Viewpoint: DAYAK AWAKENING: Accomplishing Big Dreams Together

This paper was prepared by Duwen Babat for the Forum  “Is it time for a Dayak Reawakening”  held in Kuala Lumpur on July 18, 2011. The paper is the exclusive views of the author.

1. Introduction

1.1 This opinion of mine is to briefly address specific subjects that could give significant impact to the rural population especially the Dayak community in Sarawak. Thus, issues pertaining to urban areas and matters of national implication are not discussed in this paper.

1.2 I must acknowledge that there are many good developments that have been and being carried out and suggested by various parties such as financial support to the elderly and single mothers, treated water, electricity, tarred roads and bridges. As such, I would not dwell on this topic as I support it completely, and of the opinion that such programs are basic necessities that the government is obligated to provide to its citizens.

1.3 The rural electorates continue to play a very vital role in deciding the outcome of the parliamentary and state election in Malaysia. However, despite their importance the Dayak rural populations continue to be marginalized and remained among the poorest since the formation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963.

2. Big Dreams

2.1 Let’s start by asking ourselves with this question – Do we have a vision for the Dayak community? Vision is about big dreams. We could not dismiss on the importance of a vision. A vision provides a leader with a clear direction (Tampai ti terang mai bansa datai nuju adan). Leadership without a clear vision becomes self-focused and purposeless. Vision inspires greatness and unites a strong team. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech on “I Have A Dream” that inspired the Black American greatly resulting in the enactment of Voting Rights Act, 1965 and equal opportunity for all Americans. UMNO’s agenda is on “Ketuanan Melayu” and DAP pursues “Malaysia For Malaysians”.

2.2 Since the split of SNAP into various parties (PBDS, SPDP, PRS), the Dayak politicians have become disarrayed. This is reflected by the birth of several parties such as PBDS, SPDP and PRS whereby the position in the party supersedes the interest of the Dayak community. At the same time, the Dayak in PBB maintained exclusive position for themselves. The Dayak, either in PBB or PRS or SPDP subjected themselves to the agenda of BN which is dictated by UMNO. The rewards for their loyalty in BN have resulted in complacency, self-focused and placed rural Dayak in a disadvantage position. The Dayak in SUPP remains purposeless to their community as the agenda of the party is primarily to champion the cause of the Chinese community. The perseverance of some SNAP leaders must be commended for their fighting spirit to keep the party alive for the Sarawakians although the party continues to fail in their attempt to be represented in the state DUN. Thus, the Dayak need to be reawakened with new hope and vision in order to preserve its identity, remain relevant and important in Sarawak and Malaysia and progress in line with the global environment.

2.3 My topic on the Dayak awakening is on accomplishing big dreams together. Let’s acknowledged the fact that no single party or race could rule Sarawak. Sarawak is very diverse in term of race and religion. Partnership among the various parties or races will be the roadmap towards a developed and peaceful Sarawak. God created diversity, and He has expressed that His kingdom belongs to all races by anointing prophets for the Jews and the Gentiles. Partnership is propagated by God (Ecclesiastes 4:9). Any attempt to propagate racial dominance is against the will of God and will not last forever as reflected by the abolishment of slavery in the U.S.A and the defeat of apartheid in South Africa.

2.4 The successes of BN for the past many years were attributed to the partnership of the various parties of various races. This is an important lesson for the Dayak. The Dayak must face the reality that very soon Dayak will not be a majority race in Sarawak as the government’s aggressive push for mega plantations and the SCORE would attract foreign labors who could be Malaysianised by a stroke of a pen. Further, the Dayak must realize that the ruling government is decided by voters in the democratic election process. However, despite being the majority race for now, the Dayak ranked second after the Chinese in term of the number of voters.

