‘Premier’ just cosmetic without FC amendment

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Press Statement By Kelvin Yii:

There has been an over-focus on “form rather than substance” in the recent State Constitution amendments by adopting the word “premier” to substitute “chief minister” under Article 6(3) of the Sarawak Constitution as such change of term without amendments made to the Federal Constitution and no tangible devolution of powers to Sarawak under Schedule 9, is merely cosmetic in nature.

While I am fully supportive to giving due recognition to the special position that Sabah & Sarawak has under the Federation of Malaysia, but such amendments must first and foremost show tangible contrast in terms of powers and authority in comparison to other States and constitutionally recognised under the Federal Constitution.

That is why while the Minister Datuk Seri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah argued that the amendment is in accordance with the amendment to the Federal Constitution enforced last week, I think this “title” change was an after-thought or even over-sight by the Federal Law Minister.

If not amendments to Article 160 of Federal Constitution that refers to “chief Minister” or head of the executive in a state would also have been tabled in Parliament during the constitutional amendments of Article 1(2) and Article 160 back in November 2021.

For the title “premier’ be effectively more powerful vis-a-vis other states in Malaya, a Federal Constitution amendment must follow suit. He cannot just be known as a “premier” in Sarawak but constitutionally outside Sarawak he is still of the same status protocol ranking as all other Chief Ministers or Menteri Besar.

That is why I urge the Federal Law Minister who is also a member of Parliament of the GPS Government to correct this and give more substantive force to this amendments by tabling another Constitutional Amendment Bill in Parliament to give recognition to this title under Article 160 of Federal Constitution, and more importantly, table a amendment to Schedule 9 to devolve or decentralise powers concentrated at the federal government first, including certain policy-making powers and fiscal powers, in order for Sabah & Sarawak to achieve more tangible autonomy.

On top of that, I reiterate my call for the GPS Federal Ministers and state leaders to commit to and formulate a Power Devolution Blueprint for Sarawak to set a pathway for us to achieve greater decentralisation of powers and autonomy.

This plan should outline key milestones within the next 5 to 10 years along with a periodic review of the progress made to prepare us to take on the responsibility.

It should also outline the strategies that Sarawak will employ to develop human capital within the state to meet the unique challenges of today and tomorrow. Plans on how we build the capacity of Sarawakians and retain talent in the state so that we can develop it together should be covered thoroughly.

Towards that end, we can start with devolving the powers for 2 important sectors which is health and education to Sarawak. Necessary steps should be taken to insert education and healthcare in the concurrent list under Schedule 9 as a responsibility to be shared among federal and state governments of Sarawak and Sabah.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown the importance of an equal federal-state partnership, especially in health matters, to effectively manage outbreaks and protect the lives of Sarawakians. On top of that, it is important to address the years of neglect of our healthcare system especially in the rural areas.

In terms of education, it is the most potent vehicle for upward social mobility. On top of educational infrastructure, developing sufficient teaching manpower is essential. The syllabus being taught in schools and institutes of higher learning must incorporate inputs from local stakeholders to produce versatile talent geared towards the jobs we want to create. Such dynamic investments will bring a positive impact to the employability of youths as well as individuals, especially women, who aim to re-enter the workforce.

That is why the Power Devolution Blueprint for Sarawak is so important as it will lay out the steps that are necessary building blocks to guarantee the Federal & Sarawak government would commit to a proper implementation of power devolution. Only with these tangible steps, then only change of title will not merely be cosmetic but be constitutional and more importantly have tangible benefits for all Sarawakians on the ground.

Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen
MP Bandar Kuching