Give back the people’s right to choose their own tuai rumah

COMMENT: It is common nowadays to see Iban longhouses breaking up due to political differences between longhouses folk and their tuai rumah (longhouse chiefs).

This occurs especially when the longhouse residents support opposition parties and the tuai rumah back the Barisan Nasional.

And if tuai rumah are caught supporting the Opposition, they will be sacked and replaced by those who support the Barisan Nasional.

This phenomenon happened after the state government passed the Community Chiefs and Headmen Ordinance 2004.

Did the state government destroy the age-old traditional role of community headmen when it passed the ordinance to give itself the power to appoint community leaders, thereby depriving the people of choosing their own leaders?

What was the motive of passing this ordinance?

Says Sarawak PKR chairman Baru Bian, “It appears therefore that the underlying purpose of passing this ordinance was to control the headmen and through them, their entire communities.

“By so doing, the government has effectively emasculated the once proud and fiercely independent native communities of Sarawak.

“Community leaders elected by their communities are rejected if they are deemed to be opposition supporters. Where previously the appointment by the people was for life, the duration of the appointment by the government is for a fixed term with the threat of non-renewal hanging over their heads.”

Baru was commenting on a remark by State Legislative Assembly Speaker Asfia Awang Nassar who argued that the government has the right to sack any community leader found to be supporting the Opposition.

Asfia said community leaders like the Residents and district officers are considered government servants who are responsible for implementing government policies at the grassroots level.

“So if they are against government policies, how would they implement government projects and other government policies?” he asked.

Expressing his extreme disappointment over Asfia’s veiled threat, Baru, who is also the Ba’Kelalan assemblyman said as a lawyer, Asfia should realise that the Federal Constitution guarantees every citizen the freedom to support any party he or she chooses.

Not only Residents, district officers, pemanca, temenggong, penghulu and headmen, but every civil servant has the right to vote as he or she chooses.

“This is the fundamental liberty that cannot be taken from the people of this country,” he said.

Baru agreed that district officers and Residents are government servants and that they are responsible for carrying out the policies of the government of the day, but even so they have the constitutional right to vote freely.

“However, community leaders are traditionally elected by their own people based on their credibility, honesty, ability to lead, and their knowledge of the culture and adat of their community, to speak and act in the best interest of the people they represented.

“They are the bridge between the government and the people, and that is still their role,” he said.

Baru said the government has destroyed the age-old traditional role of the community leaders when it passed the ordinance.

The government-appointed community leaders are now seemingly being controlled by inducement in the form of allowances and by threats of dismissal.

“Instead of representing the community, they are now representing the government. Do the people realise what the government has done?

“If the community leaders are indeed representatives of the government, then the communities are effectively leaderless. The government has, in one swoop, destroyed their custom and adat and stripped them of their independence and democratic rights,” lamented Baru.

He said the Barisan government has turned them into their “chief political campaigners” and appointed them as party members.

In the light of this “abuse” against community leaders, Baru called on the government to review and amend the Community Chiefs and Headmen Ordinance 2004.

“I am aware that certain provisions of the ordinance are positive such as s 8(1)9(a) which expressly prohibits any appointed chiefs or headmen from holding any post in a political party,” he said.

It means that they are supposed to be apolitical. However, it is common knowledge that many of these headmen are in fact holding posts in BN component parties and are part of the BN machinery.

“This should not be allowed,” said Baru, stressing that the traditional adat and custom of appointing community leaders must be restored so that communities could regain their independence and pride.-The Ant Daily

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