Irene Chang – Debate on motion of Thanks To The Address of Tuan Yang Terutama Delivered in August House on 29th APRIL, 2019
Tuan Speaker, the issue of statelessness in our state is still very much a problem. If I may say so, the record of applications of which this August House was informed of just the other day by the Honourable Minister during question time, reflected just but the tip of the iceberg. On the ground, the number is much much higher than the recorded numbers as the recorded numbers did not include the numbers of individuals whose applications cannot even get pass the counters of the respective JPN. Indeed, during a visit to Kapit on 7thApril 2019, I was utterly dismayed to meet families with at least 2-3 generations of statelessness. Now normally, one would count it as a joy and a blessing to have a large family of 7-8 children. However, when two individuals of the 2ndgeneration who have no personal documents decided to go through the ritual of a “so-called” marriage and then to cohabit and copulate and thereby producing children who in turn would not be able to get their birth registered legally, we are looking at, at least 20-25 individuals in a family with no citizenship.
Yes, citizenship is a federal matter. And I can assure this House that we have our MPs to look into this diligently. However, on the state level, it is my strong contention that it is within the ability and authority of the State Government to do something to alleviate this problem which has created social problems and issues among our own people. The Federal Government has 13 states (as it is now) and 3 Federal Territories to look after. It cannot be in a better position than the state government to know and understand what our own people are going through.
The state government therefore should not stand by ideally and fold their arms and offer no assistance whatsoever to our people. The average age of the individuals who came seeking for assistance for a citizenship application during my visit to Kapit was 30 years old. The ladies would be housewives and the men would go from one menial job to another. No possibility of benefiting from national and state welfare aid or of self-improvement financially or otherwise. It is without dispute that the lack of a country’s/state’s recognised personal identity is contributing substantially to social ills and problems as the stateless individuals resort to gambling and loan sharks for a possible quick relief or gains to address their financial issues.
Now, what can the State Government do? Now, this Q was also asked by Hon mem for Dudong this morning. And the answer given by the Hon Min was of course application under Art 15A. That is not wrong, but in meantime, what practical assistance can the State Govt give?With due respect, may I try to give a suggestion?The State Government has, for the past few years being harping on claiming and exercising Sarawak’s right to autonomous rule. Perhaps it is therefore time for the State government to come up with a Sarawak Card just like Sabah contemplating issuing a Sabah card. However, the difference is that while Sabah’s intended recipients are Sabahan MyKad holders, our intended recipients should be stateless individuals above 18 years old. And the purpose of the card is to recognise these individuals as being born in Sarawak and have stayed at least a certain number of years in Sarawak and is therefore allowed to be gainfully employed in certain work sectors and to move freely within Sarawak. And for their children, to be allowed to study in government schools with the State Government subsidizing the school fees and a separate State savings scheme equivalent to EPF, be set up for these individuals. Of course, criteria should be imposed for a successful application. But I believe this can be worked out, taking into consideration that certain existing legislation like the Labour Ordinance should be accordingly amended.
Tuan Speaker, I believe that no effort should be spared to make these individuals’ lives here in Sarawak, to be as normal as possible while they wait for the outcome of their applications.
STATE WIDE ADOPTION CENTRE
As was reported in the previous sitting in this August House, a baby hatch was set up in KPJ. Kuching, 2 years ago, to rescue unwanted newborns and to curb baby dumping and thus to hopefully bring down the statistic of abandoned babies in the State. I like to know of the numbers of babies successfully adopted since then. Nevertheless, to have just one baby hatch in just one place in the whole of Sarawak is not sufficient for such a big state as Sarawak. Teenage pregnancies occur in every corner of the State and it is not always convenient nor does everyone have the means to fly/travel to Kuching to make arrangement to make use of the facility at the hatch. With our State Government venturing aggressively into the digital world, it is time for the government to set up a proper adoption agency in various Districts in the State, linked and connected online for ease of paperwork and so forth. This is especially needed where improper adoption is rampant and which had contributed greatly to unrecognised birth certificates and thus, to statelessness of children in our state.
Here, I divert a bit by asking the Honourable Minister of the issue of amending our Adoption Ordinance to be like those in WM and Sabah by not having the adoption reflected in the birth certificate but only in the Adoption Registry. This would go a long way to address this issue for couples who want to keep the adoption a secret from the child himself/herself. If I may be so bold as to say that failure to make the necessary amendments to the legislation to cater for the needs and best interest of the people, is a contribution to the problems and issues which are plaguing the society today. Therefore, I hope to hear long awaited news for a bill to amend the Adoption Ordinance in the next DUN sitting.
