<I refer to the remarks of Human Resources Minister Richard Riot asking community leaders to be ready for the 14th general election, indicating that they should ensure that he wins big for the prime minister to be proud of him. It is absolutely appalling that the BN politicians should display such parochial attitudes and such disregard for the rights of community leaders to freedom of choice and independent minds.
Community leaders were traditionally elected by their own people based on their credibility, honesty, ability to lead, and their knowledge of the culture and adat (customs) of their community. They were elected to speak and act in the best interests of the people they represented. The government destroyed this age-old tradition when it passed the Community Chiefs and Headmen Ordinance 2004 to give itself the power to appoint community leaders, thereby depriving the people of various communities the right to choose their own leaders. By politicising the appointment of community leaders, the BN government is able to control entire communities. Unfortunately, this has led to much unhappiness and dissent in many areas where people find themselves unable and unwilling to accept leaders chosen by the government.
The ordinance states in section 8 (1)(a) that a chief or headman is prohibited from holding any post in a political party, and indeed, in a reply to Ali Biju’s written question in the state legislative assembly in May 2014, the reply from the chief minister confirmed this. Unfortunately, it is clear that BN politicians pay no heed to this prohibition and continue to act in ways that amount to holding community chiefs to ransom for their positions and allowances.
The chief minister has of late been demanding that the federal government under the prime minister should respect our rights under the Malaysia Agreement with respect to various matters including autonomy, petroleum rights, territorial rights and the like. How can we claim to be a mature government ready to take on the responsibilities of a democratic state, providing stability, growth and development and ensuring the freedoms and happiness of our people when the BN ministers display the same condescending and patronising attitudes towards the communities which we accuse the federal government of showing to us? What is the difference between the federal government’s holding Sarawak to ransom with their control of our petroleum resources, defence, development and other budgets, and the Sarawak BN holding the community leaders to ransom by control over their appointments and allowances?
Richard Riot’s unashamed politicising of the community leaders and of a religious event brings no credit to BN nor to himself. Worse still, telling the people to be thankful to the PM for the gift of money is proof of the BN’s insidious money politics in every aspect of the community’s existence, even in their religious observances. This pathetic need for approval from and slavish devotion to a political master who is being discredited internationally is a worrying trait of BN politicians who refuse to acknowledge the truth even when it stares them in the face.
All politicians would all do well to demonstrate that we are able to respect the people we wish to lead and that we are deserving of their support. We can start by allowing the communities to enjoy the autonomy that we are demanding from the federal government.
BARU BIAN is the state assemblyperson for Ba’kelalan and Sarawak PKR chief.