OUR community leaders, namely ketua kaum and ketua masyarakat numbering some 6,000 (to be exact there are 5,163 ketua kaum with another 290 available vacancies and 495 ketua masyarakat with 44 available vacancies) have been waiting patiently for almost a year now for their allowances to be revised.
Many of them have even expressed their disappointment because despite the federal government having approved the allocation to revise their allowances since January this year, the state has not followed suit.
However, if the promise made by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu in his winding-up on at the State Legislative Assembly sitting last week is anything to go by, then our community leaders will receive their ‘durian runtuh’ very soon.
Jabu revealed that the state government “is currently reviewing the matter and the other terms and conditions of service for both the ketua kaum and ketua masyarakat”.
“Any new rates will depend on various factors including the financial implications,” said Jabu during his winding-up speech on Wednesday.
To put the record straight, their counterparts in the Peninsular Malaysia had enjoyed their revised allowance of RM800 per month since January 2011.
Currently the community leaders in the state are made up of the ketua kaum/tuai rumah/kapitan; penghulu; pemanca and temenggong.
A temenggong is tasked to look after his community’s affair for the whole division.
He is assisted by a few pemancas and penghulus.
It is understood that the ketua kaum/tuai rumah/kapitan receive a monthly allowance of RM450 each; penghulu (RM600); pemanca (RM700) and temenggong (RM800).
According to Pemanca Austin Dimin, one of the main reasons for the delay is that Sarawak has its own peculiarity whereby it has an extra community leaders’ category called the ketua kaum.
In Peninsular Malaysia, their community leaders are simply call ketua masyarakat.
“Perhaps because of this confusion, we have not got our revision.
“In Peninsular Malaysia, they are only categorised as ketua masyarakat,” Dimin told The Borneo Post here recently.
Dimin, who is also the coordinator of the Bengoh Dam project stressed that the relevant state agencies needed to streamline the definition of the ketua kaum and ketua masyarakat to avoid confusion.
According to him, those categorised under ketua kaum are the ketua kaum/tuai rumah and kapitan Cina and those under the category of ketua masyarakat are the penghulu, pemanca and temenggong.
Dimin stressed that the delay by the relevant authorities to implement the increment as an issue which needed to be tackled urgently.
“Most of our community leaders have no extra income and depended mainly on their monthly allowance. Thus they are categorised as living under poverty,” said Dimin, adding that under the national statistics, those who earn below RM700 per month are considered living under poverty.
Though the overdue needs to be rectified fast, the question one needs to ask is how?
Dimin reckoned that the easiest way is to double their present allowances otherwise if only the ketua kaums’ allowance is to be revised to match their counterparts in the Peninsular Malaysia, then they will be getting more than the ketua masyarakat who are their senior in terms of rank.
But a senior government officer opined if that is the case, then the state government would have to incur an extra expenditure of some RM346,500 a month or equivalent to some RM4.2 million a year!
Thus, the only way is for the federal government to increase its allocation for the welfare of these grassroots’ leaders.
But it needs to be pointed here that in the last Budget Speech for 2012, there was no mention of extra allocation for the community leaders’ allowance for Sarawak.
So caught up in this quandary, the state leaders would most probably have to come up with a new proposal to the federal government to increase its allocation for the state, failing which the state may have to foot the bill.
But according to some political pundits, with the 13th general election looming around the corner, the federal government will have to give in as they have repeatedly admitted that Sarawak is the BN’s ‘fixed deposit’ where it has 31 seats. The ruling parties are confident to deliver at least 25.
And because of the important role of these community leaders in assisting the government implement its policies at the grassroots’ level, therefore, the time is now opportune for their allowances to be reviewed because they deserved it but also because the government should show that it is a good paymaster and caring, notwithstanding the fact that taking home RM400 a month is now considered living below poverty.