Malaysia, thus making the state exceptionally vulnerable to international market forces and price fluctuations. I believe there is plenty of room still for closer economic integration between Sabah and Semenanjung Malaysia. There should be more economic complementarity and market integration. In this way, coordination with respect to production and marketing can be enhanced which in turn should improve efficiency. Planners, both at the State level and in the central government, should study this matter closely so that the objectives of economic integration can be achieved. Sabah should not be regarded solely as a hinterland for goods manufactured in Peninsular Malaysia. There should be a two-way flow of manufactured goods. Sabah too should be allowed to enjoy the advantage of economies of scale which cannot be achieved because of the state's very small population.
In my view, however, of equal importance in the context of integration is the socio-psychological and cultural dimension. While a lot of effort has been made over the years to bridge the social and psychological gap between the two regions, the feeling of oneness and affinity among people from the different parts of Malaysia is still lacking. We must continually remind ourselves that we are Malaysians no matter what our racial, religious and cultural backgrounds may be.
We must resist the tendency to look at our fellow Malaysians in terms of their racial or religious identities. We have to learn to accept them as they are, not as what we would like them to be. National integration does not mean "assimilation" or the surrender of one's culture and beliefs. It simply means the fostering of the spirit of oneness and pride of being Malaysians that transcends the barriers of race, religion and culture. We are a multi-racial society, in which every culture and ethnic group has a place and role in the development of the country.
We need to interact more with one another socially and culturally. In this way, we can learn to appreciate one another's values and understand the different needs and aspirations of others.
It is my personal view that there is a need for our people to interact and get to know one another more closely in order that we can better understand one another and so eliminate any mistrust or suspicion which may still exist. It is in this connection that domestic tourism and the mass media have a critical role to play. We need to provide a greater opportunity for the people in Semenanjung and Sabah and Sarawak to mix and interact with one another. This can be done by encouraging inter-regional travel by our people from the two regions.
In order to encourage a greater flow of travelers from Semenanjung to Sabah and vice-versa, the cost of travel between the two regions should be reduced. There have been suggestions that MAS and Feri Malaysia fares should be reviewed with a view to reducing them to encourage tourist flow between Sabah, Sarawak and Semenanjung. There is merit in this proposal and I hope the Federal Government will study it for the benefit of national integration. If KTM can be subsidised as a social service, the same principle should apply to promote territorial integration.
As a young nation, it is inevitable that we face many hurdles and challenges. This is normal because nation-building is a slow and lengthy process. You cannot build a nation overnight. In Malaysia, the task of nation-building is even more arduous because our population consists of a polyglot of races, languages and cultures. Each community has its own needs and aspirations. But this great diversity should not dim our hope for a Malaysian race to evolve, no matter how long it may take.
In this connection, we should be grateful that our political system provides a framework within which the needs, problems and aspirations of all communities are aired, discussed, accommodated. Our leaders are conscious of the fact that every community or state has specific needs, demands, and grouses. We should discuss and resolve all these as a family.
Our system also provides for us a forum for negotiation and consultation in all matters that affect our people. And as we continue to grow as a nation, I am confident that this spirit of give and take will continue to influence decisions in this country.
As a nation we face many other challenges. We have a fair share of problems at the State level. One that is of major concern to us is the problem posed by illegal immigrants. There is no doubt that this problem is serious. It affects our security, our crime rates are among the highest in Malaysia, if not the highest. These illegal immigrants also put tremendous pressure on our social services. We recognize however that the problem is very complex and one that has arisen largely because of the long coastline of the state which makes it difficult to guard and patrol.
The state has taken a positive step towards solving the problem by carrying out a census-cum-registration exercise on illegal immigrants in Sabah. The study is intended to gather information on the backgrounds and socio-economic characteristics of the illegals in Sabah which we hope will assist in identifying possible solutions to the problem. I have no doubt that after the study is completed, the Federal Government will be ready to discuss the matter and consider proposals submitted by the State as regards solution to the problem.
I am aware that actions are already being taken to strengthen the police force in Sabah. The Immigration Department in Sabah has also been instructed to review and improve its administrative and manpower capability to perform its functions more effectively. We are grateful for these positive steps taken by the federal government to improve the situation.
The theme of the State's Anniversary Celebration - 'SABAH BERSATU BERSAMA MAJU" - is indeed very fitting. It is in line with the theme "BERSATU" adopted for this year's Merdeka celebrations. We can only progress if we are united.
I hope that as we celebrate 25 years of independence in Malaysia, our sense of belonging and love for the country will be renewed and strengthened. The 12-month celebration should result in a greater awareness among our people of our identity as Malaysians and the need to foster greater harmony, unity and loyalty to the country.
Finally, before I conclude, let me again stress the importance of this day - 16th September. Given the importance of this day in our history, I would make a request to the federal government. The request is that starting from next year, 16th September should be declared a national public holiday to mark Malaysia Day.
Our further request is that as from next year, the period from 31st August to 16th September shall be specifically set aside for national unity activities and programmes. National unity celebration should commence on 31st August and close on 16th September.
that these requests are reasonable and acceptable to the federal government.
We believe that Malaysia Day serves as a powerful symbol of togetherness.
It seems such a pity that Malaysia Day comes and goes every year unheralded
and unsung in a nation that marks and commemorates so many other days
which are far less significant than that historic day when Malaysia was
(This paper was part of a speech read at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of Malaysia Day on 16th September 1988)