Bersih Sarawak refers to a news report of Sarawak’s Assistant Education, Innovation and Talent Development Minister (II) Francis Harden’s statement that it is awkward and absurd for longhouse chiefs who oppose the government to receive allowances or salaries from the government.
His views, as expressed in such ‘lectures’ to the tuai rumah, are not new. It is the perpetuation of the politics of patronage and the ‘don’t bite the hands that feed you’ or ‘anang lawan perintah’ mentality or narrative. It is appalling that this latest reminder was issued by a six-term state assembly member: it speaks volumes of how entrenched this culture or mindset is.
The appointments of headmen (tuai rumah) and community chiefs in Sarawak fall under the Community Chiefs and Headmen Ordinance 2004. There is nothing democratic about this manner of appointing community chiefs, who are supposed to serve their respective communities first and foremost – in the old days, they were chosen by the people whom they serve – and by which they assume and have the legal and moral authority to settle disputes and manage the affairs of their people and are responsible for their welfare. By this Ordinance too, they become mere public servants, receiving allowances from the government to serve the government of the day (see Section 6 of the Ordinance).
It is also well known that such appointments will not be a reality unless it is with the blessing of the MP or state assembly member for the constituency. There have been past reports of state assembly members asking the village development and security committees and their secretaries to quit if they do not support the government of the day.
At election time, they would be expected to do the bidding of the party in government or its candidate. As they are in charge at village level, they can wield great power and influence and have been known to stop any campaigners from other non-government parties or candidates. This is unacceptable given the fact they are prohibited from holding political party positions as stated under the Ordinance (see Section 8).
During the recently concluded Sarawak state election, one of the federal ministers (after the state assembly was dissolved) announced when visiting Sarawak that village development and security committee secretaries and committee members would be given meeting allowances; this was certainly a breach of the caretaker convention as well as an enticement or vote-buying except that it was not yet campaign period.
We wish to remind minister Francis Harden from the Sarawak United People’s Party, in case he has not kept up to date, that we still practise democracy in this state and country, and the longhouse or community chiefs and their ‘anembiaks’ (other members of the community) should be free to not vote or choose the incumbent if he or she has not served them well or have differing views on issues deemed important to them. Just like civil servants who are free to vote for whomever they desire to be their representative despite receiving salaries from the government, so too these chiefs.
So too these village chiefs, they should be receiving their allowances as long as they serve their community or charges. These chiefs should not be subjected to condescension or worse, threats of stripping them of posts or some other reprisals. Perhaps it is time to return to village-level elections by the people, rather than tuai rumahs being appointed, so that the elected tuai rumahs will be free from such unwarranted coercion and hegemony. – Bersih Sarawak