KUCHING: Parti Rakyat Sarawak wants total revamp to a system of appointing community leaders in the state, who have now become a political tool of the state Barisan Nasional to ‘suppress and oppress’ (to borrow a famous term by Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu), those who do not support the Barisan Nasional.
“Indeed the community leaders have now become the ‘eyes and ears’ of the government, and report directly to their respect elected representatives,” said a senior PRS leader who did not wish to be named.
The case of Frusis Lebi came into mind. Frusis had his welfare allowance and agricultural subsidies withdrawn when his case of supporting the Opposition was reported by his Tuai Rumah to the local representative.
“In fact they (community leaders) will help strengthen the position of the political party in the rural areas,” he said, pointing out that in Sarawak Temenggong is the highest in the hierarchy of the community leaders.
In Iban, the Tuai Rumah (longhouse headman) is at the bottom of the list. His responsibility is towards the security and development of people in his longhouse. Often, he is the chairman of the longhouse security and development committee (JKKK). A step higher than the Tuai Rumah is a Penghulu who controls a number of longhouses.
Coming next is the Pemanca. A number of Penghulu is under his wing.
Likewise, a number of Pemanca is under the Temenggong.
Unlike the days of pre-independence when Tuai Rumah, Penghulu, Pemanca and Temenggong were elected by the people and were basically native courts judges, but today they are appointed by the parties in the government. Often they are also grassroots leaders of political parties especially within the Barisan Nasional.
“The strength of a party especially in the rural areas is determined by the number of community leaders it can appoint as they are the ones who control the rural dwellers,” said the PRS leader, pointing out that sometimes they are being used to intimidate their own followers or even used to prevent the opposition from entering the longhouses.
In the previous elections, they were also used as campaigners and ‘distributors’ of funds to voters in their respective longhouses.
The community leaders are obligated to do what their political masters want them to do, since they receive monthly allowances ranging from RM450.00 for Tuai Rumah to RM650.00 for Penghulu, RM750 for Pemanca and to RM850.00 for Temenggong.
The appointment of community leaders especially the Tuai Rumah has also other negative effects on the longhouse folk as everyone scrambles to curry favours with the local elected representatives, and in the process it creates a lot of enmity and animosity amok the longhouse people.
Even among the component parties of the Barisan Nasional, the appointment of community leaders can create suspicions.
This is what is happening now.
And for this reason and others, PRS President James Masing has formed a committee in his party to relook at the community leader appointment system with a view to ensure fairness in the distribution of the community leaders among the component parties of the Barisan Nasional.
The committee is headed by Vice-President John Sikie Tayai.
Masing said: “The main aim of the committee will be to come up with an appointment system which better reflects the ethnic composition of an area.
“This would involve taking a close look at the criteria for the appointment of community leaders such as Temenggong, Pemanca, Penghulu and Tuai Rumah or Tua Kampong among in particular the Dayak Community.
“Once we have made the findings, PRS will then forward its recommendations to the state government,” said Masing, who is a senior minister and Minister for Land Development.
PRS and Masing have every right to be moaned the treatment meted out at the party.
Even though PRS denies that it is being bullied or treated like ‘anak tiri’ (adopted child), facts speak volumes of how the party is being treated in respect of the appointment of community leaders as well as other political appointments – posts of political secretaries and directors of government-linked companies.
Citing the appointment of Temenggong as an example, a PRS leader said the party has no Temenggong in all the 11 divisions of the State Administration.
“We did recommend Asan Ngang to be the Temenggong of the Iban Community for the Limbang Division to the State Task force following the retirement of Temenggong Jarum. His nomination was rejected by the Task force.
“And for several years now, Limbang has no Iban Temenggong,” he said.
Even Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party has no Temenggong in its fold.
The task force is said to be headed by Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu Anak Numpang, who is also the Deputy President of PBB.
PBB appoints its own men or those who have close links with PBB as Temenggong. For example, former Kapit MP from PBB James Jimbun as Temenggong of Kuching, Samarahan – Temenggong Anthony Nyipa, Sri Aman – Temenggong Kanang Anak Langkau, Betong – Temenggong Nunong Anak Danan, Sibu – Temenggong Adrian Ranggau, Kapit – Temenggong Kenneth Kanyan, Bintulu – Temenggong Kelambu Ak Medan, and Miri – Temenggong Wilson Atong Anak Limping.
Even PRS’s recommendations for some of its men to be appointed as Pemanca, Penghulu and longhouse chiefs have been rejected.
Undoubtedly, PBB has little respect for PRS which is the ‘youngest’ of the four-party BN coalition in the State. It was registered on October 24, 2004 the day Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak was deregistered by the Registrar of Societies.
PRS was supposed to take over the place of PBDS, and has been fighting for the rights and interest of the Dayaks, the Ibans in particular. But it is being treated with suspicions by especially PBB until today because the majority of its members were once PBDS’ hardcore supporters.
“We are still being regarded with suspicions even though we mean well in the so-called power sharing of the Barisan Nasional,” said a PRS leader.