SAS: Further centralisation of IC applications will exacerbate statelessness

Peter John Jaban (file photo)

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KUCHING, Sept 24: Solidariti Anak Sarawak (SAS) founder and activist Peter John Jaban has slammed the Home Ministry’s latest changes to procedures for identity card (IC) application as a retrograde step that did not take into account the needs of the people, especially those in rural and remote areas of Sarawak.

He viewed the decision to funnel all applications for late registration of births through Putrajaya so as to deal with corruption in the National Registration Department (NRD) would certainly exacerbate issues of statelessness, particularly in Sarawak.

“Far from taking their services to the people, once again the Minister (Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin) believes the people must come to them, cap in hand,” Peter opined in a media release today.

On Sept 22, Muhyiddin announced that new security measures the NRD will implement included immediately halting the late registration of births at NRD offices at the state level and requiring this to be done only at the national headquarters for added security.

Other measures include increased spot-checks, a proposal to tap into DNA or genetic data, and regular rotation of officers following the recent exposure of a syndicate in Penang that sold Malaysian ICs to foreigners.

Peter emphasised that activists dealing with statelessness have long been highlighting the issue of poor infrastructure preventing rural applicants from visiting even state NRD offices — how could they possibly be expected to travel even further?

“Many Sarawakians still give birth in their ‘kampung’ because of difficulty travelling 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,” he said.

Noting that the ministry has cancelled the state’s special taskforce dealing with citizenship issues which was the only working initiative looking to tackle longstanding cases, Peter added that this latest measure was a backward 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 was 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,” he said.

While it was unclear whether rural applicants from Borneo were expected to make their way in person to Putrajaya, Peter however opined that it seemed probable as the issue revolved around misappropriated birth certificates.

He observed that if the state NRD offices were no longer to be trusted with these documents, then the only recourse was to expect citizens to travel to a centralised hub.

“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,” he added.

Peter, who is also a spokesperson for Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia), shared that he has personally 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,” he claimed.

“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?,” he questioned.

Peter said that Muhyiddin should perhaps consider using 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,” he stressed.

He reiterated that the policy seemed to be passed to suit the needs and ease of government departments instead of the needs of the most marginalised 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 marginalised enough in the federal government planning and they have had enough of it. If PH (Pakatan Harapan) wishes 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,” he added. — DayakDaily