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Speech by SA for Bukit Assek, Irene Chang Oi Ling at the Sarawak State Legislative Council, Kuching

Tuan Speaker, I rise to participate in the debate on the motion of thanks to the address by the TYT.

Ministers on answering questions

Tuan Speaker, since my first sitting in this August House in June 2016, I am much dismayed by the fact that I do not always get an answer from all the questions asked of the Ministers of this House. I know this rings true also for my colleagues from this side of the House, though I do not dare to say as much for those sitting on the other side. Out of the 40 written and oral questions in the 4 sittings, my record is as follows:

In the June 2016 sitting, I had 5 oral questions. During the sitting, only 1 question was answered while the other 4 lapsed. In the December 2016 sitting, I had 3 oral questions. Only 1 question was answered and 2 lapsed. In the May 2017 sitting, my oral questions were reduced to 2 and only 1 got answered. In the October 2017 sitting, I had 3 oral questions of which only 1 had the privilege of being answered. 4 out of the total 13 oral questions, not even 50% were answered in these 2 years.

Tuan Speaker, it seems that there is an unspoken rule that some of us is only entitled to 1 oral reply per Dewan sitting. As for the rest of the oral questions which lapsed, they are either chucked into the waste paper basket or are recycled, by that time of which, the questions might not even be relevant anymore.

As elected members of the legislative, it is our duty to provide the check and balance on workings of the government. The people, through us, are entitled to ask questions to understand and to keep track of what our Government is doing for them. To limit or to hinder these legislative members in their questions and answers, is to indirectly limit the people from assessing the government’s performance on the ground. The Standing Orders, to which the proceedings in this August House is subject to, should be amended in that oral questions which had lapsed should automatically generate into written questions which require quality written replies from the Ministers.

Tuan Speaker, I use the word “quality” deliberately. For from the written replies which I had received from the Ministers from the past 4 sittings, I have to say that some of the replies staggered me. Pardon me for saying this but I have to say that as I read through some of the answers given, I was compelled to think that either the ministerial or departmental staff do not know how to answer questions or they did not know their work or that they are deliberately avoiding the answers. I reproduce here a question which I had asked on clogged drains in Sibu in the June 2016 sitting.

Q- Please state the amount of allocation and the amount expended in clearing drains in the years of 2014, 2015 and 2016 in the respective constituencies in Bukit Assek, Dudong, Bawang Assan, Pelawan and Nangka.
R- The expenditure incurred for clearing of drains for Bukit Assek, Dudong, Pelawan, Nangka and Bawang Assan for 2014, 2015, 2016 is RM4,998,199.00.

The question was simple enough. It asked for the allocation sums for each respective year. None was given. It also called for amount expended for respective constituencies. The reply was in one lump sum.

Tuan Speaker, it is the least of my intention to embarrass anyone in this House. But in order that each and every one of us discharges the duty entrusted upon us by the people, each one of us need to play our role effectively. And for the Ministers in the House, allow me the liberty to respectfully remind you that for every answer given, whether oral or written, it reflects the professionalism, quality and standard of your person as well as your Ministry.

Adoption Ordinance

Tuan Speaker, yes, again I am going to bring this up and I will continue to bring this up until the people’s voice regarding this matter is not only heard by all the honourable members in this House but would also move the hands of those sitting in the Cabinet to put right what ought to be put right ages back.

A large section of our population lives their lives in this country without any personal documents and without being able to enjoy the benefits which the rest of us take for granted Though this is a nation-wide problem, let us, on our part, as Sarawakians try to resolve what and where we can. Each state in our country has her local peculiarities which may compound on this issue. Sarawak is no exception. And if I may say so, one of the peculiarities here is that our Adoption Ordinance unlike the Federal Adoption Act 1952 and Sabah Adoption Ordinance 1960, does not allow the fact of adoption to be kept confidential. Unlike as in both Peninsular and Sabah where the Registrar-General of Birth will ensure that the words denoting the adoption does not appear in the Birth Certificates, our adoption under the Ordinance does not only not ensure that but also ensure that those adopted gets a separate Adoption Certificate to announce to the whole world that a particular child was adopted. This ignores the realities of life and the emotive elements of both the adopted children and adoptive parents.

