PRS upset over PBB hijacking ‘chieftain posts’

By Joseph Tawie

Arrogant PBB has little respect for its allies in Sarawak Barisan Nasional and a frustrated PRS is now making its demands.

KUCHING: Barisan Nasional ally Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) wants a total revamp to the current system of appointing community leaders in the state, which has been hijacked by Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s party Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB).

According to a senior PRS leader, who declined to be named, the current system has led to these community leaders becoming political stooges of PBB elected representatives.

The leader said in some cases these BN representatives and their political leaders have victimised the community heads because of their political allegiance.

He cited disabled farmer Frusis Lebi whose welfare aid and farming subsidy was revoked because he flew an opposition flag in his house during last April’s state election.

These community leaders have now become the ‘eyes and ears’ of the government, and report directly to their respective elected representatives.

“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 the title “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 the 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 penghulus come under his wing.

Likewise, a number of Pemanca are under the Temenggong.

Intimidating non-aligned supporters

Unlike the days of pre-independence when Tuai Rumah, Penghulu, Pemanca and Temenggong were elected by the people and championed people’s rights and were often native courts judges, today they are appointed by the political parties in the government, vis-à-vis PBB.

“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.

He said sometimes these community leaders were arm-twisted into intimidating their own followers 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 for Tuai Rumah to RM650 (Penghulu), RM750 (Pemanca) and RM850 (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. As a result, it creates a lot of enmity and animosity among the longhouse people.

Even among the BN component parties, the appointment of community leaders can create suspicions.

This is what is happening now.

It is for this reason and others that PRS president James Masing has formed a committee within the party to relook at the community leader appointment system.

This is aimed at ensuring fairness in the distribution of the community leaders among the BN partners.

The committee is headed by vice-president John Sikie Tayai.

Need for new system

Masing said the main aim of the committee is 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 appointing community leaders such as Temenggong, Pemanca, Penghulu and Tuai Rumah or Tua Kampung for the Dayaks.

“Once we have made the findings, PRS will then forward its recommendations to the state government,” said Masing, who is a senior minister and State Land Development Minister.

PRS and Masing have every reason to feel upset over the treatment meted out to the party.

Even though PRS denies that it is being bullied or is treated like “anak tiri (adopted child), the party is not being considered in the appointment of community leaders as well as other political posts – political secretaries and directors of government-linked companies.

Citing the appointment of Temenggong, the PRS leader said the party has no Temenggong in all the 11 divisions of the state.

“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 PBB deputy president.

No respect for other parties

PBB appoints its own men or those who have close links with PBB as Temenggong.

For example Kuching’s  Temenggong is former Kapit MP James Jimbun, while in Sri Aman it is Kanang Anak Langkau, Betong has  Nunong Anak Danan and in Sibu it is Adrian Ranggau.

Meanwhile Kapit Temenggong is Kenneth Kanyan, in Bintulu it is Kelambu Anak Medan and in Miri it is Wilson Atong Anak Limping.

Even PRS’ 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 Oct 24, 2004, the day Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) 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 interests of the Dayaks, the Ibans in particular. But it is being treated with suspicions by 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. – FMT

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