KUCHING: Dayak leaders including those from the Barisan Nasional and the opposition are up in arms against a proposal to lower the requirements for ethnic minority groups to enter the civil service.
Some even described the recommendation as an insult and mockery to the Dayak community.
The focus of their indignation was directed at Zaki Azmi, the chairman of the Special Review Commission on Civil Service Transformation.
On Tuesday, Zaki said that the commission would recommend to the government to lower the qualification requirements for the Dayaks and other non-Malay natives not only to enable them to be recruited to the civil service, but also to address the imbalance of racial composition within the civil service.
The first to fire the salvo was the president of Parti Rakyat Sarawak and Land Development Minister James Masing. He said he did not agree that the quality of the civil service should be compromised by the lowering of entry criteria for ethnic minority groups.
He said that there were enough qualified people from the minority groups who could be roped in to serve in the civil service.
“Lowering the standard for the sake of the Dayaks is not good. I oppose such a move. But if the main criterion for civil service requirement is merit, then we have enough Dayaks who are qualified to be recruited,” he said.
Masing pointed out that no encouragement was needed to attract more Dayaks into the civil service as long as recruitment and promotion were done purely on meritocracy.
Even an NGO, the Miri branch of Orang Ulu Association, opposed the proposal. Its chief Peter Kallang described Zaki’s move as a “mockery and insult” as if there were too few Dayaks qualified to take up jobs in the civil service.
“We have many qualified Dayaks working all over the world, with some even employed in international companies. What do you mean we are not qualified?” he asked.
Kallang pointed out that there were two reasons why so few Dayaks are in the civil service and these had nothing to do with qualifications.
“One, almost all of the top civil servants are from a single ethnic group.
“And two, without a set of transparent and unambiguous criteria based on merits, promotions are inevitably subject to the personal judgment of those who do the recruitment and promotion.
“The tendency to choose and promote would thus be in favour of those who share a common background with the recruiters, for example, ethnicity, religion, hometown and so on.
“Thus, this boils down to discrimination,” he said.
Dayaks are dedicated
Kallang also said that as far as Dayaks are concerned, once they realised that the majority of civil servants were from a particular racial group, they preferred to be in the private sector “where they may not have to struggle with the hurdle of dealing with discrimination due to ethnicity, religion, and hometown”.
The Piasau division Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) Youth chief James Joshua also expressed similar feelings.
He said that Dayaks were dedicated, hardworking and capable as evident by their excellent services in the military.
Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian said that he could not help but feel indignant and annoyed at Zaki’s statement.
“Any reasonable person reading that statement would take it to mean that the ethnic groups of Sabah and Sarawak do not have the intelligence and qualifications to join the esteemed civil service and are somewhat deficient because of that.
“I wish to ask the commission chairman [Zaki] to produce statistics to justify his stand. Can we please see the civil service racial parity statistics for last three decades?
“It is too simplistic to assume that the percentage of ethnic people in the civil service is low because they do not meet the requirements,” he said.
“If the Special Review Commission is really sincere about wanting to correct the imbalance, let them look at the problem squarely in the face and call it what it is,” Bian said.
He also asked the commission why is that so many civil servants and heads of most federal agencies and services in Sarawak were from Peninsular Malaysia.
“We do not have the exact figures on the number of directors in the civil service. Deputy Chief Minister [Alfred Jabu Anak Numpang] skirted the issue when he was asked about it during the last State Legislative Assembly sitting for a percentage breakdown of ethnic groups who hold ‘director’ posts in the civil service departments.
“He informed the state assembly that Bumiputeras held 88% and non-Bumiputeras held 12% of the director posts and that there are 100 ‘Anak Sarawak’ holding posts as department chiefs in the Sarawak civil service.
“What we want to know is how many of the 88% Bumiputeras holding director posts are Sarawakians.
Although it is nice to know that there are 100 ‘Anak Sarawak’ department chiefs, that is not what we want to know. Anyway, that figure seen in isolation does not mean anything to us.
“What is the figure as a percentage of the total number of department chief posts available in Sarawak?
“What is the rationale of sending civil servants from Peninsular Malaysia to fill positions which Sarawakians are perfectly capable of filling?” he asked, pointing out that most of those transferred are unhappy about being sent to Sarawak.
Bian also said Sarawak is considered a “hardship” posting, and to compensate those who were transferred there, the government has to spend extra to pay them “hardship” allowances.
“Similarly, Sarawakian civil servants do not want to be posted away from their hometowns to the Peninsula.
“I believe that civil servants will be more motivated and committed to their jobs if they are serving in their home states.
“This is not to say that we are against integration between Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak; our main concern is that the director posts in all government departments should be held by Sarawakians,” Bian said.
He added that it was now imperative that the federal government give “immediate effect” to the “Borneonisation” of the civil service.
This is so that Sarawakians can play a direct role in the administration of their home state as was envisaged by the leaders who insisted on the 18-Point Agreement before agreeing to join in the formation of Malaysia.
Questioning the motive of the commission in raising the issue, Bian said: “Lack of qualification is not a factor.
“It makes me wonder whether the ‘magnanimous’ gesture of the commission so close to the election is yet another election gimmick.
“To truly effect a change in the public service requires moral fortitude and resolute commitment, which I hope the Special Review Commission and Public Services Commission possess in plentiful supply.
“However, judging from this initial recommendation, I have my doubts.
“Please do not condescend to the Dayaks by offering this special concession, which purports to address a non-existent issue.
“Besides being a gross insult to the Dayaks, it most definitely does not offer a solution to the real cause of the poor representation of ethnic minority groups in the civil service.
“The people recognise a whitewash when they see one,” Bian added.