Call for an overall review of Federal-State relations in Malaysia to effect greater decentralisation and confer greater autonomy from Putrajaya to all state governments, not just Sarawak and Sabah

September 16, Malaysia Day, was marred by the Red Shirts Malay rally organised by UMNO, although it did not officially showed its hand at the time and which, among other things, desecrated the meaing and importance of Malaysia Day as the foremost national public holiday in the country.

Sarawak and Sabah cannot but feel slighted that on Malaysia Day, UMNO had chosen to devalue Malaysia Day by sponsoring a Red Shirts Malay rally in Kuala Lumpur which not only stole the national and international spotlight from the 52nd anniversary of Malaysia’s formation, the federation of Malaysia was at best a second-thought after the primacy of Ketuanan Melayu of UMNO leaders.

However, Malaysia Day this year was a bit different from Malaysia Day of the past five decades, primarily because it is beginning to sink in among the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak and UMNO leaders and they owe their continued political rule of the country to the support and loyalty of the Members of Parliament in Sarawak and Sabah, as without the support of the 48 Barisan Nasional MPs in Sabah and Sarawak, Najib will not be Prime Minister of Malaysia today nor could UNMO continue as “Big Brother” in the Federal Government in Putrajaya.

With the approaching Sarawak State Government Elections in a matter of months and the 14th General Elections in the next 24 to 32 months, Sarawak and Sabah would expect a New Deal from Putrajaya to continue to be the fixed deposit states of the UMNO/BN coalition government in Putrajaya and this is the reason for all the talk about granting greater autonomy to Sarawak and Sabah in recent days.

However, the issue of decentralisation and devolution of powers and the granting of greater autonomy to the state governments should not be confined to Sarawak and Sabah but should apply to all states in Malaysia.

There is no doubt that in the 58 years after Merdeka and 52 years after Malaysia, there had been too much concentration of power at two levels, firstly, in the hands of the Executive and ultimately the Prime Minister at the expense of the other two branches of government, the Legislature and the Judiciary; and secondly, in the hands of the Federal Government at the expense of the state governments.

At present, the Prime Minister’s Office has 10 Ministers with a budget of some RM19 billion – when during Merdeka in 1957, the Tunku Abdul Rahman’s Cabinet had only 10 Ministers (as compared to 36 Ministers in the current Najib Cabinet), and the budget of the Prime Minister’s office is more than 20 times that of the Federal Budget in 1957 which did not even reach RM1 billion. The total Federal budget every year is in the region of RM270 billion.

Malaysia needs a leaner and more efficient Cabinet, and efficiency and competence will not suffer if the number of 10 Ministers in the Prime Minister’s and the budget of the Prime Minister’s Office of some RM19 billion are both halved to five Ministers and not more than RM10 billion. Furthermore, the 36-strong Najib Cabinet can be productively pruned to half, i.e. five Ministes while the 36-Minister Cabinet can be productively slashed by half or having not more 20 Ministers!

Overall, the time has come for a comprehensived review of Federal-State relations in Malaysia to effect greater decentralisation and confer greater autonomy from Putrajaya to all state governments, not just Sarawak and Sabah.

This should be a major issue for Malaysians in the 14th General Elections.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah