Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Keep Islam Out of Native Family Enactment

The recent statement by Sepanggar MP Eric Majimbun on the proposed Native Family Enactment should be taken seriously. In the Daily Express on December 16th he had said that the Native Family Enactment which is to be tabled soon has Islamic elements in it. This is certainly worrying. The Native Family Enactment deals mainly with non-Muslim native affairs as Muslims already have the Syariah Family Law Enactment.

The non-Muslim native assemblymen in the state assembly must object to any enactment on native laws that involve Islamic elements. Please be reminded that native law and customs predate the arrival of Islam in Sabah. And since family cases like divorce and marriage for Muslims are handled by Syariah laws, there is no reason for the Native Family Enactment to contain Islamic influence. Perhaps it is also high time that the Director of the Native Affairs Council (MHEAN) be appointed from among the non-Muslim natives.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Politics and Racism

Ever since the results of the March 8 General Elections were announced we have seen numerous instances of racial and religious issues being played up by certain groups. The most obvious would be by the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and the Democratic Action Party (DAP).

The DAP started the ball rolling by questioning the appointment of a Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) assemblyman as the Menteri Besar (head minister) of Perak. This angered the pro-UMNO Malays who saw it as a blatant Chinese insult against a Malay ruler. Thankfully the issue quickly died out when there were UMNO members in both Perlis and Trengganu who were against the appointment of individuals as Menteri Besars in those states.

Then came the issue of centralizing pig farming in Selangor. UMNO saw this as an opportunity to stoke religious flames and government-run broadcasts and Malay language press played up the issue. This issue also slowly died out when it was found that the pig-farming project was already planned when UMNO was at the helm of the Selangor government.
Thirdly came the Conversion to Islam Forum, organized by the Malaysian Bar Council. No thanks to the poorly named forum, many Malay Muslims spoke out against the forum. There were DAP members who spoke against those who opposed this forum including in parliament. What they did not realize was that the problem could have been averted had the forum employed another name. After all the forum was to merely discuss problems faced by non-Muslim mothers whose husbands had converted to Islam. It was not about conversion to Islam per se. The Bar Council too should have publicly stated that the forum was a closed one. Thankfully this issue too simply died out when it was found that amongst those who opposed the forum was a member of parliament allied to the DAP.

Then came the issue of DAP assemblymen in Penang, Johore and Selangor who refused to wear the songkok (Malay fez) at swearing-in ceremonies. Many Malays saw this as an insult to Malay customs. North Borneo Herald saw this as an insult to Malaysian custom. After all non-Muslim assemblymen and parliamentarians have been wearing the songkok without fear or fervor all these years. Why was these hardline DAP members being afraid? This issue too was quickly resolved.

Next, came the proposal by the DAP to introduce multilingual road signs in states it had power. North Borneo Herald feels it is absolutely unnecessary to have road signs in Chinese, Jawi and Tamil. Even UMNO has implemented Jawi roadsigns in some states. Why all these unnecessary additions, when the money could be better spent elsewhere? Even in Sabah there have been proposals to have road signs in Jawi. How many people in Sabah can read Jawi by the way?

The DAP meanwhile tries to justify its action by saying that multilingual road signs reflect the multilingual Malaysian society. They also say that it helps foreign tourists to find their way around. Are the majority of foreign tourists Chinese and Tamil speaking? It is the DAP that is fighting for a Malaysian Malaysia. Therefore its actions should reflect a united Malaysia, not a Malaysia which cannot even have road signs in only one language.

After that came the issue of a DAP member of parliament being arrested for allegedly insulting the azan (Islamic call to prayers). UMNO tried to use this issue to paint the DAP as being anti-Muslim. Once again, thankfully the issue disappeared when a mosque official denied that the DAP member ever did what she was accused of.

What is interesting is that this so-called fight between the DAP and UMNO is slowly dragging other parties to slowly lean towards either of them. Many know that PAS has members who fight for exactly some of the same things UMNO fights for. And then there is the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the Malaysian Indian Association (MIC), Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (GERAKAN) and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) who tend to lean towards the DAP. For example when an UMNO member from Penang labeled the Chinese in Malaysia as squatters, it brought GERAKAN out in the open against Penang UMNO.

The other political parties like Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the Sabah and Sarawak-based political parties are caught in between, not knowing exactly what to say when all the issues above were blown out of proportion.

We should not let two political parties to simply make issues out of nothing and cause the Malaysian public to suffer. The DAP must understand Malay Muslim sensitivities and at the same time UMNO should also understand that not all Malaysians are Muslims and neither are all indigenous people of Malaysia Muslims.

North Borneo Herald’s greatest fear is that what happened in India in 1947 might repeat itself in Malaysia. There two political parties played up religious sentiments to its greatest height, and the result was a great nation splitting up into two and thousands of people mercilessly slaughtered.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Interference in Native Customary Marriages

Under the Federal Constitution, the state government of Sabah has been given full powers over native laws and customs through List IIA of the Ninth Schedule. Native laws are implemented through the Natives Court system since the days of the North Borneo Company.

Under the Natives Court Enactment 1992, the Natives Court have full jurisdiction over matters of marriage and divorce contracted under native customs. Even the Law Reform (Marriage & Divorce) Act 1976, says through Section 3 (4) that this Act shall not apply to the natives of Sabah and Sarawak whose marriage and divorce are contracted according to native custom, unless they choose to be married under this law.

