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#1: True or False? MB Claims Penang Is Part Of Kedah 

Kedah Menteri Besar or chief of state, Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor has his fair share of eyebrow-raising statements and is never short of interesting claims or detours. Often, his target is the neighbouring state of Kedah which shares the border with Penang. 

The first instance of his deep-rooted obsession with Penang came into view three years ago. 

In 2020, Penang water company, PBAPP, urged Kedah to protect water catchment forests in the Ulu Muda forest reserve, as 80% of Penang’s water supply relies on Sungai Muda. This same river also supplied water to 96% of Kedah and 70% of Perlis, serving 4.2 million water users[1]

The Menteri Besar criticised Penang for meddling in their affairs. He accused PBAPP of encroaching upon Kedah’s sovereignty after multiple visits to the forest reserve[2].  

Kedah then demanded Penang to pay RM50 million annually for the water it obtained from Sungai Muda. It claimed PBAPP had profited at Kedah’s expense in 2021[1].

But, the Menteri Besar’s insistence of fair compensation at the expense of Kedah’s sovereignty is a tale that continues to be told. 

Controversial Claims Disputing The Ownership Of Penang 

But of course, Sanusi isn’t the only person who thinks this way. In early 2023, his political party (Party Seislam Malaysia, PAS) compatriot, Afnan Hamimi Taib Azamudden, Alor Setar MP[3] cited from a book entitled “Kedah: 1771-1821: The Search For Security and Independence”  by R Bonney and published by the Oxford University Press in 1971 that: 

Penang was neither leased, granted nor ceded by any written treaty or agreement. Pulau Penang (sic) was an integral part of Kedah.

Light not only committed by European standards a breach of international law but cheated Sultan Abdullah as well. The declaration of Pulau Penang as British possession was therefore illegal for no such verbal or written permission was given.
– Afnan Hamimi Taib Azamudden, Alor Setar MP, reading an excerpt from the 1971 book[3]

Afnan later stated that the document indicates that Penang was and still is part of Kedah. 

This document shows that there is a different history between Kedah and Penang. We have been taught in the history books since we were children that Penang was established by Francis Light, but here it says that the sultan never agreed to surrender Penang to Light.

In fact, according to this document, there was no agreement to give Penang to the British. Therefore, according to this book, Penang still belongs to Kedah. – Afnan Hamimi Taib Azamudden, Alor Setar MP[3]

Of course, his statement was not well-received in the Dewan Rakyat and he was asked to retract his statement.

History Tells The Truth

Technically, both Sanusi and Afnan are correct – if we were still in the 18th century. The Sultanate of Kedah ruled Penang in the past. Here’s a short timeline:

In 1785, when the Pattani Sultanate, which included the modern Thai provinces (Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and some parts of Kelantan) was dismantled by the Siam, the Sultanate of Kedah had to seek diplomatic assistance from other powers[4]

  • In 1791, Francis Light, an agent of the British East India Company (EIC) forged a deal with Sultan Abdullah Mukarram. Light, who was securing a trading post in the Straits of Malacca for the British, approached Sultan Abdullah Mukarram.

    In exchange for British military assistance and a loan of 6,000 Spanish dollars to settle Kedah’s debt with Siam, Light and his entourage would be allowed to settle in Penang, except Seberang Perai or Province Wellesley[4].
Source: Wikipedia
  • In 1800, Sir George Leith, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Prince of Wales Island i.e. Penang signed the Peace, Friendship and Alliance Treaty with Sultan Dziaddin Mukarram Shah II. In the treaty 189.3 km² of Seberang Perai was given to Sir George.

    Essentially, the British have permanent sovereignty of both Prince of Wales Island and the newly acquired mainland territory i.e. Seberang Perai. It was also the same year the stipend increased to 10,000 Spanish dollars[2].

Well, the treaties were of no use in 1826 when Penang, Malacca and Singapore joined forces to become the Straits Settlements. These settlements were controlled by the (British) government of India. In 1867, they were placed under London’s direct control as a crown colony, according to historian Ranjit Singh Malhi[2].

