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KUCHING, March 27: Sarawak Association for People’s Aspirations (Sapa) wants the Pakatan Harapan (PH) federal government to prioritise the issue of stateless natives in Sarawak as a key part of their reform agenda for the next stage of their term in office.
This issue has been neglected for many years under their predecessor, and the sincerity of PH towards raising the quality of life for thousands of rural Sarawakian voters in the run-up to the next state election, due in 2021, would depend on their response to key issues such as statelessness.
“Sapa is calling for an end to the current case-by-case basis for decision making. Any real impact will only be made through widespread policy and systemic changes to the procedures of JPN (the National Registration Department), especially in rural Sarawak.
“This might even require constitutional change to bring Malaysia into line with international conventions and, therefore, genuine cooperation between parties will be needed to effect any real change in favour of the Malaysian public,” said Sapa newly appointed information chief Peter John Jaban, in a press statement today.
He said Sarawakians had been waiting for change for many decades and were now becoming extremely disillusioned with the lack of action on many issues since the last election.
“We are nearly one year into our new (federal) government and precious little action appears to have been taken in any direction.
“The issue of statelessness, especially in Sabah and Sarawak, has been at the forefront of the media and civil society for a long time, and it is long overdue.
“Failure to act now only serves to compound the ineptitude of the previous administration in recognising the rights of the legitimate Sarawakians who have been denied identity cards by a system that does not understand the specific cultural, economic and environmental conditions in the state.
“If the new PH government wants to distinguish itself, then this is a good place to start,” reckoned Peter John.
He argued that that the current system was flawed as it failed to under the `Adat’ of Sarawakians, which is law in Sarawak.
“Old cases of statelessness failed to be addressed and new cases are arising daily. The backlog grows bigger, notwithstanding the occasional success story.
“Even more worrying, it is common for applicants to be refused identity cards and then for no further action to be taken.
“If JPN has designated these people as non-citizens, how can they possibly justify allowing them to remain in the country? The reality is that JPN is fully aware that these people are genuine natives and that, by all equitable standards, they should be given ICs but, yet, because the system is broken and unresponsive, they are unable to clear their cases.
“These people have been born and raised here, most often to parents who have been born and raised here. JPN knows full well that these people have nowhere else to go, and so they simply close their eyes and pretend they do not exist. It is callous in the extreme,” he highlighted.
Peter John opined that the new government must work out its values and act on them.
“They owe their new positions to the voting public of Malaysia, and they must respond to their needs. This is not just a problem confined to Sarawak.
“It is time for reform. It is time that the needs of citizens be put first. Pakatan Harapan still needs to prove that they aim to improve the lives of the ordinary Malaysians who put them in their place. Otherwise, the next election might well tell a different story.
“If PH makes no changes to policy, then there will be no change. Start with statelessness — there can be nothing more important than providing these long-neglected natives with all the rights of the country of their birth and their ancestors,” said Peter John. — DayakDaily