SARAWAK is the largest state in Malaysia, its vast area, compounded by scattered population centres, poses a great administrative challenge for the government.
However, the state is fortunate to have a good government system backed by a Civil Service which evolved over the years since the early Brooke era.
Under the system, Sarawak is divided into divisions headed by a Resident.
It seems the idea of dividing the state into divisions by the Brooke government was not implemented purely for administrative expediency but rather the divisions mark the new areas ceded by the Brunei government to the White Rajahs.
This explains why the original five divisions of the state were so disproportionate in sizes.
Historical documents show that the formation of divisions started in 1841, covering the area from Sarawak River to Sadong river.
In 1853, the Second Division was established covering Batang Lupar, Saribas and Kalaka, followed by Third Division in 1861, for Rejang, Oya, Mukah, Matu and Bintulu; Fourth Division in 1883 for Baram and Trusan and Fifth Division in 1912, for Limbang and Lawas.
The biggest Division then was the Third Division.
Despite its obvious inefficiency, the divisional administration set up was retained after the Japanese Occupation by the British colonial government and during the early years of Malaysia.
With the increase of development and population in the state, it was inevitable that in 1970s the boundaries of the various administrative Divisions had to be redrawn for more efficient and effective administration.
A committee known as the Creation of Administrative Boundaries (CRAB) was established to consider the re-alienation of the administrative areas resulting in the initial stage in the creation of subdivisions.
Later the five divisions were broken up into 11 Divisions identified with the name of major centres namely, Kuching, Sibu, Miri and others.
In the early days and before the elected representative parliamentary system, the Residents were among the nominated members of the Council Negeri (DUN).
The Resident and particularly the District Officers had multifarious responsibilities and functions.
They were assigned and delegated with legal powers under the law, covering immigration, post, customs and excise, national registration besides the wide areas of public administration, development, planning, native courts and Subsidiary courts.
District Officers must be conversant with everything and all issues. It was mandatory to pass the government examinations known as Division I Officers Examinations or the Sarawak Administrative Officers Examination based on the level of their grading.
These examinations covered various laws, customary laws and Native Adats (customs) and criminal law besides Malay or English papers.
This practice strongly supports the administration of the Native Courts system in long term.
At the District level under the Resident, the District Officer assisted by his subordinate Administrative Officers implement the policy of the government, the administrative instruction of the Resident.
He also planned and organised development of the areas and they have to visit every corner of the areas to bring the “government” to the people and to attend to their problems and welfare.
When travelling to longhouses these meet the- people meetings were held at the ‘ruai’ or veranda’s of the longhouses.
These sessions were usually all-night affairs with the speakers and listeners being kept awake with the generous fl ow of ‘tuak’.
The concept of Malaysia was explained to the people living in longhouses through these ‘randau ruai’.
Reports were compiled for follow-up actions by the higher authority or planning purposes etc.
In many districts particularly what was then Third Division (covering the present Sibu, Kapit, Sarikei and Mukah Divisions), a tin system was adopted wherein detailed data on population, education, economic projects (agriculture schemes) and others, were recorded and updated during these monthly travelling.
Some of these good reports became the important information for the Districts Reports contributing towards the Sarawak Annual Reports and the renowned Sarawak Gazette.
This collection of information was an important source of our oral history and that would provide invaluable insight for our planners and our younger generation.
Important historical happenings were recorded.
All these experiences equipped the district officer with a good working knowledge of the areas and its people for efficient discharge of his duties in development and social public administration.
Besides this, they also played an important part in the defence of the state especially during the period of Indonesian Confrontation from 1962 to 1975 and the Communist Insurgency.
The administrative offi cers were called to duty to carry out psychological warfare to win the hearts and minds of the people in support of their military operations.
This was well documented during the RASCOM (Rejang Security Command) Security operation.
They worked unarmed side by side with the armed forces for the defence and security of the country.
In this, the district officer, was, the chairman of the District Security Committee.
On reflection, the district offi cer was the man of the rakyat.