Tuan Speaker, for most people, to adopt a child is a very difficult emotional decision. If there has been no issue of conceiving a child of their own, most people, if not all, would not even consider adoption. Though it should not be, to have an adopted child is still a stigma in some families. Added to that, most adoptive parents would not like the child to know of his/her background in order to avoid adverse psychological effect on the child. It is therefore not surprising that these people would try all ways and means to register the birth of the child as their own natural child. This, of course, we know, is illegal. But not so to these anxious “would be” parents whose focus would solely be on physically bringing the child back home and leaving all documentations to be sorted out by unscrupulous middlemen who prey on the emotional vulnerability of these people.

Tuan Speaker, these unscrupulous middlemen are out there. One would have thought that given the publicity regarding the clampdown on fake birth certificates these past few years, these middlemen would have made themselves scarce. But not so, Tuan Speaker, I still receive calls from people asking if it is alright for them to adopt a baby from so and so because he/she had promised that all documents would be done for them, including the birth certificate with their names inserted in as the natural parents.

For as long as the root cause is not addressed and removed, we shall always have unscrupulous people out there, waiting to prey on these vulnerable victims. That is why this root cause has to be removed now. Let us not be completely clueless on how to start the ball rolling to resolve this issue. It would not totally eradicate the problem of statelessness among our people, but it would go a long way to reducing it as people would see no need to resort to illegal ways and means to achieve their purpose of keeping the confidentiality of adoption. Tuan Speaker, this is a recycle issue. There is absolutely no reason for this to be put off again and if I may say so, show the people what the GPS government can do where the BN government had failed.

Child Marriage

Tuan Speaker, another outcry regarding children just 2 weeks ago. An 11-year old girl being married to a 41-year old man. Can anyone of us here remember what it is like when our own children are still young and cute and trusting us, the parents to provide for their every emotional, physical and mental needs without any reservation at all? As parents, we are their guardians and the protectors of their very being. And yet, all too often, we hear and know of stories of these little ones, being married off at the age when they should be making friends in school.

While our civil law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18, the law is riddled with exceptions. Girls 16 and older can marry with permission of their state’s chief minister. For Muslims, Islamic law sets a 16-year minimum age for girls and permits even earlier marriages, with no apparent minimum, with the permission of a syariah court. Natives in our state can married under the Native customary laws and there is no apparent minimum age on these marriages as well. Tuan Speaker, again, though this is a federal issue, let us not wash our hands and close our eyes to those child marriages happening in our own state.

According to the records of the Shariah Judiciary Department in 2015, the number of applications for child marriages (Muslim) was 827 in 2015. For child marriages registered by the Sarawak Native Customs Council, the number was 294 cases in 2015. In 2010, it was reported that 16,000 girls aged below 15 in the country were married. Perhaps the Honourable minister for Welfare, Women and Community Well-being can update us on the latest statistics of child marriages happening in our state.

Tuan Speaker, this is not an issue about religion nor about culture. But it is an issue about protecting the innocence of our children of all races and ethnicities. We all know the damages, both physical and emotional which could be afflicted on these children who are forced into underage marriages. Underage children are simply not physically and emotionally ready to bear the responsibility of marriage. Furthermore, the Penal Code makes it an offence to have sexual intercourse with a child below the age of 16 and yet on the other hand, there are laws which permit marriage to a girl below the age of 16.

There are things we can do in Sarawak in respect of this sad state of affair. Put the law in place regarding the State syariah law and the Native Customary laws which permit child marriages.
Of course, Tuan Speaker, we know that this situation involves more than just an amendment of law. Awareness to change mentality is certainly more sustainable. But we have to start somewhere and setting the right foundation in changing the law is a good place to start. It may take great political will to bring about this fundamental change to our state laws but it is a change which must be done immediately. Has our state got what it takes to set the wheels in motion to ban child marriages in our country?

Bukit Assek, a cultural heritage tourist attraction and an educational hub.

Tuan Speaker, if I may say so, Bukit Assek is the face of Sibu. Should an Englishman come to Sibu, I can bet that he would not be so eager to see Wisma Sanyan as he would like to see the area of Bukit Assek with the structures of houses which can now be barely found in other parts of Sarawak. Of course, the collapsing and ruinous buildings with water permanently flooding the ground floor of the houses may contribute to an interesting peculiarity. But if one can look past them together with the clogged drains, the swampy growth along the uneven and bumpy roads and the pot holes here and there, there is definitely a hidden potential in Bukit Assek to become a cultural heritage village.