2.5 Therefore, I would think that a vibrant vision that recognized the need for partnership with other races in the state is appropriate. With this in mind, I would think that the Dayak should champion “Equal Rights And Opportunity For Rural Sarawak (EUROS)”, thereby eradicating poverty by year 2020. Considering that the gap between the poor and the rich is very wide; the development in rural areas are still lacking; job opportunities in the government is biased towards one race; the beneficiary of natural resources is in the urban centers and in the hands of some individuals only; and the 18 Points Agreement on the formation of Malaysia is ignored, such vision would be apt. This vision is not new. There are many activists championing this issue currently and their efforts could be made more powerful through partnership with a stronger organization. As John C. Maxwell, the author of several best sellers on leadership, writes, “Nothing of significance was ever achieved by an individual acting alone.” Further, EUROS is an issue that is expected to be relevant in Sarawak for the next many years.

3. How do we achieve EUROS?

I will focus my discussion in three areas, namely, politic, commerce, education and employment. Some of the notions are as follow.

3.1 Partnership In Politic.

3.1.1 The majority poor are the Dayak (Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, and others) and they reside mostly in the rural areas. Generally, the Dayak are very patriotic of their identity although such patriotism in the last few elections could be overcome by cash rewards and promises for developments. Cash rewards flourishes during election time due to many factors that include poverty, less inform on the issues, weak political structure, etc. Also, it could speculated that the break-up of Dayak dominated parties were due to the influence of money politics. As such, it is a tremendous hurdle for the Dayak to lead in politic without partnering with other political parties or races due to financial constraints.

3.1.2 PBB which is an alliance of Parti Bumiputra and PESAKA will no doubt continue to dominate within the BN. It is envisaged that in any new seat delineation, PBB is likely to demand for at least a simple majority (51%) in the state BN so as to continue its dominance and lead the political agenda in Sarawak. The BN formula in seat allocation has resulted in other parties such as PRS, SPDP and SUPP merely as minor partners in the BN. Such practice will likely sideline PRS and SPDP in the future.

3.1.3 The Dayak leaders in the PBB are expected to be firmly loyal to the PBB and may block any attempt by the Dayak from other political parties to join them in order to protect their position. We have seen this happened when some former PBDS members were rejected from joining PBB. Meanwhile, the Dayak leaders in PRS, SPDP and SUPP will continue to be the vehicles for delivering MRP projects instead of being the movers and shakers in policy making and rendering major developments to the rural community.

3.1.4 DAP strength is mainly in the urban areas and biased towards the Chinese. DAP will continue to be relevant as long as there are issues such as corruption, inequality among the races, suppression by the authorities, etc. However, DAP must not underestimate SUPP’s ability to change and regain its position in the state politic. After all, SUPP possesses the resources at its disposal.

3.1.5 In view of the current situation whereby the Chinese is mainly represented through DAP and outside the BN umbrella, the Dayak may want to consider partnership with the DAP to champion the EUROS. It would be better for the rural community to be strongly represented in both side of the political divide as it provides a check and balance in the government. As we have seen, more meaningful developments have been carried out in the rural areas since the political tsunami in 2008. These developments were expedited as a result of PR politicians who were harping on the issues on behalf of the rakyat. This is an evident that a strong Dayak representation in both sides of the political divide will benefit the Dayak community at large.

3.1.6 The formulas for partnership for the consideration of all parties are as follow.

- DAP continues to maintain its brand name as the party has strong heritage and proven itself to be credible in representing the rakyat.

- A platform for the Dayak would be to use existing local party such as SNAP or STAR or PRS or SPDP.

- The DAP and the Dayak through the chosen local party should merge by forming an alliance ala PBB style. For the purpose of this paper, I would name the alliance as Sarawak Dayak & DAP Alliance. Its acronym name shall be “SADA” (In Iban, SADA means voice of the people). It will be seen as a local party and entrusted a lead role in the partnership. This is so as the preference of the Dayak for local party is still very strong. However, it is necessary that the chosen party needed to be transformed with leaders who subscribe to the partnership and its vision.

- Another option for the DAP is to disregard an alliance with existing local party; instead, establish a partnership from the onset with new Dayak leaders and rebrand itself as SADA.

