20 Possible Differences if Sabah Didn’t Join The Malaysian Federation

Have you ever wondered if Sabah didn’t join the Malaysian Federation in 1963? Could things have been different? Here are my thoughts.

This year’s Malaysia Day marks the 52nd year since the formation of Malaysia. Despite being only less than 5 years away from 2020, there are still plenty of work that needs to be done to achieve that vision to be a fully developed country.

Sometimes I can’t help to wonder if Sabah would be different if it wasn’t part of the Malaysian Federation? I took the time to reflect on this question and came out with this list below.

1. Population

The current population of Sabah is around 3.54 million based on last year’s statistics. However, this number is inflated due to the influx of immigrants and refugees into Sabah during the past few decades. Sabah’s population could be lower than what it is today with less social issues.

Sabah-NativeRungus[via Sabah Tourism]


2. More Sustainable and Rapid Development

This is probably the biggest topic of discussion amongst Sabahans given the vast difference of the physical development in Peninsula Malaysia and Sabah. Given that Sabah has a huge amount of natural resources, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how much of these can help with the development of the State.



3. Expressways

When I travel in Peninsula, I can’t help but feeling envious how beautiful the roads are especially the expressways. Perhaps there would have been multi-lane expressways connecting Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Tawau and other interior towns within Sabah. The Pan Borneo Highway would have been a real highway instead of just trunk roads.



4. Forest Reserves

In 2010 the estimated forest cover for Sabah was approximately 37,600 km2 or 50% of the entire state. Huge areas of Sabah were logged extensively between 1960s up until the late 1980s. Perhaps Sabah would have a bigger forest areas if the management was better and a more sustainable logging was practiced from the beginning.




5. Less Environmental Issues

We all know that there are many irreversible damages done to Sabah’s environment. Rivers are polluted, corals died due to cyanide and fish bombings, wild animals lost their homes and more. Sabah could have made more intense effort to protect and preserve the ecosystem.


6. British Citizenship

Since Sabah was once a British Colony, the citizens used to travel on British Passports as shown below. As British citizens, Sabahans would be able to travel to many developed countries without any visa requirements.



7. Currency

Assuming Sabah’s economy is as advanced as Singapore, Sabah’s “North Borneo Dollars” would be equally strong. Of course there are other economic parameters involved but we all know that even our closest neighbour Brunei, which decided not to be part of the Malaysian Federation, has a stronger currency than ours.



8. Preservation of Historical Sites

Most of the points I’ve talked about earlier are all related to each other. Preservation of historical sites in Sabah is inadequate and many old buildings are not gazetted. Take the example of the Melalap Train Station in Tenom. This was once a major station along the North Borneo Railway but it’s sad to see the condition of this structure today.



9. Education System

English would have been continued to be used as the medium of instructions in most schools in Sabah. It’s quite evident that the quality of our English language has deteriorated. The importance of native languages would become top priority in the education system.



10. High Income

It is without a doubt that getting high income is still a dream to many Malaysians. The folks in Sabah are always wondering how the Bruneians earn many times more despite its small size, geographical location and has lesser natural resources. Higher income means greater buying power of the people.



11. Efficient Public Transportation Systems

Sabah used to have very close direct ties with Singapore. We are all aware that Singapore has the best public transportation systems in this region and Sabah would have learned from Singapore. The rail service would have been extended into the East Coast of Sabah. Tram systems are extremely suitable for Jesselton.



12. Power Reliability

Electricity is one of the biggest issues faced by Sabahans right now. Although there’s a gradual improvement in power generation and distribution, many places are still affected by power outage on a day to day basis. Sabah may have better power reliability since the revenue generated by the state can be used to build high capacity power plants. It is also possible that Sabah ventured into clean energy for better protection of its environment.



13. World Class Tourism Industry

Sabah is known for its booming tourism industry but it can be hundreds times better when proper management is in place. Sabah has vast potential and many other areas can be developed for tourism.

14. Own Oil Company

As Sabah is one of the biggest oil producer in the country, Sabah would have its own oil company to manage this valuable resource. Sabah’s own local petrol stations can be seen everywhere.

15. Closer Ties with Other Countries

Before World War II, Sabah was a well known country because the port of Sandakan and Jesselton were one of the main stops for steamships and traders. Even today, the older generations in Western countries have heard of Borneo more than Malaysia.

16. Home Grown Companies

In order to protect its economy, a country would help develop home grown companies. There are other successful companies from Sabah, but the number could have been bigger.

17. More World Heritage Sites

Currently Kinabalu Park is the only World Heritage Site (WHS) in Sabah. If large areas of jungle are still protected by today, Sabah could have more World Heritage Sites. Maliau Basin potentially could be another WHS for Sabah so it’s extremely crucial that this area will never be developed in any way.

18. Model Nation for Peace and Harmony

It is without a doubt that the people of Sabah has extremely high tolerance. Religious and race related issues are almost unheard off. Due to this, Sabah could be selected as a model nation for peace and harmony.

19. Political Landscape

The political landscape of Sabah would be totally different. Some political parties which have existed before may still exist until today.


20. Other Possible Scenarios

Sabah’s location in South East Asia is very strategic and central. We all know that Kota Kinabalu’s airport is the second busiest airport in Malaysia. The airport could have been one of the biggest aviation hubs in Asia. The 4WD market would have been smaller as there are better roads and expressways. Outward migration would be minimal as there are plenty of opportunities within the country which in turn reduces brain drain.

People say don’t cry over spilled milk. Despite these shortcomings, the people of Sabah need to make full use of the current situation to improve in every way. I’m not an expert in politics or economics but I strongly believe that the points stated above are valid and majority of the Sabahans’ wish list.

Ultimately, Sabah needs better leadership and management of all aspects.

Happy Malaysia Day, come September 16, 2015!

What other things would be different in your opinion? Leave your comments below.

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About The Author

I love the history of North Borneo (Sabah) and strive to digitally any related information on this website. I'm also the author of LifeinMy.com and CyberjayaCity.com. Follow me on Twitter @richardker.

1 Comment

  1. Herry says:

    I’m optimistic. We will regain what was once lost and forge onwards to a better future for our beloved country Sabah/North Borneo. We just need the people to wake up and stand up as one. No more nonsense.

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