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‘Voice for the Voiceless’ Ministry idea in time

by Joe Fernandez
If a Town Hall-style meeting of about 300 initially perplexed people in Kota Kinabalu last weekend is anything to go by, the nationwide movement for a Ministry of Orang Asal and Minority Affairs (MOAMA) has got off to a good start in Sabah.

The Sabahans quickly dropped their position that they were in a majority, following an explanation by Hindraf Makkal Sakthi chairman P. Waythamoorthy, on the need for a “Voice for the Voiceless” Ministry at the Federal level as in several other countries.

They agreed that as long as their country was in Malaysia, they were in a definite minority. They were all for MOAMA as expressed in a voice vote taken by United Borneo Front (UBF) chairman Jeffrey Kitingan. It was Jeffrey’s idea to include the term Orang Asal in the name for the proposed ministry.

Human Rights For All (HuRiFA), a newly set up NGO which arranged the KK meet, is expected to fan out on MOAMA throughout Sabah with similar gatherings. Already, HuRiFA chairman, Phillip Among, has scheduled another meet next month but in KK.

Nationwide movement to deliver apolitical message to BN, PR

Apparently, the purpose of these gatherings is to deliver an apolitical message for both sides of the divide and directed in particular at the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), Pakatan Rakyat (PR), the opposition alliance, and the emerging 3rd Force in the Malaysian Parliament.

The thrust of the argument for the proposed Ministry is that the system of party politics and coalition politics has failed the minorities in general and the people of Sabah and Sarawak in particular.

Usno protem vice president Abdullah Sani, in his speech at the KK meet, touched among others on the "increasing marginalisation and disenfranchisement" of the Suluks and Bajau in their traditional areas along the eastern seaboard in Sabah and the statelessness of the Pala'u (sea gypsies or Bajau Laut) community.

According to him, the Suluk and Bajau are becoming a minority along the eastern seaboard of Sabah compared with the illegal immigrants.

When they complain, according to him, Umno tells them: "Don't worry. We are all Muslims. Don't think in terms of Suluk, Bajau or illegal immigrants."

The point is that the Suluk and Bajau -- the only communities in Sabah which supported the formation of Malaysia, according to Sani -- are being given the short end of the stick by Umno while their representatives in the party have been compromised. They consider this as an act of betrayal by Umno and Malaysia.

At the same time, they are not being allowed to revive Usno, a move which violates the Federal Constitution. The Suluk and Bajau have allegedly been "suffering" since 1976, the year Berjaya defeated Usno in the state polls.

Proposed ministry one-stop centre for minorities

The run-up to the 13th General Election is an opportune moment for the 45 per cent minorities in Malaysia to push for the creation of Ministry at the Federal Cabinet level.

If there’s a definition for minority it means anyone who’s not a member of the 55 per cent strong Malay majority community, confined mostly to Peninsular Malaysia with a smaller number in Sarawak. Ethnically, the Sarawak Malays are Dayaks – Bidayuh and Iban – living along the coast who became Muslims.

The minorities are at present divided by geography, economics, ethnicity, language, culture and religion. However, they can no doubt be a force for stability in the country and moderation.

The minorities have Muslims – Melanau, Suluk, Bajau, Dusuns, Bugis and others – among them unlike the majority community who are all Muslims speaking Malay despite coming from different ethnic groups in Peninsular Malaysia viz. Bugis, Javanese, Minang, Acehnese, Indian Muslims and others.

MOAMA can act as a one-stop centre for the minorities to engage with the government of the day at the national level and help ensure that their interests are taken into consideration and their grievances addressed.

There have been numerous instances where administrative laws – government policies in action – had become a source of great discomfort if not embarrassment, inconvenience and loss to the minorities.

Chinese not affected so much among the minorities

MOAMA can also help address the obvious lack of diversity in the government sector.

It’s envisaged that MOAMA, if accepted by the government of the day, would consist of several departments, each catering for a particular ethnic group.

The main departments in the proposed Ministry can be those representing the Indian, Chinese, Suluk, Bajau, Orang Asal -- Murut, the Dusun including Kadazan or urban Dusun, Dayak, and Orang Asli -- and Other Minorities to cover the Bugis, Portuguese, Siamese and Eurasians.

