Wednesday 25 May 2011

Deported from S'wak, but why?

COMMENT When I arrived in Sarawak through Bintulu on May 21, I was given the usual 90-day entry permit.

I waNONEnted to pay a visit with two friends to the villages in Bengoh, about an hour's drive from Kuching, because the area was considered a hot seat in the April 16 state election.

Four villages will be submerged by the Bengoh Dam and the villages are unhappy about being moved from their ancestral homes. However, the polling results did not seems to reflect the much feared electoral backlash from the dam issue.

As election observers, we want to ascertain if the villagers voted with clear understanding of their choice at the polling stations. For example, did they know that their vote for the incumbent would be interpreted to mean that they endorse the party which had caused them to be relocated?

We felt that clarifying the thinking of the villagers would make a good reference to all parties concerned. However our intention was not to be realised.

NONEUnexpectedly, about 20 officers of the Immigration Department arrived in five vehicles and picked me up about 11am, but allowed my friends to leave. They claimed that I was not allowed to enter Sarawak because I had 'immigration records' that disallowed my entry.

But what records were these? About a dozen officers could not inform me of any offences that I could have committed. They took a statement from me at the Immigration enforcement office in Pending - but no offence was mentioned let alone investigated. I was simply told that the state government wanted me sent off by that evening.

They were all just following orders, but from who? My being deported was not important - after all six others had been deported during the state election campaign last month.

But if people who bring voter education to Sarawakians are deported, it gives an extremely negative impression that the state government wants to keep their citizens uninformed about their voting rights and, worse, disenfranchised.

Super-efficient Immigration

There is a clear contrast between how the Immigration Department has been slow and inefficient to nab illegal immigrants which flood Sarawak's towns and plantations, and the speed with which they managed to track me even when I was so far from town.

Most of the time, the 'blacklisted' person arrives at the airport before being blocked and sent back. Five of the six persons barred from Sarawak during the state election had been dealt with this way. The sixth was told to not come again, at her exit from the immigration post. If the department can be as efficient in dealing with illegal immigrants, then Sarawak would be a lot better off.

Modern democracy demands accountability and transparency. Thus the state Immigration Department should be made accountable and transparent as well.

The days when the 'top guy' makes a ruling to bar someone - with the decision not subject to any judicial review - should end. It would therefore be a good start if some of those barred last month mount a legal challenge to the arbitrary use of power.

There has been quite a bit of debate over 'insiders' and 'outsiders', with some Sarawakians taking a hard-line position on all 'outsiders'. Certainly there are plenty of 'outsiders' who have played a negative role in the state - for instance, by 'squeezing' it of its oil resources.

But there are also 'insiders' who are squeezing state resources like timber, to enrich themselves. The policies of these people are probably are more crucial to the interests of the people.

By deporting 'outsiders' now and then, the Sarawak government tries to appear that it is the champion of the people, but succeeds only among those who do not understand the chief minister's political games.

It may be time for Sarawakians to identify their own allies, instead of leaving it to the 'leaders' to do the job for them.

ONG BOON KEONG is the coordinator of Malaysian Election Observation Network.

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