Letter to Editor
JANICE Chong (not her real name) woke up one morning and discovered that her health condition was deteriorating.
She had skipped classes for a few days now. The specialist at Serdang Hospital had diagnosed that Chong was suffering from a long-term illness called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Admitted to Serdang Hospital, her bill came out to be RM4,530. Her father who works as a tractor driver had to dig into his savings to pay the hefty bill.
For most people, the public hospital bill is only a fraction of the actual bill but stateless people have to pay like other foreigners. To make matters worse, blood tests and medication for SLE patients work out to be around RM800 a month.
Chong’s story is recounted time and again in the cases of other stateless children around the country. Although born to a Malaysian father, Chong does not have a blue identity card (IC), hence she cannot travel outside of Malaysia because she is unable to apply for a passport. To make matters worse, her mother had returned to Indonesia before she turned one.
This had left Chong stateless with no one to turn to for help. Stateless people cannot own a bank account or any physical property. What’s more, no employer would be willing to hire them as they will not be able to register a SOCSO (Social Security Organsation) or EPF (Employees Provident Fund) account.
Cases deserving help
Some 8,000 cases of stateless people have been processed by the Home Ministry to-date. Many of these cases are deserving citizenship but owing to a number of reasons, many are unable to obtain their citizenship papers although they are born in Malaysia.
Johari Kassim who is the political secretary to Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail told me that it is untrue that these applications were for Chinese citizens who applied to be Malaysians.
“Most of these cases are, in fact, deserving cases because they are born in Malaysia,” he had told me.
Critics making uncouth remarks
Therefore, the uncouth remarks made by several parties are simply uncalled for. Former Penang deputy chief minister II Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy, for example, questioned the minister’s powers to grant citizenship in a somewhat convoluted argument.
Human rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has similarly made such remarks against Saifuddin who is using his powers to do what is right – to solve the longstanding issue rather than LFL championing one case at a time.
When attacking Saifuddin, Ramasamy had asked “when did the Federal government come to have exclusive rights on the granting of citizenship to those eligible?”
Likewise, LFL director Zaid Malek claimed that Saifuddin’s statement posed “a threat to the citizenship rights of Malaysians as it appeared to undermine the rights guaranteed under Article 14 of the Federal Constitution.”
In his latest statement, Ramasamy appears to go contrary to what he said on March 15, 2016 and quoted in The Malay Mail that the Penang state government is “fighting a losing battle with the National Registration Department (JPN) and their bureaucracy because they just don’t care about these people who are Malaysians but do not have an identity so they are stateless”.
Back then, he blamed the JPN for not being helpful yet when JPN has been instructed for the first time to process some 9,000 cases in the first 9 months of this year, Ramasamy ticked off Saifuddin saying that this this “might contravene the law”.
Meanwhile, Zaid has failed to read Article 14 in conjunction with Article 15A of the Federal Constitution which reads: “Subject to Article 18, the Federal Government may, in such special circumstances as it thinks fit, cause any person under the age of twenty-one years to be registered as a citizen”.
This Article 18 clearly empowers the Home Minister acting on behalf of the Federal Government to grant citizenship to any person under the age of 21. It does not limit the number of cases that could be granted the blue ICs in a year under the ministerial powers.
What Saifuddin is doing is merely to solve the long-standing issue that has plagued many stateless people living in limbo by setting a key performance indicator (KPI) that has never been carried out by any other home ministers in the past. – Oct 11, 2023
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Main pic credit: ElShaddai Centre Bhd