By PETER JOHN JABAN
COMMENT: Home Minister Muhiyiddin Yassin needs to know that his latest changes to the procedures for IC applications are certain to exacerbate the issues of statelessness, particularly in Sarawak. Not only has he canceled the taskforce dealing with the issue, previously the only working initiative looking to tackle longstanding cases, but now he has decided to funnel all applications for late registration through Putrajaya to deal with corruption in his own department.
This move, however, takes no account of the needs of the citizens and is a retrograde step rather than a move towards solving the problem.
It is very easy to make procedural changes from the perspective of an air-conditioned office in the capital but clearly, he has not bothered to go down on the ground in Sarawak or even to take advice from the numerous NGOs or stakeholders helping stateless individuals in the Borneo states.
It is unclear from his statement whether he is actually expecting the impoverished rural applicants from Borneo to make their way in person to Putrajaya but this seems probable as the issue revolves around misappropriated birth certificates. If state NRD offices are no longer to be trusted with these documents, then the only recourse is to expect citizens to travel to a centralized hub.
Activists dealing with statelessness have long been raising issues of poor infrastructure preventing applicants from attending even state NRD offices. How can they possibly be expected to travel even further?”
This is a step backwards. Many Sarawakians still give birth in their kampungs because of difficult travel to urban centres for hospital care. Late registrations are a natural outcome of poor infrastructure and, frankly, a failure to provide adequate education, something which the Minister should take some responsibility for as the long-standing Education Minister in the former government.
Far from taking their services to the people, once again the Minister believes the people must come to them, cap in hand. Besides this, far from granting more autonomy to departments at state level, he is deciding to increasingly centralize, in a move that takes no account of the citizens but rather is simply to plug gaps in his own internal security to the detriment of many rural applicants in Sarawak.
While we appreciate that, finally, someone is being brought to account for corruption relating to citizenship, anyone who has dealt with IC applications for some time is painfully aware that this is not an isolated incident.
I personally have dealt with a case in which a birth certificate was taken from an applicant who then found, some years later, that his IC had been issued to a third party while he was left stateless. This rural applicant subsequently tried to get his IC on numerous occasions and was simply told to ‘come back later’, a clear attempt to sweep the issue under the carpet.
Besides this, if the Minister believes that this issue can only arise in Sarawak or Penang, then he should think again. If everything is being conducted in Putrajaya, who is checking and balancing them?
Perhaps he should consider using members of the giant and bloated Malaysian civil service to investigate and enforce issues of corruption within the department instead of making life more difficult for citizens with his new procedures. The culture of silence in the civil service must be changed before changes are imposed on the citizenry.
Once again, it would appear that policy is being passed to suit the needs and ease of government departments instead of the needs of the most marginalized members of society.
If application procedures are not tailored to suit the needs of the populace, then the issue of statelessness will simply continue into the next generation, something which should be an extreme source of a shame to a modern nation like Malaysia.
Sarawakians have been marginalized enough in Federal Government planning and they have had enough of it. If PH wish to take the next state election, then they should start considering our needs instead of ignoring them.
Rural infrastructure, rural healthcare, rural education in Sarawak: all these have been ignored for decades. This cannot continue.
* Peter John Jaban is a leader with the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association and Solidariti Anak Sarawak