The minorities naturally include the Chinese but it’s unlikely that anyone would swear that this community is suffering under Umno as much as the other minorities.

So scratch out the Chinese for the moment.

It’s unlikely that the Chinese would identify themselves with other minorities unless they can help build a new majority in Parliament composed of the minorities, as the senior partner, with the 30 per cent moderate Muslims. In that case, the Prime Minister’s post can alternate between the minorities and the moderate Muslims.

Malay disunity opens up historical window of opportunity

This scenario is not as far-fetched as it appears given that the majority community is now on both sides of the political divide and in a multiplicity of political parties when they are not sitting on the fence.

It’s a certainty that the Malays will not be as politically united in future as they were in the wake of the searing race riots on 13 May, 1969. The 12th General Election on Sat 8 Mar, 2008 was a political watershed for the Malays and from which there’s no turning back. The Malay middle class has wrested the political initiative from the yawning gap between the many haves and the few have-nots.

Malay disunity has opened up a historical window of opportunity for the minorities, especially Sabah and Sarawak, to come in from the cold and be an important component in the mainstream.

Obviously, those in the corridors of power and the powers can no longer afford to be too wrapped up in themselves, their politics and their own survival to bother too much about the minorities. The minorities are no longer mere statistics which facilitate the politics of the majority community, adding the strength of the minorities to the strength of the majority community and thereby weakening the minorities even further in their division.

Fears that proposed ministry will end up like JHEOA

Former Sabah State Secretary Simon Sipaun, in recalling his stint with Suhakam as Deputy Chairman, disclosed during the KK meet that he had once proposed a Ministry of Indigenous Affairs but to no avail. He fears that MOAMA will end up like the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (JHEOA) if its initiators are not careful. He noted that JHEOA has never been helmed by an Orang Asli. 

Still, several NGOs and political parties have come forward and expressed their support for the proposed ministry, according to HuRiFA.

These include the Borneo Heritage Foundation (BHF), Borneo Forum (BF), United Borneo Front (UBF), United Sabah National Organisation (Usno), Common Interest Group Malaysia (CigMA), KoKaKoBa (Koidupan Kapayan Kobusak Bahang), the Oil For Future Foundation (OFF), the United Kingdom-based Borneo’s Plight in Malaysia Foundation (BoPi MaFo), United Borneo Alliance (UBA) which brings together several organisations, the State Reform Party (Star), United Sabah National Organisation (Usno), the United Kingdom-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF) Malaysia, the Persatuan Promosi Hak Asasi Malaysia (Proham) and Hindraf Makkal Sakthi.

No matter what the politics, the minorities have the right to be heard in Government and Parliament.

The proposed Ministry, if it comes to pass, would be the right forum and venue for the minorities to speak up and be heard, for their numerous grievances to be heard and brought to the Government and Parliament.



    "The point is that the Suluk and Bajau -- the only communities in Sabah which supported the formation of Malaysia, according to Sani -- are being given the short end of the stick by Umno while their representatives in the party have been compromised".

    This is poetic justice- but we do no laugh at them...we say unite with us to fight the Malayan colonisers.

    Again it is wrong for the writer to generalise by distinguishing the Chinese as a race apart from the rest of the Sabah Sarawak people.

    It is a shame that Joe Fernandez who writes with such flair should use the UMNO divide and rule argument.

    Unfortunately our hidden racism let us want to have our cake and eat it.

    We bash the Chinese as a scapegoat like UMNO racists.

    Instead of using the Chinese as whipping boy why not look at the positive side. On many fronts Chinese are out there fighting for our rights with the "minorities".

    Look at people in the NGOs...

    Historically, in British occupied Malaya and Sarawak Chinese took up arms to resist British colonialism and its Malayan agents in Borneo in the 1940S to 1980s.

    Freedom fighters were called "terrorists" when all they wanted was to free Malaya and Borneo from British domination.

    So when we make sweeping statement we should look at the real facts. Who were the people who made sacrifices for Malaya and Borneo?

    They were NOT UMNO people!



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