Going back to the proposed Adoption Centre in various districts, it would decrease the people’s reliance on brokers and in this way, the state government would be able to curb this illegal activity of falsifying birth certificates. References can be made to adoption centres in other countries such as UK, Australia, the United States and even Singapore as to the operation of these centres. The process and procedure of adoption is generally simple. First, the biological mothers who are unable to take care of their child may register with the Centre, where there shall be a list of interested adoptive parents who would have undergone a scrutiny by the social welfare to ensure that the family of the adoptive parents is qualified and suitable. Once the child is born, the child may then be surrendered to the interested adoptive couple. Staff members of the Centre should be trained to prepare all necessary paperwork to ensure that proper adoption takes place so that the child concerned shall not grow up stateless and there shall be no further issues after adoption. Of course, the Adoption centres have to work closely with social welfare and District Offices to ensure that the paramount interest of the children are protected.
If steps are taken by the government, I perceive that slowly but surely, the setup of such centres will decrease the issue of statelessness in this state which was caused by fake birth certificates. Which I am sure is what the state government is working towards as well.
LOW COST HOUSING AND SIBU JAYA
Tuan Speaker, most of us work towards owning at least one house in our lifetime. A house which we can afford and call our own and where we can boast that no matter how humble our abode is, it is indeed our castle from the elements of nature as well as from intruders. It is therefore encouraging news when the State Government launched the state’s own low-cost housing schemes with pilot projects in five locations in Kuching, Miri, Sibu and Bintulu. Tuan Speaker, we, in the state opposition, always support good and feasible state projects as long as it is for the needs and best interest of our people and it is being carried out with absolute transparency and accountability. On this, I like to make a few observations.
1.The demand for low-cost housing in Sarawak is still strong and more housing should be made more affordable for our B40 groups, especially when there is already an abundance of more pricey housing in the State, a lot of which are erected there with no takers.
The State Government should do a review if the proposed unit price of RM90,000.00 >RM150,000.00 is genuinely affordable for those earning the bottom range of salary at RM800.00, as it is reported that the target group for this project is for those earning between RM800.00 – RM2,500.00. A simple arithmetic would tell us that it would be stretching the salary of RM800.00 to the limit, after taking into account the possibility of end-financing payments, utility payments and other household and living expenses payments. As with all societies, Tuan Speaker, the low-income groups constitute a major section of the society and they are the people whom the government should help the most. This is especially pertinent when we are entering the global economic low.
2.The state government’s proposed low-cost housing project is not the first in the State. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the low-cost housing at Sibu Jaya was undertaken by the Sarawak Housing and Development Commission, as it then was. Despite the time frame of nearly 20 years, many of these house buyers still remain occupants without a legal name. They remain as beneficial owners despite the fact that most of them are nearing the end of their end-financing payments. I have checked the Sale and Purchase Agreements of some of these buyers and it is true that there was no time frame been given for the issuance of the document of title. But as we all know, or should know as lawmakers, that no time frame does not equate to time in perpetuity. In 20 years, a lot can happen and have happened. Even the Sarawak Housing and Development Commission (SHDC) had been replaced by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC). But in these cases, what should have happened, did not happen. Surely the replacement of the corporate identity did not negate the outstanding duties of the previous Statutory body. Tuan Speaker, may I ask the Honourable minister to inform this House; 1) how many of the total units of these in Sibu Jaya still remains titleless; 2) when can these documents of title be issued to the rightful owners; and 3) why have there been such a long delay in the first place?
SENG LING LANDFILL
Tuan Speaker, the landfill at Seng Ling Road officially closed for business on 13thApril 2019. For 18 years, the landfill had been a source of income and resources for scavengers who had stayed in 3 clusters of makeshift housing in the area,being Block A, Block B and Block C. This landfill made headlines last year when it was first reported that teenagers were seen loitering around the area and were sniffing glue. The Honourable Minister of Welfare, Women and Community Wellbeing had responded to my letter and had brought in all relevant agencies to look into the plights of the 24 families staying at the landfill. And since then, several taskforces by various agencies, including JPN, had made a few visits to the area to render the necessary assistance to those squatters.
Seng Ling was an open landfill which was supposed to be used to only dump bulky waste including construction wastes. However, over the years, all kinds of waste, bulky and non-bulky had found their way there, thus, providing the squatters ample resources for making a living by scavenging and selling the waste thrown there.It is therefore no wonder that when I was there on one of the site visit, the longest occupant family there had swept her hand over the landfill and proclaimed with pride, “Inilah tanah saya. Kami tidak mahu pindah dari sini sebab di sini, kami ada semua keperluan kami.” Despite that proud proclamation, we all know that these squatters one day have to go, for staying there in the unhygienic environment was simply not an option. And during the previous November sitting, this August House was informed that resettlement of these squatters had been referred to the Sibu Resident Office and was presumably being looked into.
Nothing was heard of it since then. It came therefore as quite a surprise, when it was abruptly reported on 13thApril 2019 that the landfill was closed following a letter from the Land and Survey to the Sibu Municipal Council with a notice to the squatters to move out by 12thApril 2019.
