With its two historic decisions last Tuesday, the Special Council on the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) has set the ball rolling towards a reset of Sabah and Sarawak’s relationship as equal partners with Peninsular Malaysia in the federation.
The decisions are the return of the Sipadan and Ligatan islands’ administration to Sabah, and for Sarawak to regain full control and management of its gas distribution.
It is just as well that the federal government, Sabah and Sarawak settle the outstanding issues concerning MA63, as they have been burning questions for the Borneo states over several decades.
Unless handled with sensitivity, continued aggrievement over the erosion of their autonomy can fuel resentment in the two states towards the federation, with dire consequences for political stability.
Of the 21 matters on the table, the quest for a constitutional amendment to restore the two states to their status as equal partners with Peninsular Malaysia under MA63 holds the key to defusing the discontent of Sabah and Sarawak over the constitutional change of 1976, which is seen as a breach of the MA63.
Following that, questions over revenue sharing, territorial control, development funding, religious freedom and demographic changes —with the last referring to Sabah, in particular — need to be addressed as well.
With their vast natural resources, it is inexcusable that Sabah and Sarawak have not enjoyed the level of development that Peninsular Malaysia has seen. Efforts to bridge this disparity between the two regions should be a national priority.
While greater autonomy and restoration of their rights under MA63 is key, it is worth noting that Sabah and Sarawak can still chart their own economic destiny and well-being by eradicating rent-seeking activities, crony capitalism and corruption.