THE oft-touted devolution of powers to Sarawak has begun, with a first round of talks yielding fairly positive results in the form of administrative empowerment.
Specifically, 13 points were agreed upon during Wednesday’s meeting between Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in Putrajaya.
The list appears to be quite a mixed bag of administrative matters to be handed over to the state. Some of them, in fact, had already been announced earlier, either in the State Legislative Assembly sitting last May or at various functions. These include authorising state legal officers to prosecute offences under state ordinances, delegating traffic warden powers to local authorities, increasing the ratio of Sarawakian teachers to 90% of all teachers in the state by 2018 and creating 100 new enforcement posts for the state Immigration Department.
However, a couple of points stand out which grant a real measure of influence to the state in administrative matters.
The first is the delegation of power to state officers to represent the Public Service Commission and Education Service Commission in appointing federal civil service officers in Sarawak, including the teaching and medical services.
“That means we have the power now to recommend and appoint federal officers, especially Sarawakians,” Adenan told reporters on Thursday.
He said the state wanted more Sarawakians to be involved in the federal civil service in Sarawak, including as heads of departments.
“We have achieved some but not to our satisfaction. We will pursue the matter,” he said, adding that there were enough qualified Sarawakians to take up these appointments.
Related to this is the point that the state government will carry out all functions under the Social Welfare Department. All posts will be transferred to the state civil service and federal staff will have the option of joining the state civil service. The Federal Government will contribute 50% of the costs incurred as decided by the National Finance Council.
Now that we have been empowered to appoint federal officers, we must ensure that we carry out this responsibility well or even better than how it was done before.
Above all, we should ensure that we appoint qualified and eligible Sarawakians to the right posts, who have the expertise for their respective positions and will do their jobs well.
It follows that we should make sure we produce sufficient qualified Sarawakians to take up these appointments. The same goes with ensuring that we are able to run the Welfare Department effectively and efficiently on our own.
The other point worth noting is the agreement that the state government will be consulted in the drafting of federal laws which have a bearing or impact on Sarawak.
For this to be effective, we need to be able to voice our concerns about any proposed legislation which will affect us in a manner which will be heard and taken notice of. Such consultation should result in changes to the draft legislation for the benefit of the state and the nation as a whole.
Having been given these powers, we should make sure that we wield them in a competent, responsible and accountable manner to show that we are indeed capable of being granted further empowerment.
On this note, the list of 13 administrative empowerment provisions seems to fall short of the autonomy that many in the state, including the opposition, are calling for.
To be fair, the Chief Minister took pains to explain that this was only the first phase of negotiations with the Federal Government on the devolution of powers. The second phase would deal on the state’s rights under the Federal Constitution, Malaysia Act, Inter-Governmental Committee Report and Cobbold Commission recommendations while the third phase would touch on the oil royalty and financial management.
In a swipe at DAP, he also pointed out that he was the first to bring up the matter of autonomy in an interview with The Star two weeks after becoming Chief Minister in March 2014. This predates the state DAP’s Bintulu Declaration of October 2014, in which the opposition party claimed to have first raised Sarawak’s autonomy.
Perhaps the state government, rather than getting involved in political one-upmanship, should engage the opposition constructively for their input on defining and seeking the terms of autonomy for Sarawak.
After all, both sides voted unanimously to support a motion on safeguarding the state’s rights and interests in the last state assembly sitting.
This is also an issue close to the hearts of many, if not all, Sarawakians. It would be more effective to work together in bipartisan cooperation to serve the state’s interests.