Tuan Speaker, it is without argument that squatting is legally wrong. However, it has been said that the law has its compassionate as well as its passionate side. Despite the illegality of their deeds, there is always room for empathy or special consideration. It is said that it takes a big heart to make room for the smallest creature, and in this case, for those much less fortunate than ourselves. Therefore, I ask the Honourable Minister of Local Government and Housing to enlighten this House if these people have been relocated and was there any help given to build a shelter over their heads? Was there any resettlement area prepared for these people OR were they been simply “thrown out into the streets,” so to speak. And during the several task forces undertaken by the various agencies, it was confirmed that several individuals were stateless. Can the Honourable Minister inform this August House of the fate of these individuals?
Lastly, in the interest of hygiene and environmental issue, I would also like this House to be informed what action has been taken by the authorities to ensure that the landfill does not pose a threat to our environment and the health of nearby residents at Seng Ling Landfill and also the fate of Seng Ling Landfill.
On 15thMarch, 2019, the world was horrified to witness the shooting spree by a lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons targeting Muslims attending Friday prayers in Christchurch, NZ. In the broadcast live attack, 50 worshippers were killed while dozens of people were wounded. The lone gunman was a Christian.
Less than 2 months later and on an Easter Sunday, the world again recoiled in horror to the devastation of more than 359 deaths caused by multiple bombings in 3 churches and 4 hotels in Sri Lanka. Few days ago, ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Tuan Speaker, as one follows the news in online media and TV, it is difficult to stay impartial and emotionless when one sees bodies after bodies being carried out in caskets. To echo the words of NM Ameen, the President of Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, “As a community, we should have some introspection and see how these groups have come into being” as he referred to the alleged attacks by the extremist groups in Sri Lanka.
Very much closer to home, on 2ndFebruary 2019, three terror suspects were arrested by our police in Serian. As reported, the Egyptian (terror) suspect, caught by the police last month, had come to Serian to open a restaurant and married a vulnerable Sarawakian woman in order to obtain a spouse visa. Tuan Speaker, this is a very serious security breach in our homeland and if we are not sufficiently vigilant and beef up our security measures, especially the measures taken by the state immigration department, to vigilantly scan all foreigners at all entry points into Sarawak, we might one day find ourselves, asking the same question as the respected Mr NM Ameen. In fact, our Minister of Defence had already made statements that he believes that terrorism is the number one security risk facing our country. This was followed by statements by the IGP that police investigations have revealed that foreign terrorist fighters have been trying to make Malaysia a safe haven, a transit point, logistic hub and a launch pad for terror attacks in the South East Asia region.
The State Immigration authority has a massive and heavy responsibility to ensure that what the Minister of Defence and the IGP fear, does not happen because of any lack in our immigration security. We should ensure that no extremism, of which ever religion of whichever group, whether it’s Islam or Christianity or whatever cult, may be allowed to infiltrate our borders which would threaten the model religious tolerance of our State and people. I urge the State Government not to overlook this issue for the physical development in this state.
MASTER DEVELOPMENT PLAN FOR SIBU
I want to ask the State Government if it is time to have a comprehensive Master Development plan being drawn up for Sibu Town to cover for at least, the next 10–15 years. Over the years, we hear a lot of plans and promises regarding this being made by ministers and political figures and political parties. However, up to date, Sibu is still waiting. And it’s more than time that Sibu is put back on the map. And if we can have a Master plan, Tuan Speaker, I like to bring the attention of the House to my constituency in Bukit Assek.
I have brought up this during my maiden speech in this House that Bukit Assek, despite its very humble surroundings, it has a huge potential of being turned into a planned community centre cum tourist attraction. We know that 80% of the people who live in Bukit Assek main area are tenants who are mostly our Dayak and bumiputra friends from outside Sibu. The other 20% are houseowners, mainly Chinese. And the main reason why the 80% of the owners who have moved out are still hanging to their run-down houses is because there are no takers. Nobody wants to buy them. And so, they are rented out at cheap rates to others who came from outside Sibu who find the place ideal because of its strategic location which is within walking distance to town. And because they themselves are no longer occupying these houses, most houses are left to rot. This would contribute to a lot of social problems and is a breeding ground for many diseases like dengue. The few houses which were pulled down to be replaced by shophouses are sadly, not fully occupied. That is because of the security issue. And there is no planning. This is where the State Government should come in to help the people of Bukit Assek – to include Bukit Assek in the Masterplan – to build a community centre which provides good security, good infrastructure and in certain areas, safe and green environment and houses with rich heritage culture displaying our multi-races.
Tuan Speaker, to succeed in transforming the whole town, we need to put the people’s overall health, wellbeing and happiness first, especially those of the senior citizens. It needs to be a place which works for everyone, through attractive, liveable public spaces and with good transportation. May I suggest the following principles to be considered should a Masterplan be drawn up;
- priority should be given to senior citizens with supporting facilities to cater for their needs;
- improvement of welfare, benefits of existing houseowners and occupants.
- improvement of transport facilities and pedestrian friendly environment which should include green areas, open space and clean and easy street networks; and
- creating a better environment and enhancing town centres for city centre residents.
Tuan Speaker, Bukit Assek is in the centre of town and if the transformation of Sibu town can start here, I am sure, the area would increase in its value which in turn would boost the economy of Sibu town.