NGOs: Citizenship, native status applications should be processed fairly

Peter John Jaban

KUCHING, Feb 1: Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) Sarawak For Sarawakians (S4S) and Saya Anak Sarawak (SAS) are demanding the National Registration Department (JPN) and Immigration Department give equal treatment to all applicants applying for citizenship or native status.

Photos purportedly showing a section of the Sarawak Gazette have gone viral on social media. The photos appear to show that Toh Puan Datuk Patinggi Ragad Kurdi Taib, the wife of the current governor, and her two sons are now officially part of the Melanau community.

Such status would entitle them to hold titled native land in Sarawak and have access to all the other special considerations afforded the Bumiputra in Malaysia despite the fact that none of the three were born in the state or have a Malaysian parent, let alone one with Bumiputera status.

“This announcement has caused an 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 S4S and SAS are demanding that procedures for both JPN and the Immigration Department 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,” said the NGOs’ spokesperson Peter John Jaban in a statement today.

He said with the issue of statelessness so prevalent in the state, the lightning approval for the Governor’s wife’s citizenship application and thereafter to native status is simply “a slap in the face”.

“In the case of the current governor’s wife, we have a fast-tracked 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 five years of marriage. The question must be asked: how did her application jump the queue?”

He said there is scope within the law for the spouse of a Malaysian citizen to apply for Permanent Residency status and even for citizenship. However, the standard operating procedure is clear: an application for permanent residency (PR) can be made after five years of marriage and then, only after two 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 seven years, a right denied to thousands of genuine Sarawakians who are without identification documents.

“In fact, applications for PR 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 three 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,” said Peter John.

On the Native Court, he said there is also scope within the Native Courts Ordinance to allow applicants to join native communities where 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 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 (recognition) in Sarawak, the requirements for these applications must be stringently applied.”

He said many Sarawakians, especially members of the Melanau community, are upset that this application has been completed at such extreme haste and under such dubious circumstances. — DayakDaily