By P. Ramasamy
IT is shocking to know that after more than 60 years of political independence, there are residents in the country who have been denied their identity as citizens. Many of them would be citizens by the operation of the law, but continue to suffer in silence.
The Penang state government or any political party might not be able to address the problem of statelessness amongst residents in the country. While they can play a part in highlighting the problem, however, they cannot play a decisive role in addressing the problem on a long-term basis.
The National Registration Department (NRD) is a government agency under the Ministry of Home Affairs that is solely in charge of registering, processing and giving out birth certificates, identity cards and citizenship to deserving Malaysians.
However, over the decades, the NRD has come to be accepted not as a solution but a stumbling block to those aspiring to become citizens of the country.
The NRD has come to be regarded as an agency that is most insensitive and the most difficult government agency to deal with. The department by imposing very difficult and bureaucratic procedures have made it rather difficult and even impossible in many cases for applicants to obtain their identity papers.
There have been cases where applicants simply give up after making a few visits to the NRD office. The NRD is not an independent agency, it comes under the control and supervision of the Minister of Home Affairs.
While the NRD can be blamed for imposing “impossible” measures, it is the lack of political will on the part of the top leadership of the country that prevents many qualified residents in acquiring their citizenship.
The exact number of stateless Malaysians is not known, but the number could be sizeable. For the Indians, it is estimated that there about 300,000 stateless persons, including adults and children.
However, this figure has been disputed by the MIC, although it has not come up with its own figure. In fact, the MIC questioned opposition political parties as how to they arrived at this figure.
In the absence of a political will on the part of the top leadership of the country, the problem of statelessness will continue in the future. While political parties, state governments and NGOs can render assistance to those in the need, the focus should be on the NRD and why it is dragging its feed in not tackling the issue for a long time.
Some are even asking why the NRD, instead of merely accepting and processing applications, should be taking measures in overcoming the problem of statelessness. In fact, there are suggestions that the NRD should launch periodic nationwide campaigns to assist individuals and families in overcoming the problem of statelessness.
But what cannot be accepted is the fact that there have been cases of certain “privileged” individuals invariably non-citizens who came into the country and obtained their permanent resident status and even citizenship within a short of time.
How can this happen when thousands of residents in Malaysia those who are born and bred in the country continue to be side-lined by the government in obtaining their identity papers.
It would be safe to conclude to some extent that the problem of statelessness in Malaysia has been contributed by the NRD, a government department that is most insensitive and bureaucratic towards the suffering of a segment of Malaysian society that needs speedy assistance.
This has been compounded by the fact that those in charge of this department are simply not interested to resolve the problem or lack the political will to do so.
*Dr P. Ramasamy is Penang Deputy Chief Minister II.
*The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Times (TMT).