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Thursday, November 2, 2017

All is not lost yet with Labuan, says Sabah lawyer

KOTA KINABALU - A strong political will from both the federal government and the Sabah government could see Labuan being handed back to Sabah, said the Sabah Law Society.

However, its president, Brenndon Keith Soh, said any attempt to get Labuan back would involve an amendment to the Federal Constitution under Article 159.

“This means a two-thirds majority of the total number of members of the house supporting the amendment,” he told FMT.

Soh was commenting on a statement made by United Pasok Momogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko) Youth chief Arthur Sen, who lamented the loss of Sabah’s territory, Labuan, to the federal government.

Sen had said the ceding of Labuan, for it to be made a federal territory, was actually against the spirit and letter of the Malaysia Agreement, although he admitted it was legally done.

Soh explained that the Federal Constitution was earlier amended in 1984, by virtue of the Constitution (Amendment) (No.2) Act 1984, to establish Labuan as a federal territory.

“This was carried out under Article 2 of the Federal Constitution where, in order to alter the boundaries of any state, the consent of the state (expressed by a law made by the legislature of that state) and of the Conference of Rulers is needed.

“In our case, the Sabah state assembly passed the Federal Territory of Labuan Enactment 1984 to give effect to the requirements of Article 2 of the Federal Constitution.

“So, yes, it was properly done but not irreversible.”

He pointed out that any amendment to the Federal Constitution to revert the Federal Territory of Labuan back to Sabah would require a new amendment Act to repeal the earlier 1984 Act and provide for the necessary consequential amendments to various federal laws applicable to Labuan.

Similarly, he said the Sabah state assembly would need to repeal the Federal Territory of Labuan Enactment 1984.

Soh also cautioned that even after agreeing to return Labuan to Sabah and all the necessary laws had been put in place, other considerations would still need to be addressed.

“Things like how and when the National Land Code would cease to apply and when the Sabah Land Ordinance could be extended to Labuan as well as the applicability of Sabah’s immigration powers.

“Certain laws may need to be amended to give effect to Labuan being part of Sabah’s territory,” he said.

Having said all this, Soh said it was not his intention to advocate either for or against Labuan being given back to Sabah as he was only giving his legal opinion on the matter.

“Notwithstanding the status of Labuan being a federal territory, it is still very much a part of Sabah.

“This is due to the unique cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity, coupled with the prevalent economic and geographic factors.

“The question that needs to be identified is whether Labuan can be better administrated under the federal government or the state of Sabah, or a combination of the two.”

The issue of returning Labuan to Sabah was first brought up by former Sabah Chief Minister Harris Salleh, who was also the same man largely blamed for the loss of the territory.

Recently, during an interview with FMT, Harris admitted it was a mistake to hand over Labuan to Kuala Lumpur although he said he meant well by it.

In his mind, if Labuan was made a federal territory, federal ministers would visit Labuan more frequently and they will also go and visit Sabah, which would be good for the state.

He also thought that the federal government would make a better job developing the island by pumping in more money.

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