An honourable Irishman in Sarawak’s civil service (Part I of II)

"A Servant of Sarawak" was published by Monsoon Books in 2011.

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By Lian Cheng

AS a Sarawakian, I found Dato Dr Sir Peter Mooney’s memoir “A Servant of Sarawak: Reminiscences of a Crown Counsel in 1950s Borneo” an enlightening page-turner, and I believe many of my fellow countrymen will feel the same way.

The places, the people and the issues he described in his book published by Singapore’s Monsoon Books in 2011, despite being from a different era, are at once, recognisable and familiar. In fact, reading about his experiences in the book for me was like taking a journey down memory lane with delightful and surprising discoveries tucked among the paragraphs of his sharp-eyed observations. Some of his stories made me chuckle a little while others struck a chord, and then there were those which left me with a heavy heart long after I had turned the page.

Born in Donegal of the Republic of Ireland, Mooney was appointed the Crown Public Prosecutor of Sarawak in 1953. He was later promoted to the office of Sarawak Attorney General and it was during his time that the Land Code was introduced to the Council Negeri and passed. Prior to his appointment, he was a member of Faculty of Advocates of Edinburgh.

The young Irishman was intrigued by Sarawak and her people. To know a culture is to learn its language and so Mooney made it a point to master both Bahasa Malaysia and Iban. He traveled the length and breath of Sarawak, mingling with all races and dealing with them according to their cultures and practices. It is not an overstatement to say he thrived in Sarawak. What I was quite impressed by was his determination to uphold his duty as a responsible and honourable civil servant—uncorrupted, fair and respectful of the local customs and traditions—even though he was an outsider.

It was perhaps because of his inherent sense of justice that he felt the need to look up the governing constitution of the Brooke family.

On pages 77 and 78 of his book, he penned down the Brookes’ seven principles of government (reproduced below):

• That Sarawak is the heritage of Our Subjects and is held in trust by Ourselves for them. That never shall any person be granted rights inconsistent with those of the people of this country or be in any way permitted to exploit Our Subjects.

• That justice shall be freely obtainable and that the Rajah and every public servant shall be easily accessible to the public.

• That freedom of expression both in speech and in writing shall be permitted and encouraged and that everyone shall be entitled to worship as he pleases.

• That public servants shall ever remember that they are but the servants of the people on whose goodwill and co-operation they are entirely dependent.

• That so far as many be Our Subjects of whatever race or creed shall be freely and impartially admitted to offices of Our Services, the duties of which they may be qualified by their education, ability and integrity duly to discharge.

• That the goal of self-government shall always be kept in mind, that the people of Sarawak shall be entrusted in due course with the governance of themselves, and that continuous efforts shall be made to haste the reaching of this goal by education them in the obligations, the responsibilities and the privileges of citizenship.

• That the general policy of Our predecessors and Ourselves whereby the various races of the State have been enabled to live in happiness and harmony together shall be adhered to by Our successors and Our servants and all who may follow them.

Compared to the present Constitution of Malaysia or even the modern Constitution of Sarawak, the Brookes’ seven governmental principles may be considered simplistic and unsophisticated. They, however contain all the tenets of the natural laws which are still relevant to Sarawak’s civil servants and leaders, even til today.

If our civil servants from top to bottom as well as our leaders—from community leaders to our elected representatives—abide by these principles, there will be little doubt that Sarawak will be a great State, given that there will be no rape of our land and natural resources and no exploitation of our people, where respect, equality and fairness, justice and freedom of speech and worship are upheld as integral parts of our society.

As Sarawak is a young democracy, its economy is still very much government-driven, more of a mixed economy than a market economy. While the private sector has a ways to go to mature to dominate the market, development in Sarawak still depends much on the government’s injection of capital.

Due to these circumstances, the Sarawak civil service plays a crucial part in leading Sarawak forward. As the executing arm of the Sarawak government, civil servants especially those in decision-making and management, have become a powerful and influential lot.

It is thus not surprising that becoming a civil servant is seen as a career path in Sarawak or for that matter, in Malaysia where many aspire to be top civil servants.

This perception is different from those held in more advanced economies such as that of Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States of America where the private sector pays its workers so much more than the civil service and has no problem attracting talent, leaving the public sector only the second best option. For highly capable individuals with recognised qualifications and high IQs, their decision to join the civil service is largely because of a sense of noble duty to serve their country, with their eyes not fixed so much on monetary rewards but on how to honourably carry the heavy responsibility of being accountable to the public they serve.

In those countries, public service is not a career, it is a calling, a vocation.

Mooney’s time and today is just 80 years apart. If Mooney as a foreigner could be committed and responsible in carrying out his duty to the people of Sarawak with integrity, would it not be shameful if Sarawakians cannot do the same when Sarawak is our very own homeland? — DayakDaily