An open letter of apology (and hope) to East Malaysians

Long Singu, Sarawak © Lizzie Bardwell courtesy of Molong Post

Douglas Teoh says sorry to Sabahans and Sarawakians for the fissure in relating to one another as human beings who are equal in the true sense of the word.

Long Singu, Sarawak © Lizzie Bardwell courtesy of Molong Post
Long Singu, Sarawak © Lizzie Bardwell courtesy of Molong Post

I am Douglas Teoh, a West Malaysian. I don’t profess to be the voice of our leaders nor the majority in Malaysia.

But I write this as a letter of apology from someone who is residing in the West, peninsular-Malaysians – just to say we’re (I am) sorry for the plight and the gross injustice that permeate the daily lives of Sabahans and Sarawakians.

There is little doubt that in many ways, there is disparity between East and West Malaysia (ironically, not unlike the East-West dichotomy globally) in almost all sectors. You are understandably dissatisfied, after all, over the share of revenue and resources, East Malaysia contributes a major portion to the development of the nation, but relatively little is seen of the gains which are supposed to go into your states’s development.

I apologise also, for the crony politicians, many of whom are content with having the stream of wealth flow into Putrajaya – which hoards the resources and enriches select families without much regard to the average East Malaysian, who lives in conditions far less comfortable than they deserve. Worse are the lies spun to magically weave a fabric of illusion to drape over the eyes of the expectant poor.

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But most importantly, I apologise for our inability to reconcile differences amongst ourselves. The gap between East and West is more than one of geographical distance; this is a fissure in relating to one another as human beings who are equal in the true sense of the word. The constant edging of race, religion, class of West Malaysia presses unfairly against the tradition and spirit (or even soul) of Sabah and Sarawak.

Indeed, under such circumstances, many amongst you might feel it makes more sense to have an autonomous space away from the petty politics played solely for the benefit of the West.

I have no excuses to offer; those who do merely wish to play the blame game, deceiving the other side only as a pretext for their own gains. “If it’s not my fault, it’s most definitely yours.” But this is a game of politics; and ordinary citizens need not engross themselves in these discourses.

What I’d like to offer, however, is an ideal – an olive branch for the future which I carry.

My hope for the future of Malaysia is to see a land where all have equal access to facilities and resources.

A land where politicians have to heed the concerns of the people and are held accountable by them.

A land where tradition is cultivated and passed on without the interference of self-serving organisations.

A land where there is no division between you and me.

And most importantly, a land which allows us to truly appreciate one another as fellow Malaysians.
What we have to vanquish is the evil of selfish desires and of greed and corruption.

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But we have to do this together.

If we hold the same hopes, the way forward is unity, not separation.

Certainly, we can turn inwards and evoke our self-preserving mechanisms and protect what is important by isolating ourselves, but development and progress can only be possible if we look outwards and truly engage with one another.

There will be opportunities to learn from one another in terms of values, traditions and spirit.

There is also room for disagreement – so very vital for the advancement of our thoughts and feelings.

Finally – together, there is safety in numbers, a much louder voice for reform, and a far more enormous possibility for positive change.

Thus, what we need is just a fundamental piece: a solid, united front – which rejects all forms of deceptions, all forms of extremism, and all forms of injustice.

As long as we have that, the East and West will be many, and at the same time, 1.

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Douglas Teoh
Douglas Teoh is currently a psychology tutor in a local private university who intends to pursue his postgraduate degree in politics.


  1. My apologies for spamming, but I do not disclose my universities simply because I don’t want them to be implicated in any way for the socio-political discussions I engage in. I always release my identity on my publications, and I don’t see a need for my universities to take responsibility for what are my own thoughts and comments, since it is not funded and requested by them, nor am I representing them in any way. The comments are mine alone.

    • I won’t dignify your hindsight comments about what you ought to have written or how you ought to have expressed your comments before someone had the temerity to correct your inaccuracies and generalizations on this article of yours. It remains patronizing and a condescension only someone in your position could be capable of. You join the ranks of the regurgitating cliché mobs who believe you have found the holy grail of corruption and the only ones with the antidote to it. Get rid of the Barisn … and it will all be hunky dory. Wrong.

      It is not about some corporations that carry out these acts of environmental and corporate vandalism but those that support people like you and the ones I have identified that run along race lines.

      These are the ones that are mainly Chinese that dominated that also dominate the landscape (if you’ll pardon the pun) in East Malaysia and now abroad tearing up forests. RH for one.