Penang And Kedah Is Indeed Separate

The Menteri Besar’s claim has since been shot down by those well-versed in laws and legislation. Let’s run through Penang’s status in terms of legal discourses:

  • Penang has been part of the Straits Settlements including Malacca and Singapore since British Colonialism. Following this, the mainland and the island have been recognised as sovereign states in several agreements between Kedah and the British[1].
  • These agreements include the Federation Agreement of Malaya in 1948, the Federation Agreement of Malaya in 1957, and the Agreement between the British Government and the State of Kedah in 1923[1].
  • Even in the Federal Constitution (refer to Article 1(2), Penang is a sovereign state. Article 71 (1), read in conjunction with the Eight Schedule, assures that Penang shall have its own constitution[2].
  • In 1985, the Kedah and Penang state governments agreed to alter the northern boundary of Seberang Perai. Previously, Sungai Muda was under Penang’s jurisdiction and with the Parliament Act, the boundary was moved to the middle of Sungai Muda[2].

A Request For An Increase In Honorarium

After Merdeka, Kedah receives an annual honorarium of RM10 thousand , honouring the signed treaty. In 2018, it increased to RM10million and 10 thousand.

Having an enterprising Menteri Besar changes things. In 2021, the Kedah government demanded RM100million per year[5]. When Sanusi brought up Penang being part of Kedah in June 2023, he later denied his same statement.

What he really wanted was a higher lease payment – of course, one that is fitting in the 21st century.

Based on the agreement before this, the Penang lease payment was RM10,000 per year. Starting from 2018, paid RM10 million and RM10,000. What was to be negotiated with the federal government is the current rate of the lease payment.

My focus is to increase the lease payment, which should be possibly RM100 million per year, but the actual assessment should be done by the Valuation and Property Services Department (JPPH). Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor, Kedah Menteri Besar[6]

Not to worry, the MB is of course an evidence-based and sensible man. The Department of Survey and Mapping Malaysia is currently bidding its claim on the ground. 

I’m waiting for confirmation from the Department of Survey and Mapping Malaysia if there is a determined basis for the confirmation of Kedah’s border with other states, from what I know, Penang is Kedah’s. Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor, Kedah Menteri Besar[6]

Will There Be An End To This Saga?

Some, however, have recognised that this is part of a political ploy ahead of state elections. Sanusi is also PAS elections director and sees his repetitive attacks against Penang as a strategy to gain Malay voters’ hearts.

There is no proof that Kedahans like his tactics. Sanusi, on the other hand, is very confrontational. He is driven by a fetish to popularise himself.  Azizuddin Sani, Universiti Utara Malaysia[2]

And of course, for his own personal gains in the party realm:

His long stretch is to be deputy president of the party.   Azizuddin Sani, Universiti Utara Malaysia[2]

We may never know his motive for bringing up the issue – it could actually be for the greater good of Kedahan.

Nevertheless, we should appreciate the MB’s tenacity in staking his claim on Penang and his love for the state – as much as most of us do. As they say, the grass is always greener on the other side. 

Our #TrueOrFalse series exposes some of the jaw-dropping statements and bizarre claims made by our beloved administration where fact-checking and evidence are tossed out the window. From historical revisions to conspiracy theories, be prepared to scratch your head and be amazed by their abilities in weaving thread into gold. 

Explore our sources:

  1. K.Raj. (2023). Kedah MB Says Penang Is Part Of Kedah, But Is He Right? The Rakyat Post. Link 
  2. P.Nambiar. (2023). The controversy behind Kedah’s claim of Penang. Free Malaysia Today. Link 
  3. FMT. (2023). Book indicates Penang ‘belongs’ to Kedah, says PAS MP. Link
  4. J.Lim. (2023). Sanusi Said Penang Belongs To Kedah. He’s Right…Cilisos. Link 
  5. M.H.Ikhsan. (2021). RM100m annual payment from Penang to Kedah ‘difficult to achieve’. New Straits Times. Link
  6. I.Lim. (2023). Report: Kedah MB denies asking for return of Penang, just wants higher lease payment. Malay Mail. Link

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