Will the real defenders of Sarawak’s rights please stand up?

The Sarawak Legislative Assembly complex.

Commentary

By Lian Cheng

Even as a journalist with more than two decades in the field, recent developments and events have puzzled me.

In September this year, following a decision by the Kuching High Court, former Chief Justice of Malaysia Tan Sri Richard Malanjum was admitted to the Sarawak Bar.

Malajum, by the way, is a Sabahan and a former Chief Judge of Sarawak and Sabah.


Malanjum’s admission application was brought to light due to the intervener application filed by senior advocate Voon Lee Shan who is also the Parti Bumi Kenyalang (PBK) president. Voon who was backed by a group of eight lawyers lost his case.

Why eight lawyers had so willingly came to the service of Voon, that was my first question. The answer I was given was – they did not want Sarawak’s exclusive legal rights to be infringed. A common sentiment shared by many Sarawakians.

Another puzzling discovery was that, apart from senior advocate Tan Kee Heng, Malanjum was represented by none other than Sarawak Democratic Action Party (DAP) founder Chong Siew Chiang.

“To me, it’s not about the infringement of the autonomy of Sarawak. It depends on how you look at it.

“The way I see it is that if there is a man holding very high position wanting to be a member of the Sarawak Bar, I feel very proud.

“That is my feeling, but you cannot stop him from applying,” said Siew Chiang when met by the media after the judge ruled in favour of Malanjum in the Kuching High Court on Sept 7.

The question now is, why did Sarawak DAP advisor and strongman Siew Chiang represent Malanjum in court when Sarawak DAP has been shouting so loudly about “protecting Sarawak’s rights” and portraying itself as a party fighting for Sarawak whenever the opportunity arises?

Just today, Sarawak DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen debated the Constitution of the State of Sarawak (Amendment) Bill, 2020 in the Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN). He was fiery, fierce and focused, the embodiment of a defender of Sarawak’s rights.

He slammed the state government over the proposed amendment on the interpretation of ‘resident’ in Article 16 of the Sarawak Constitution, arguing that it would allow non-Sarawakians to become elected members of the august House, quoting Article 71 of the Federal Constitution.

According to Article 71(1), “For purposes of Section 66, a citizen shall be treated as belonging to an East Malaysia state if – (a) he is or has the preceding two years been a permanent resident in the East Malaysia state”.

“Only two years of PR and the person is allowed to be elected as a member of this House? What loyalty will he have with two years’ permanent residency?” he questioned.

He said that in tabling this amendment, the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) state government is open to allowing West Malaysians with PR of only two years to sit in the august House as lawmakers to decide the laws and policies of Sarawak.

“Can we allow that? My answer here is clearly a ‘no’. We should not allow this to happen. Mr Speaker, this amounts to the ‘sell out’ of our state rights and privileges of Sarawakians,” he thundered when debating the Constitution of the State of Sarawak (Amendment) Bill, 2020 in the DUN sitting here today.

Such uprightness and eloquence. It was indeed an impressive performance. However, one cannot get rid of this unsettling doubt which keeps lingering in the mind.

Why then did the DAP advisor (who is also Chieng Jen’s father) facilitate the admission of a Sabahan into the Sarawak Bar? And why did Sarawak DAP field former Pujut assemblyman Dr Ting Tiong Choon who held dual citizenship as their candidate? By doing so, was Sarawak DAP upholding Sarawak’s rights?

Such inconsistencies do not just occur among the opposition. The ruling coalition also has shown propensity for such.

GPS leaders, like their counterparts in Sarawak DAP, never miss an opportunity to remind Sarawakians that they are the true defenders of Sarawak.

Sarawak de facto law minister Datuk Sharifah Hasidah Sayeed Aman Ghazali when asked to comment on Malanjum’s case, stressed first that Sarawak will not compromise on the law affecting non-Sarawak lawyers who wish to practise in Sarawak: “We are firm and will not give up any of our rights”.

Then, the twist came. Her statement is followed by another “however” where she was quoted saying that all applications by non-Sarawakians to be admitted as advocates and solicitors would be considered objectively.

She then stated that she would leave the case for the court to decide.

With the Advocates’ Association of Sarawak (AAS) and Sarawak State Attorney-General’s Chamber (SAG) not objecting, Kuching High Court approved Malanjum’s application.

This is what Sarawakians, including Voon’s eight lawyers, have to live with for now but this will not stop Sarawakians from wondering — are Sarawak’s rights being protected? Who is protecting Sarawak’s rights? — DayakDaily