State must ensure all Sarawakians get citizenship and enjoy benefits and privileges

Agnes Padan (left) with Basar Arun, 80, a former Sarawak Border Scout, and his wife Serlen Rining. He is one of many natives who struggle because they are not recognised as citizens. (Agnes Padan pic).

By John Isaac

A SARAWAK-based native rights activist has called on the state government to demand that Putrajaya grant it autonomy in citizenship matters.

Peter John Jaban said the National Registration Department had failed to ensure the citizenship of many natives.

The former head of Sarawak 4 Sarawakians was commenting on the plight of 80-year-old Basar Arun, a former Sarawak Border Scout, whose lack of citizenship papers has left his family in impoverished conditions.

He does not qualify for government aid because he is not a citizen, despite proof that he had served as a Border Scout.

According to Free Malaysia Today, Peter said there are many like Arun in Sarawak, and that the problem lies in bureaucracy and lack of understanding of the challenges of natives in obtaining their documents.

“This is why we feel the state must have the power to decide on these matters. It should not be decided by people who are not even in the state,” he said, adding such issues fuelled feelings of discontent among many East Malaysians.

The Sarawak government, if empowered, Peter said, can embark on a mass registration drive to ensure all Sarawakians get their citizenship and enjoy the benefits and privileges which come with it.

“What is the point of us thumping our chests that we have our own oil and gas company or that we want to have our own telecommunications company when our own people cannot enjoy basic benefits because they are not recognised as citizens despite being born and raised here?”

He said GPS, which is now part of the federal government, must demand the state be given the rights and power where citizenship is concerned.

Senator Adrian Lasimbang said he too knows of a Sabah Border Scout facing the same predicament as Basar.

Lasimbang said many natives in the past did not have birth certificates or proper documents and were born in different parts of Borneo before borders were formalised.

Some, he said, were born in what is now Indonesia but have lived their entire lives in Sabah.

So, he said, when it came time to apply for documents, these people would be rendered stateless.

“The problem is aggravated by inaction by those in Putrajaya who fail to acknowledge this problem. It also doesn’t help that this issue is politicised.”

The only way to resolve this problem, he said, was if both federal and state governments had the will to resolve it.

He added that previously, former chief justice of Malaysia Richard Malanjum had activated mobile courts in a bid to deal with citizenship issues of natives.

“More allocations should be provided for this so that it can be expanded to help more people who are affected.”