Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Malaysia Day: James Wong Speaks His Mind

Malaysia Day: James Wong Speaks His Mind

"People don't seem to understand or seem not to pay enough attention. Malaysia came into existence on Sept 16. Not Aug 31 which has no meaning to us Sarawakians,"says James Wong, 84, one of the founding fathers of Malaysia.

In an interview published by Puvaneswary Devindran in the Borneo Post Sunday (14 Sept).

"It is the day Malaysia was formed. If they want to celebrate on Aug 31, that's up to them. In my heart, I know it's Sept 16," he said.

Wong recalled that he received a telegram during a timber cruise in Baram in 1961. The telegram carried an invitation from the late Donald Stephens (later Tun Fuad Stephens) to come to Jesselton — now Kota Kinabalu — to meet and discuss Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj's offer to form a federation.

Accepting the invitation from Donald Stephens led to his appoinment as a delegate to the 'Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee' (MSCC), which frequently met to explore ideas of forming the Federation of Malaysia. At that point, Wong was only a Council Negeri member from Limbang.

"It was impossible to even think Sarawak could make it on its own at that time," he said.

As he put it, it was really a Hobson's choice. For one thing, Sarawakians did not have the expertise, experience and maturity to run their country if it were to become independent. Sarawak was also short of financial resources, raking in RM75 million a year at that time.

"We had only little oil in Miri and we had not gone into gas discovery. Not to mention timber was not on yet. In fact, I arranged the first shipment of timber in the 1960s. We were still a broke country then," he said matter-of-factly.

Moreover, Sarawak was facing threats from the Clandestine Communist Organisation (CCO) and its next door neighbour, Kalimantan.

The concept of Malaysia was even more encouraging as the state had confidence in Singapore, Malaya and Sabah since they all had the same legislative system and government and were English-speaking, Wong said.

He shuddered at the thought of the threat posed by the CCO in the mid-50's, especially one incident when a policeman was killed in Serian.

He too was not spared the terror when the CCO delivered two live bullets to his home as a 'writing on the wall' for being supportive of Malaysia's formation.

However, his greatest fear was the possibility of a racial war breaking out among the 24 different ethnic races in Sarawak. With the people being very 'clannish' at that time, he feared the CCO would resort to instigating such a war and cause a bloodbath.

"What worried me then was if one of the CCO cadres were to dress like an Iban and go and kill a Malay for instance, then Sarawak could end up like the Congo," the report quoted him.

"We could not have defended ourselves. We did not have an army, our police force was very small. We could not have survived," he said.

Wong pointed out that in the case of Sarawak, special clauses were put in to guarantee that among others, land, civil service, local government and immigration would come under the state autonomy of Sarawak.

On the oil royalty for Sarawak, Wong said: "It was discussed before (in the 1970s) that we wanted 15 per cent royalty but only got five per cent."

He said Sabah also had five per cent oil royalty although according to recent newspapers reports, its former Chief Minister Datuk Harris Mohd Salleh had demanded more — 25 per cent to be exact.

Wong pointed out that Sarawak too should be getting up to 15 to 25 per cent in royalties.

The state government, he said, should stick to the London Agreement (Malaysian Agreement) signed in London.

Wong believed it was important for all Sarawakians to know their place in Malaysia, particularly their rights.

"Sabah gave away their rights on immigration when they gave away Labuan. When you go to Labuan, you can get into Sabah easily."

He said it was unfortunate Malaysians in Sarawak in their 40s and even 50s, seemed ignorant or did not have the opportunity to know how Malaysia came about because at the time of the formation of Malaysia, those within this age group were still too young to understand the change that had taken place.

"Make no mistake about it. But for the grace of God and Malaysia, the fate of these Malaysians who I refer to would have been very different today. That's why it's so important for them to know the historical origin of Malaysia," he said, reading from an excerpt of his book.

"But I have no regrets — because if we do not have Malaysia, God help us.

"So there are advantages and disadvantages in being part of the federation," he said.

Still, Wong feels disappointed and sad that the federal government has failed to recognise Sept 16.

To him, one of the biggest misconceptions some Malaysians might have is Sarawak joined Malaysia when truth be told, it helped form Malaysia.

Asked if Sarawak had ever requested for Sept 16 to be recognised, he said: "Look, you will always have as much right as you are prepared to fight for. On Aug 31, see how we celebrated it? But officially, it should be on Sept 16. You can't get away from this. It's not (from) me — it's in our proclamation of Malaysia."

Wong then referred to the state's proclamation read by Sarawak's first Chief Minister Dato Stephen Kalong Ningkan on Sept 16: "Now, therefore I, Stephen Kalong Ningkan, the Chief Minister of Sarawak, do hereby proclaim that Sarawak has this day attained independence as a state of Malaysia."

He also said the Tunku, in announcing the proclamation of Malaysia, declared: "Now, in the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful, I, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj Ibni Almarhum Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah, Prime Minister of Malaysia, with the concurrence and approval of His Majesty, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of the Federation of Malaya, His Excellency the Yang di-Pertuan Negara of Singapore, His Excellency the Yang di-Pertuan Negara of Sabah and His Excellency the Governor of Sarawak, do hereby declare and proclaim on behalf of the peoples of Malaysia that as from Sixteenth Day of September in the year one thousand nine hundred and sixty-three, corresponding to the twenty-eight day of Rabi'ul Akhir in the year of the Hijrah one thousand three hundred and eighty-three, that Malaysia comprising the states of Pahang, Terengganu, Kedah, Johore, Negri Sembilan, Kelantan, Selangor, Perak, Perlis, Penang, Malacca, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak shall by the Grace of God, the Lord of the Universe, forever be an independent and sovereign democratic State founded upon liberty and justice ever seeking to defend and uphold peace and harmony among its peoples and to perpetuate peace among nations."

Wong said after all that had been said and done, without Malaysia today, Sarawak would have been in one 'hell of a mess — our lives would have been very different'.

But being in a big family, he stressed, required Sarawakians to be prepared to stand for their rights for they have as much rights as the others 'lest we forget Malaysia is a federation of equal partners'.

Looking back, Wong said as a Sarawakian, he had made his contributions in making Sarawak a happy place to live in through what happened 45 years ago on Sept 16.

So come Tuesday, the Malaysian Flag will fly outside his office.

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