However, North Borneo Herald has been told that lately all marriages that are to be solemnized according to natives custom need to be referred to the Registrar of Marriages first! The question we should ask is why?
What authority has the Registrar of Marriages have to request a native marriage to be referred to it? The Registrar of Marriage through the Law Reform Act has no jurisdiction over native customary marriages solemnized in Sabah.

This is clearly an example of the Federal-appointed Registrar of Marriages overstepping the boundaries of its jurisdiction.
Even the Federal Constitution, the supreme law of this land has given the Natives Court authority over native marriages.

Now, if the Registrar of Marriages had in any way attempted to meddle in the affairs of Syariah laws, there would have been demonstrations and various angry responses from Muslim politicians. But here the Registrar of Marriages is meddling in native affairs and yet our native politicians and masses are keeping quiet.

It is high time that Kadazandusun and Murut politicians speak up over this unnecessary interference in native non-Muslim affairs by the Registrar of Marriages and the National Registration Department (NRD). The Registrar and the NRD have no say whatsoever in native affairs. The Native Chief shall have full authority to endorse a marriage solemnized according to native custom.

The Registrar of Births and Deaths too have no authority not to recognize a marriage contracted under native law, as in some cases where they refuse to issue a proper birth certificate because a marriage is contracted under native law. This is blunt provocation and an attempt to belittle native traditions.

For those of you who are forced to go to the Registrar of Marriage before registering a marriage according to native custom, do refuse to do so. You have every right to refuse, as the law clearly says so.

In fact if any one partner in a marriage is a Kadazandusun or Murut, the marriage can be contracted under native laws regardless of the religion of the marrying persons. This is because the jurisdiction of native courts are based on ethnicity and not religion!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Birth Registration Problem in Sabah

There is an increasing number of cases where the Registrar of Births and Deaths refuse to produce a birth a certificate for a newborn child. And in cases where the Registrar of Births and Deaths do issue birth certificates, there are complaints that the Registrar refuse to enter the father’s name on the birth certificate.

Most of the cases involve non-Muslim couples especially natives such as the Kadazandusuns and Muruts and in some cases involve Chinese and Indians. The reason given by the Registrar of Births and Deaths is that a marriage is not recorded on the National Registration Department’s (NRD) database. Or that the marriage is not recognized by the NRD.

However when we look back at the Registration of Births and Deaths Ordinance 1951, there is not a single phrase which say that the Registrar of Births and Deaths shall not issue a birth certificate or shall omit the father’s name if a marriage certificate is not available.
In fact even in cases where there is proof that a child is born out of wedlock, the Registrar of Births and Deaths is obliged to include the father’s name.

The practice of the Registrar of Births and Deaths nowadays is to ask for the parents’ marriage certificate. Since many Kadazandusun and Murut marriages are solemnized according to native laws, there is a tendency for the Registrar of Births and Deaths to refuse to issue a birth certificate. And there are also many Kadazandusun and Murut marriages that are solemnized according to church rites, and the only marriage certificate issued is the church marriage certificate which is not recognized by the Registrar of Births and Deaths.

The questions we should ask are:

1. What business is it of the Registrar of Births and Deaths to ask for a marriage certificate? Please bear in mind that the Registration of Births and Deaths Ordinance 1951 does not require it.

2. What authority does the Registrar of Births and Deaths have to not recognize a marriage? Please remember that Registration of Births and Deaths Ordinance 1951 does not confer any authority to the Registrar to recognize or not recognize a marriage;

3. The Registrar of Marriages meanwhile does not recognize marriages which are not recorded on the NRD’s database though the married persons might have a certificate from the Natives Court or the Assistant Registrar of Marriage (i.e; priest). Where does it say in the Law Reform Act (Marriage and Divorce) 1976 that for a marriage to be valid it has to appear on the database? Please remember that a marriage certificate issued by the Natives Court (Natives Court Enactment 1992) or the church is as valid. (church marriages are recognized by the Marriage Validation Ordinance 1960)

It is believed that the Registrar of Births and Deaths is making a subtle attempt to reduce the number of non-Muslim birth registrations in Sabah. It is also very cruel of them not to include a father’s name on a child’s birth certificate. It is a stigma for people to be considered as children-out-of-wedlock, especially in the conservative society we live in.

Yet it seems that the Registrar of Births and Deaths does not seem to care. Instead of doing the job they are supposed to do, they are becoming marriage investigators.

And another question we should ask is why should the Registrar of Births and Deaths be answerable to the Director-General of Registration. The Director-General of Registration is provided for by the National Registration Act 1959, while the Registrar of Births and Deaths’ post is provided for by the Registration of Births and Deaths Ordinance 1951 (for Sabah).

It is also a well-known fact that marriages contracted according to state Syariah law are accepted without question. Since many illegal immigrants and Project IC* holders are Muslims, they are married according to this law. So we also know now that many foreigners find it easier to obtain a birth certificate for their children than some of our locals.
It is also very saddening that many of the victims of the Registrar of Births and Deaths are poor rural folks who know little of the law. If any of you have any problems with registering a birth, please consult a lawyer. Also familiarize yourselves with the laws mentioned above. Remember, the Registrar of Births and Deaths have no right to refuse you a birth certificate for your child, and it has no right not to include the father’s name on it!

*citizenship card issued by fraudulent means to foreigners