      You are an apologist for that element of your community like its cancer with its tentacles spread throughout south east Asia corrupting governments and demolishing settled cultures with your hegemony and let me not be guilty of mincing words in this regard.

      Had the government of the people of Malaysia like all other south east Asian countries and now in places like Canada and the US and Britain not been the subject of … aggressive bribe paying incentives to corrupt low paid government servants, “cronyism” as you describe it would not exist at the level you claim it does without proof.

      Just because some paid stooge from abroad without a scintilla of proof says the “Taib family” is corrupt dos not make them corrupt.

      Why is anyone who challenges these assumptions a BN apologist? …

      Show me the proof of the corruption you claim exists at the level you and your Bersih colleagues claim exists.

      I and my colleagues have challenged Anwar Ibrahim, Ambiga Sreenivasan, Bersih the Malaysian Bar and others to demonstrate the proof in admissible form of this terrible phenomenon … and we (meaning there is more than one of us who are seriously out to tackle bad government and corruption wherever it is found) will fund any litigation against them.

      The offer remains open to anyone of you who can demonstrate with evidence in an admissible form the existence of corruption like you claim it exists (meaning only within the BN and their “Cronies”) and we will act.

      No one raised the analogy that because it exists elsewhere it is justifiable. That’s a distraction you ad to a response without any substance or utility to it.

  2. Dear Gopal,

    Thank you very much for your generous comments; but please allow me a chance to respond.

    You make a reasonable case about the selected companies which have had a role to play in the negative consequences Sabah/Sarawak experiences – but I’d like to remind you that this is, by and far, a problem of cronyism. If we have a clean government and policies are stringent, the companies wouldn’t be able to get away with what they’re doing. I think that we can agree – following the expose on the Taib family, that most of the wealth is circulating around them. Almost every company plays by these people’s rules … You say that a lot of companies are out to exploit and manipulate as well – I don’t deny this, but think about the entity that enables it.

    My intention for using “equal in the true sense of the word” is to demonstrate an equality that transcends such materialistic differences. Regardless of geography, material, racial, religious differences, we are still equal. Equality, to me, is the component that allows people to discuss, negotiate, and engage in democracy. If the people are not equal, the discussion and negotiation cannot be equal, and as such, there is no “democracy” either. A truly inclusive and diverse democracy has to acknowledge all people as being equal to one another. Of course, we can debate this further if you wish (this is a philosophical point), but I am by no means attempting a patronizing commentary on those poor people.

    You are right in the sense that some people want alternative wealth. But at the same, we have to acknowledge – as do you, Gopal, that some people do want to have a comfortable life like any other, and that they don’t have the means to go against their contexts. There remains a difference (as Ashis Nandy) puts it, a difference between poverty and destitution. While poverty just illustrates the average income level, destitution involves something more widespread – i.e. people having real difficulties in living. And by poor – I’m referring to these people.

    And lastly, I would have to criticize your point on cronyism – just because it exists everywhere does not mean it should. Just like there are rapists anywhere doesn’t mean we should let rapists roam free.

    I sense that you’re an apologist for the BN government, but before you make any sort of defense of the government (and making a personal attack on me and my integrity), I suggest you read my works. I have been very consistent in my publications, advocating a criticism of all parties, and also advocating diversity, equality and unity of the people. I am, first and foremost an advocate for the people – and if there remains an injustice, I will voice out to the best of my knowledge.

  3. Dear Teoh,

    You can begin by being a bit more introspective and honest if you can’t be honourable. Had it not been for the Chinese logging companies based in East Malaysia, their individual and joint venturing with government in oil palm planting and other commodity exploitation since and before the time of the colonials, vandalizing the environment and then (the missing) Swiss man who went there to document their plunder of the are, these people will not be suffering as you put it:

    “for the fissure in relating to one another as human beings who are equal in the true sense of the word”.

    Bear in mind that sometimes referring to people as equals is an insult. It is our diversity and our differences that make us what we are. And not everyone without two credit cards, a motor car, flat screen TV a university degree and a house is a lesser being.

    Cronyism throughout south east Asia is remarkable … From Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam and Malaysia….

    It is so patronizing and condescending that you make such low life remarks against government and the state of things as they exist whilst claiming to be an academic.

    What university could afford to be tarnished in its reputation and image by such condescension and patronization? Perhaps that’s why the name of the university is conveniently and safely not mentioned


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