By PETER JOHN JABAN
COMMENT: Copies of the Sarawak Gazette have gone viral on social media in Sarawak showing that Hajjah Ragad Kurdi Taib, the wife of the current governor, and her two sons are now officially part of the Melanau community. This entitles them to hold native title land in Sarawak and to all the other special considerations afforded the bumiputera in Malaysia despite the fact that none of the three were born in the state or have a Malaysian parent, let alone one with bumiputra status.
This announcement has caused uproar amongst Sarawakians who are questioning the blatant double standard that sees genuine natives remain stateless throughout their lives and long-term spouses of ordinary Sarawakians waiting decades for their approval for even Permanent Residency.
This is why Sarawak 4 Sarawakians and SAS Saya Anak Sarawak are demanding that procedures for both Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara (JPN) and immigration are applied consistently throughout the state, regardless of the connections or perceived social status of the applicant, and that no undue pressure should be put on civil servants in carrying out their duties.
With the issue of statelessness so prominent in Sarawak currently, the lightning approval of citizenship to the Governor’s wife, and thereafter to native status, is simply a slap in the face. If the government is to serve all citizens equally under the law, as is provided for in the Federal Constitution, there must be an end to the case by case basis currently in practice where criteria are not transparent and ministerial discretion prevails, under which decisions to allow citizenship are based on the whim of one person.
There are proper procedures in place to allow these types of applications from spouses, however their success and the speed at which the application is processed seems to depend more on who you are and not on actual entitlement.
In the case of the current governor’s wife, we have a fast-tracked and decidedly suspect approval. This is a woman who was born outside of Malaysia and only married a Malaysian citizen in 2010. Yet, she was seen to vote in the state election of 2015, with a Mykad already issued to her after just 5 years of marriage.
The question must be asked: how did her application jump the queue?
IMMIGRATION AND JPN
There is scope within the law for the spouse of a Malaysian citizen to apply for Permanent Residency status and even for citizenship. Of course, Malaysian citizens should be free to marry whomever they choose and to share their lives together in Malaysia should they wish.
However, the standard operating procedure is clear: an application for permanent residency can be made after 5 years of marriage and then, only after 2 years following the granting of PR, can an application be made for citizenship.
Yet we see Ragad with voting rights long before the minimum time period of 7 years, a right denied to thousands of genuine Sarawakians who are without identification documents. In fact, applications for permanent residency from spouses of ordinary citizens commonly take decades to process, leaving couples in limbo for up to 30 years, if not forever.
It is not unknown for spouses to chop in and chop out of the country every 3 months well into their third decade of marriage – an extreme burden on family life and finances. In fact, male spouses are unlikely to ever be approved.
There is also scope within the Native Courts Ordinance to allow applicants to join native communities. However, this must be at the wish of the community in question when the applicant is able to and means to live alongside them. However, applications of this kind to the native courts have been suspended for many years.
In fact, many children of mixed race marriages, for example, have had their applications for bumiputera status left in limbo for many years, unable to inherit their ancestral lands from their mothers.
It is understandable that parents are angered to see their children’s application leapfrogged by a foreign national, who lives a life of luxury in an urban palace with her two children, gaining the right to own community land in a far-off jungle that they rarely visit.
With so much economic benefit potentially following bumiputera and native status in Sarawak, the criteria for these applications must be stringently applied and many Sarawakians, especially members of the Melanau community, are upset that this one has been completed at such extreme haste and under such dubious circumstances.
Malaysian citizenship and especially bumiputera status are extremely valuable, bringing with them rights and also responsibilities to the nation. Of course Sarawakians are angry at the double standard.
This approval, whether legal or not, is seen as simply unfair when we see genuine natives dying stateless, leaving their entire family in limbo; when we see long-term spouses, who join in community life alongside their loved ones, waiting decades for approval; and when we see committed academics, policemen, tour guides and doctors from West Malaysia, who have dedicated years of their life to Sarawak being refused leave to stay in the state where they have built lives when their work contracts run out.
The spirit of the law, applied without fear or favour by a politically independent civil service, must be to promote the good of the nation and this must apply equally to all members of Sarawak society.
• Peter John Jaban, a Human Rights activist with experience helping stateless Sarawakians to apply for their identification documents acts as spokesperson for Sarawak 4 Sarawakians and SAS Saya Anak Sarawak