Today 16 September we celebrate the formation of Malaysia through the union of Malaya (West Malaysia) and the two regions in Borneo namely Sabah (North Borneo) and Sarawak generally referred to as East Malaysia. This day was largely ignored for a number of years as 31 August is officially celebrated as the independence day till it was persistently pointed out that it was on 16 September 1963 that Malaysia came into being. The earlier date is specifically associated with the independence of Malaya from the colonial British in 1957.
The mistake of not synchronising the date of independence of the three regions by the forefathers has come to haunt the present generation of questioning public. Non celebration of 16 September gradually became a sensitive issue and a point of unhappiness. Well, the East Malaysians have finally got their wish. September 16 has been declared a public holiday from 2011, after 48 years of the union. Thanks God to the freedom of expression!
Development wise, the two East Malaysian states are still behind the West and this has become a bone of contention seeing that the former are significant contributors to the oil revenue of the country. A more equitable distribution of wealth would raise the standard of living and quality of life of people in Sabah and Sarawak, particularly those residing in the rural areas. It is however noted that the main constraints to infrastructural development in these two states are their vast areas which are sparsely populated.
Their geographical nature calls for a more aggressive policy on education for the rural populace. While Flying Doctor service is servicing the remote villages, provision for educational needs is not as easy. And so the government should build schools with full hostel facilities for children from these area. Rural schools should also be provided with free healthy meals so as to encourage the attendance of its pupils. Only through education will they be able to uplift their future and become productive citizens and emerge from poverty. As it is now, Sabah has the highest poverty rate in the country.
Malaysia is striving to become a high-income nation in 2020 and I believe that the status can be achieved and yet it is a meaningless achievement if only a small proportion of the population is generating great wealth and the rest are only making ends meet. We cannot truly say Malaysia Day is a happy day when our brothers and sisters in East Malaysia fail to contribute to the numbers.