There is in fact a lot of natural habitat in Bukit Assek, with a great deal of biodiversity to be found there, it being home to many species of insects, dragonflies and fishes living in its shallow drain waters. The constituency has a potential of rows and rows of heritage buildings to be built from old seasoned belian wood which is in abundance. These buildings may be converted for our people to showcase and sell their various traditional handicrafts and into eateries which offer traditional cuisine to visiting tourists. Dragonfly farms, butterfly farms with fragrance plants would be part of the natural landscape and a large area of the constituency may be made into an educational hub for our children to show them how humans and wildlife can co-exist. In fact, a big dream can be built in Bukit Assek with a huge potential tourism reward to be reaped for Sibu and Sarawak.

Tuan Speaker, I stand here and I dare say that it’s time that the government of the day stop side lining and marginalising the people of Bukit Assek. Do not brush the constituency aside and give it up as a lost cause and only doing patch up work every now and then. The constituency needs development funds to give it an urgent work over and to turn it into the pride of Sibu.

Now, before the start of this sitting, we have been hearing rumours that the State Government has intention to emulate the PH Federal Government in giving financial allocations to the opposition members of this House. I sincerely hope that this is true, not because it would seem that the PH coalition in Sarawak has finally score a point over the State Government. We have to know that this is not the World Cup here and there is no victory to be won by either side. But because it is what each and every person in my constituency and in the constituencies of each and every one of the opposition members, is entitled to, as a citizen of this state. As is the constant call in almost every ministerial speech in our dewan sitting, we hear ministers asking all to come together to serve the people of Sarawak and to do what is right by the people of Sarawak. I can’t see how any one from the other side of the political divide can say that constituency funds for all constituencies, whether being held by the government or opposition, can be out of line with this call.

Rabies

Tuan Speaker, I like to refer to the oral reply given by the Honourable Deputy Minister of Education Science and Technological Research regarding rabies. I appreciate the efforts made by all departments working together to help the people. I certainly cannot comment anything adversely on this. However, I need to bring to the attention of this August House that as far as Sibu is concerned, though thankfully still rabies-free, the efforts of the local authorities seem to be slacking recently. Lately, we see the population of dogs making their presence felt in almost every residential street and the town and market centres. It seems that the efforts by the local authorities in keeping the dogs in, are either slacking or not sufficiently effective.

Tuan Speaker, as the Honourable Deputy Minister had kindly informed us, that Sarikei has been added to the list of rabies-infected areas, it’s logical to presume that the next stop would be Sibu. So I hope the Sibu local authorities and every relevant department would step up in their enforcement efforts and maybe to come up with other ways too to ensure compliance of the by-laws by the people. 11 is not a big number in itself but when it refers to the death of a human being, even the number 1 is one too many.

The way forward

This morning, in the ministerial reply to the Honourable member for Sadong, the Honourable Deputy Minister to Education took a pot shot at the new Federal Government on whether all election promises could be fulfilled within the 100 days. Tuan Speaker, we are aware that this question is foremost in the people’s mind. And every day, people are sitting at the edge of their seats, watching every day’s political events unfolding in the media. I am sure these events are invoking more emotions in them than when they are watching the World Cup, as these events together with solutions by the new federal government, would have an irreversible impact in their lives, unlike the World Cup. Tuan Speaker, I just like to say, as responsible lawmakers in Sarawak and from whichever political divide we may be from, we should strive to ensure that the best interest of our people is always being protected. The higher one is in this political hierarchy, the higher is one’s such duty. Taking pot shots at the successor government elected by the people for trying to clean up the obvious mess left behind by the previous government and of which the majority of members of this House had been very supportive of (I don’t know if they are still supportive or not), it does not show the attitude of a responsible leader and government. Therefore, I hope that since the State Government has rebrand themselves by now calling themselves GPS, the State Government can show the people that their undesirable habits have been discarded too. Only through this, can both political divide work together to bring Sarawak to greater heights.

I now conclude by associating myself with all the Honourable members in this August House to thank the Tuan Yang Terutama for his presence and his gracious address in this Dewan on 9th July 2018.

Irene Chang Oi Ling
SA for Bukit Assek
Speech by Irene Chang Oi Ling at the Sarawak State Legislative Council, Kuching, Sarawak on Wednesday, 11th July 2018