National charter Bill may be tweaked

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on April 9, 2019.
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KUALA LUMPUR: The government is considering making some changes to the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019 to accommodate requests by Sabah and Sarawak lawmakers, including those in the opposition, said de facto Law Minister Datuk Liew Vui Keong.

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department said the government had a meeting with members of parliament (MPs) from the two states asking for further amendments to the wording in the amendment Bill.

“During the discussion, there was not much opposition to the amendment. They only suggested that we add certain wording, like ‘the states of Borneo’ and ‘pursuant to the Malaysia Agreement’, so we are looking at that. It’s not a big issue,” Liew said at the Parliament lobby.

As for the amendment, Liew said it could be done at the committee stage after the second reading session debate today.

“If we do what they want, just to add a few words, I think they will support it because that is what they want. Although the second reading is [held] tomorrow (today), but in the committee stage we can always amend [the Bill]; [it is] not a big thing. [However,] the government will consider the matter first.”

“Maybe the second and third readings will go into the night, because all MPs want to debate the issue, as this is a matter concerning the country. We urge the people to share their views with their respective MPs, so they can come to Dewan [Rakyat] and share the rakyat’s views. This is the forum for them; this is the moment for the people in Malaysia to share their views.

“We hope to finish everything in a day, but this is up to the Speaker.”

Sarawak Pakatan Harapan chairman Chong Chieng Jen has also urged Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) lawmakers to support the proposed amendment.

Chong said GPS should set aside its political interests and prioritise Sarawak’s interests by supporting the amendment to restore Sabah and Sarawak’s position under the Malaysia Agreement (MA63) signed in 1963.

“We have less than 24 hours [before the amendment is tabled], where the position of Sarawak hinges very much on this amendment,” he said at the Parliament lobby.

“My message to GPS is, the Bill is important. The Bill is there to restore Sabah and Sarawak’s constitutional status. You may have other interests in mind — your political and survival interests — but I think it is important that the interests of the state should be top priority,” he added.

Last week, opposition MPs urged the government to postpone the amendment to Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution. This, said GPS chief whip Datuk Seri Fadhilah Yusof, is because the Bill does not fulfil the two states’ aspirations.

Under Article 1(2), all states of the federation are grouped into one, but the amendment Bill seeks to put Sabah and Sarawak in another grouping — although still referred to as “the states of the federation”.

The opposition, including Barisan Nasional and PAS, have requested the federal government to at least wait until the MA63 steering committee report is completed.