We Are Not A ‘Failed’ State; Our State Just Fails To Function Effectively

Arnold Puyok with some of the young participants at the recent Upko-organised forum.

COMMENT: As we remember Malaysia’s 54th birthday, the subject of the formation of Malaysia has caught the people’s attention again.

I was asked by two young men (at a forum organised by UPKO) whether Sabah made the right decision to be part of the federation, and whether Sabah could become like Singapore, had it decided to remain independent.

My answers were: yes, our forefathers made the right decision: being part of the federation was the best option, given security concerns and developmental needs.

Here, it should be stated that we saved ourselves from eminent geopolitical dangers by agreeing to merge to form a new country.


On the second question, I said, it depends: we could either be like Singapore, if we had the right leaders with the right priorities, or be swallowed by our mighty neighbours.

But it is not too late. Sabah can become like Singapore.

First, Lee Kuan Yee’s life, mind and soul were dedicated to Singapore. He and other pioneering leaders were willing to sacrifice for the sake of Singapore. All they wanted to do was to see Singapore succeed despite being sandwitched between Southeast Asia’s more populated and resource-rich neighbours.

Second, Lee Kuan Yew had the right mix of recipes to ensure Singapore’s success: competent political leaders, good system of governance, and incorruptible civil service.

In fact, we can be better than Singapore, given our geographical size, multicultural society and natural resources.

Arnold: We can be better than Singapore, given our geographical size, multicultural society and natural resources; Let us start acting and thinking like (the late) Lee Kuan Yew and his band of selfless leaders.

We should start acting and thinking like Lee Kuan Yew and his band of selfless leaders.

At a forum organised by the National Council of Professors, we discussed ‘Negaraku: Di Mana dan Ke Mana’? After 54 years, we have seen tremendous development throughout the country.

For some, the formation of Malaysia in 1963 is the ‘saddest moment’ in their life, but the young generation of Malaysians have begun to appreciate the decision of our founding fathers to form Malaysia. Many have benefitted from Malaysia’s economic prosperity and political stability.

However, we need to come up with more inclusive and practical nation-building programmes to enhance the sense of belonging among Malaysians. No ethnic group – big or small – should feel alienated, but be given the opportunity to build and manage the country.

We are not a ‘failed’ state as charged by some. Our state just fails to function effectively in managing and distributing our resources for the benefit of all. It is this inefficiency and the culture of mediocrity that we must address.

The Malaysian Agreement 1963 and all the basic documents that led to the formation of Malaysia are important. But the country functions and operates based on the Federal Constitution.

The rights of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak are spelt out clearly in the constitution. If we want the constitution changed, we need to state our case credibly. It is not wrong for Sabah to assert its rights but this must be done in the spirit of accommodation, understanding and tolerance.

• Dr Arnold Puyok is Seeds Senior Fellow and teaches at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.