There appears to be some confusion about the late Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee, the Cobbold Commission and the principal personalities behind the formation of Malaysia in 1963.

Wong Pow Nee was one of the two Malaysian government representatives on the Commission established in 1962 by the British and Malaysian governments to determine whether the people of Sabah and Sarawak supported the proposal to create the Federation of Malaysia. The other Malaysian representative was the late Tun Ghazali Shafie, then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The other three members of the Commission were all British nominees including its Chairman, Lord Cobbold, a former Governor of the Bank of England.

If the Year Six history textbook in question spells out the names of the members of the Commission, it is only right that Wong is mentioned. But members of the Commission should not be placed in the same category as those who contributed significantly in bringing different geographical entities together to form Malaysia. The textbook rightly refers to Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Abdul Razak ( Malaya), Tun Fuad Stephens and  Tun Mustapha Harun ( Sabah), Tun Temenggong Jugah, Stephen Kalong Ningkan and Tan Sri Ong Kee Hui ( Sarawak) and Lee Kuan Yew ( Singapore) as instrumental role players in forging the Malaysian Federation. It is because the four entities that these political actors represented were the major building-blocks in the formation of Malaysia that they are highlighted in the textbook. It has nothing to do with ethnicity or party affiliation.

Assessing public opinion on the formation of Malaysia — which was the assignment of the Cobbold Commission — is not comparable in any way to the role played by the leaders of the four entities in mobilizing their societies on behalf of the idea of Malaysia.  If Wong should be regarded as a “founder” of Malaysia, what about Tun Ghazali, who had a much more prominent role in working out the mechanics of the new Federation? And yet no one is clamouring to have him recognised as a “founder.”  By the same logic, should we also recognise  Cobbold and the other two British members of the Commission, Anthony Abell and David Watherston, as  “founders” of Malaysia?


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