Webinar on “Federal-State Relations under the Pakatan Harapan Administration”

In this webinar, Ms Tricia Yeoh discussed federal-state relations during the Pakatan Harapan government’s administration from 2018 to 2020.


Monday, 23 November 2020 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute invited Ms Tricia Yeoh to deliver a webinar titled “Federal-State Relations under the Pakatan Harapan Administration”. Dr Yeoh is the CEO of the Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), Visiting Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, and PhD candidate at the University of Nottingham Malaysia.

Ms Tricia Yeoh
Ms Tricia Yeoh provided an assessment about Federal-State relations under the PH administration. Dr Francis Hutchinson, Senior Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, moderated the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Ms Yeoh began with a brief historical background leading to the creation of the Malayan Federation in 1957. She argued that prior to colonialism, each Malaysian state had a high level of autonomy. British colonial officers sought to integrate the various states under a centralised rule starting from the creation of Federated Malay States in 1896. The 1948 Federation of Malaya agreement laid the framework for a centralised federal government bestowed with taxation revenues, while state governments are granted the rights to be consulted during the decision-making process. However, the 1963 Malaysian Agreement and Malaysia Act was fiercely resisted by some states, such as the Kelantan state government suing the Federal government on the matter. Ms Yeoh subsequently provided a summary on the purview of the responsibilities and revenue sources of the federal and state governments, as stipulated in the Ninth Schedule of the constitution.

Next, Ms Yeoh provided an assessment about Federal-State relations under the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration. In the 2018 General Election manifesto, the coalition promised to restore the true spirit of federalism (promise 24); implement the 1963 Malaysia Agreement (promise 40); and decentralise power to Sabah and Sarawak (promise 47). Ms Yeoh provided a detailed evaluation for each of the three policies undertaken by PH to improve Federal-State relations, namely the establishment of a special select committee for Federal-State relations, a special cabinet committee on the 1963 Malaysia Agreement (MA63), and higher royalties to oil producing states.

Ms Yeoh explained that the select committee on Federal-State relations dealt primarily with land disputes between the federal and state governments and environmental matters. The special cabinet committee on MA63 tabled a constitutional amendment bill in 2019 to restore the status of Sabah and Sarawak, but the bill was defeated in parliament, notably with MPs from Sarawak voting against it. They argued that the amendment did not go far enough to re-establish the rightful relationship between the East Malaysian states and the Peninsular. She explained that the cabinet committee agreed to establish dedicated committees as the resolution mechanism for 17 out of the 21 unresolved matters concerning MA63. On the issue of oil royalties, she explained that the PH administration agreed to disburse to Kelantan and Terengganu the unpaid royalties totalling RM 16 million and RM 1.2 billion respectively.

To end the presentation, Ms Yeoh highlighted that failure of PH to eliminate the unequal allocation of Community Development Funds for government and opposition Members-of-Parliament (MP), which was also a long-held practice under the former Barisan Nasional (BN) administration.

In the question and answer session, questions raised include if the PH leadership since the Sheraton Move has undergone reflections about its lapses in dealing with Federal-State relations, the relationship between the Malaysian royalty and the PH administration, and avenues to increase fiscal revenues for the state governments. The webinar attracted 40 participants.

40 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)