Sunday, April 21

Worrying trend or isolated incidents?

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TWO promising and clever young women from Sarawak have experienced discrimination in their own State. One a degree holder and the other trying to get one after passing school examinations with flying colours.

One hopes that the trouble and the trauma that Joanna and Marina have undergone for the past few weeks have been somewhat solved or alleviated.

Many people have promised to take up their cases: Marina to get the chance to continue studying and sitting for her exam and Joanna to fulfil her ambition to become a teacher.

We may recall that Joanna, a graduate in Business Administration from Universiti Tenaga Nasional, was rejected as a trainee by the officials at the Rajang Teachers’ Training college, a government body under the ministry of education even though her application for the training had been approved by the officials who had earlier interviewed her.

Accompanied by her happy parents, off she went to report to the college only to be told that her obesity was the reason for the rejection.

One would have expected the interviewers at their level to have said sorry because of her condition as a matter of government policy.

That would have saved the time and the trauma to her and her parents. Here lie two standards. It is a double: one set of officials had done the selection and the other to approve entry to the college.

It would appear that the college authorities have the right to overrule the decision of another set of authorities to accept or reject applications of students entering the college.

And the education ministry does not seem to have walked the talk.

The talk was that obesity was not part of the policy of the ministry. It does seem that not even the Minister of Education can do something about it other than advising Joanna not to withdraw her application.

I would urge Joanna to withdraw her letter of withdrawal and see what happens next.

Cases of discrimination

The second reported case is that of Marina Undau, the girl who has the ambition to be a doctor.

Her mixed parentage discriminated against her. She is not alone. This technicality is another legacy of the colonial rule. All the politicians especially those in power for so many years did not consider this technicality important.

Now they want to help where help would have been unnecessary, if the negative provision in the constitution had been erased from the constitution in the first place.

All this reminds me of the story told by the late president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah. In a book about him, Nkrumah related various ways by which the British officers handled the Negroes entering the civil service of the Gold Coast. For service in government or company, certain Negroes would not be accepted, if they had no secondary education; if they had the necessary education, they had no experience.

If someone had a university degree, he was over qualified. So no job for these Negroes.

Jobs went to colonial expatriates, no qualifications required. This happened in the early 1950s in Africa. Do we have to wait for another rejection before the powers that-be-start to act?

These two cases whose reasons for rejection were disclosed to the public, were known to the mass media. What about cases of rejection where no reason can be given before these? In certain cases, the government is not obliged to give reason or reasons for disapproval of any application.

We all know that many well-meaning people including those walking in the corridors of power have promised to help Marina out of her predicament. Many who wish to help in concrete terms have not much clout and even those who have influence will have to resort to KL.

The case of Marina has serious implications among Malaysian citizens in Sarawak of mixed marriages. There are a few thousand out there wondering what will happen to them when it comes to resort to the so-called native privileges provided for in Article 153 of the Federal Constitution.

If Article 161A of the federal constitution is damaging to their cause, get rid of that part which hurts. If the Sarawak Interpretation Ordinance causes the problem, amend or delete it.

That’s why we have legislators at all levels of government.

We had expected some MP or DUN members to spot this anomaly in the constitution long time ago. In 1985 at the First ISIS Conference held in Kuala Lumpur, this question was pointed out by the late Tan Sri Ong Kee Hui and at another seminar in KK a couple of years later, the same problem again was brought up. Every one noted it down. If the exclusivity stated in Article 161A (6) (a) had been deleted from the words ‘deriving exclusively from those races’ people like Marina would have been spared the humiliation and the embarrassment.

After Marina’s case, two other similar problems came to light. There will be more.

Marina’s father is a hero of sorts. If he had not insisted on the reason for the refusal of her application to sit for a place in matriculation programme, and if she had results less than 9As, the public would not have the chance to know about it.

We keep on talking about the need for enough human resources for SCORE; go and train for the one million jobs. No teaching job for the obese, no special privileges for the citizens whose parents who chose non-natives as wives.

Let us hope that these occurrences cited here are the first and the last.

As all of them involve young Malaysians hoping to play their respective role in their country’s development, it is our prayer that they will not be discouraged by their failure to get where they want to at this point of time.

We are grateful to the press for highlighting their cases. To Joanna and Marina, we salute you for the courage to expose what has gone wrong in our system.

Rest assured, the rest of us will watch what happens next.