Keep your reps on their toes


BY now most of the honourable members of the State Legislature have gone home to their respective constituencies. They might be surrounded by supporters who are eager to find out if their problems and requests had been brought to the attention of the Dewan — the people expect their representatives to relate to them the answers given by the ministers in respect of those matters.

ON THEIR TOES: Elected representatives from both sides of the political divide walk along the corridors of power.

The brand new YBs have made their maiden speeches. These would be printed in the Hansard as part of the record of the proceedings of the Dewan, for future reference, if necessary.

But that is not the end of the job for any YB. What about translating those answers — the feasible ones — on the ground?

The political party in power (in government) may or may not act on all or any of the suggestions or the problems brought up by the opposition or even by those of its own backbenchers.

The government’s agenda is so set, Dewan meeting or no meeting.

The Dewan is necessary if there is new legislation to introduce or an existing ordinance to amend in order to plug a loophole in the law. The Dewan can only legislate matters under the State List. Federal laws are handled by Parliament in which Sarawak has 31 representatives.

In our system of government, other matters for discussion, for decision and implementation can be carried out outside the august House. Subjects previously brought up in the chamber may be discussed at the cabinet-level or they may not be touched there at all.

Often important decisions are made at home or the inner circle of ministers and advisors or even on the golf course. Many secrets are not even made known to each and every minister, let alone their assistants — these latter are not full fledged cabinet ministers anyway.

In that sense, the Dewan or Parliament is a rubber stamp, but its law making authority is important.

Talk shop

Parliament is often referred to as a  ‘talk shop’, but our Dewan is called the august House. Like the Walrus and the Carpenter in Lewis Carroll’s novel, the members — Adun — can talk of many things, but they are hampered by many constraints. At the next meeting, they may not be allowed to talk about the Chief Minister now or in the future.

I note that a number of the new members brought up some fresh ideas; others repeated the routine matters — the bread and butter issues.

Most of the new members of the Dewan did well in their first outing. Their first speeches were well prepared. Every member was keen to speak and articulate the views of their respective constituents. Whether or not these will be acted on is another matter. There will be another time to refer to them at the next meeting.

Keep on talking.

Here begins the role of the electorate: to monitor the performance of their representatives outside the Dewan to ensure that problems that the latter brought up in the DUN would not be swept under the carpet.

The press will be your friend in this exercise if you know how to handle the reporters. Of course, it is the job of the opposition to keep members of the government on their toes always. They will give credit where credit is due and oppose without fear or favour.

In Britain, whose system we have largely copied, the opposition is called the Loyal Opposition. Here they are simply the opposition with small ‘o’.

Some fresh ideas from the Dewan

From the recent session of the Dewan came a long list of subjects touched on by the members — mainly issues relating to the economic welfare of the people, ranging from agriculture to unhappy wives over the invasion of China dolls in Miri. Kuching has a fair share of those too, I fm told.

However, some fresh subjects were brought up during the session this time around. And these are worth following in the weeks and months ahead.

Are you a native?

I refer to the question relating to the status of a native of Sarawak.

If you are a person born of a native father and a non-native mother or of a native mother and non-native father, who or what are you?

Hitherto, this question had not been brought up in the Dewan as far as I remember, until YB Baru Bian and YB See Chee How touched on it.

They have hit the nail on the head — Itu baru dia.

A friend in KL once asked me about the advantages of being a native of Sarawak.

What is so great about being a native?

I called him and suggested that he should look up the relevant provisions of the Federal Constitution as well as the Sarawak State Constitution itself to find the answer.

I referred him to Article 161A (6) of the Federal Constitution which defines  gnative h, (a) in relation to Sarawak, as a person who is a citizen and either belongs to one of the races specified in Clause (7) as indigenous to the State (Sarawak) or is of mixed blood deriving exclusively from those races.

Now before you get bored by this, Clause 7 contains a list of races considered Natives of Sarawak: Bukitans, Bisayahs, Dusuns, Sea Dayaks, Land Dayaks, Kadayans, Kelabits, Kayans, Kenyahs (including Sabups and Sipengs), Kajangs (including Sekapans, Kejamans, Lahanans, Punans, Tanjongs and Kanowits), Lugats, Lisums, Malays, Melanaus, Muruts, Penans, Sians, Tagals, and Ukits.

By this definition, only the child of a marriage, for instance, between a Sea Dayak and a Sian is a native of Sarawak; a child out of a marriage between anybody outside any of those mentioned is not a native.

It is this exclusivity that discriminates against a child of the marriage between a Chinese male whose ancestor came to Sarawak even before the Brooke era and a Lugat woman. And this bar should be abolished by the mere stroke of the pen of the legislators.

That child, a perfect Malaysian without the privileges given to the Malays and the natives of Sarawak by Article 153 of the Federal Constitution and Article 39 of the State Constitution, cannot enjoy the privileges such as quotas in respect of the civil service, permits, exhibitions, scholarships, and other training facilities.

That’s one reason why it is so great to be a native.

Still, can’t one see that as a native, the status of that Sarawakian child is the same as that of a Malay by virtue of Article 153 of the Federal Constitution or Section 39 of the Sarawak Constitution when it comes to the enjoyment of privileges?

Whether or not he or she will actually enjoy the privileges once becoming a native of Sarawak under the law or from policy measures introduced by the government in terms of the privileges is another matter altogether.

Like the inhabitants in George Orwell fs ‘Animal Farm’, all natives are supposed to be equals but some natives are more equal than others, in several cases I know of.

The place to initiate discussion of the native issue is none other than the local legislative assembly. Of course, the amendment to the Federal Constitution is done in Parliament.

Alas, the proposal was shot down by the government of the day at the state level.

We are living in a strange land — this Land of the Hornbills. Strange that there is no support from the government backbenchers for YB Baru Bian over his sensible proposal for the benefit of those Malaysians who need privileges.

Anyway, help me monitor development of this subject.

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