3.1.7 Some ideas for the success of the partnership would be as follow. SADA should be based on respect and equal footing. It should not be modeled like the PBB whereby the Dayak is limited to occupy the number two position. Also, it should not replicate the SUPP style whereby the Dayak are used to make up for the numbers in the party. Provide representation for the Dayak in the DAP national high decision making body through appointment during the initial period. A truly democratic election process for the top leadership in the DAP will sideline the Dayak from being represented. This was demonstrated in the PKR national leadership election in 2010 whereby non of the Sarawak PKR leaders were elected to the top party position through the election process. This is so because the majority of the electors will continue to be from Malaya (Malaya is an Iban word for Peninsular Malaysia). Provide opportunity for the Dayak leaders to be election candidates in the urban areas to provide opportunities and ensure sincerity in the partnership. Likewise, the Chinese should be allowed to contest in the Dayak majority areas. It is proven by the BN that Chinese candidates are acceptable by the rural Dayak community. Some Dayak still harbor with the idea that the chief minister position of Sarawak is their traditional rights by virtue of being the majority race. While I do not disagree with such idea, we must also review its relevance to the current and future situation. I believe it is more important for the Dayak to gain its equal rights and opportunity and strengthen their identity in line with the progress of Malaysia rather than being obsess with the chief minister position per se. As I have said in item 2.4, Dayak population will soon be relegated to second or third position and this will invalidate such claim that the chief minister position belong to the majority race. Further, Dayak insistence on the chief minister position could lead to intense politicking for the position that could result in self-centeredness and ignore the interest of the Dayak community. Dayak’s continuous claim on the chief minister position has undoubtly attracted political opponents to divide and rule the community. Communicate the agenda of SADA via party channel in the rural areas. I would think that one of the main reasons for the defeat of PKR party in the rural areas in the recent 10th state election on 16 April 2011 was due to weak party machineries. An immediate step to establish SADA branches and recruit membership must be initiated. Lack of or without clear communication on the agenda of SADA will paralyze the partnership. The integrity and character of the leaders selected as candidates for the election will make a difference for the rural voters. A candidate who loves people and generous would win their heart. Dayak values personal relationship, thus an arrogant personality would not fit well to the community. Someone with proven track record in championing the cause of the community would be ideal. Restore the 18 Points Agreement on the formation of Malaysia. The position of Sarawak as equal partner in Malaysia, the rights for religious freedom, the rights of indigenous races, immigration, and others must be respected by all Malaysians. Ubah (Change). We could expect the call for change will be bolder by certain segment of the society. Local and global events also provide us with wisdom that “ubah” attract enemies as well. Many “Tuai Rumah or Pengulu” in the recent 10th state election on 16 April 2011 became so fearful of losing their position that they have to work very hard and loyal to the BN. The BN successfully planted fear in them with examples in Perak whereby the headmen were removed by the PR government. To change is a risk to the headmen. Thus, SADA must assure the “Tuai Rumah or Pengulu” that their position is protected and they are partners in the government. Partnership with the Dayak in Malaya. There are thousands of Dayak in Malaya especially in the Klang Valley, Johore, Kemaman and Penang. They are a good avenue to plant the seed for change in Sarawak due to their exposure on the political development in Malaya and global issues. They could be a very effective channel to influence their parents, relatives and friends in Sarawak. However, both BN and PR are not looking at this opportunity seriously now. DAP may wish to consider a full-time appointment for the Dayak in Selangor or Penang state government. The appointee(s) shall be responsible for the affairs of the Dayak in Malaya. Such appointment will be seen as recognition to the Dayak community and would go a long way.

3.1 Partnership In Commerce.

The key to change the political landscape in the rural areas is to uplift the living standard of the dwellers. Rural area in Sarawak is huge and provides both opportunities and challenges as well. Opportunities to uplift the income of rural Dayak are as follow.

3.1.1 Recognize clearly and boldly that the NCR land belongs to the landowners. The rural dwellers depend on the land, river and jungle produce for their livelihoods. Endorsing the NCR land is recognizing their rights and respect for their livelihoods.

3.1.2 Establish Dayak owned corporations to participate in the NCR land development. The biggest owner of the NCR land is the Dayak, and yet there is no support by the government to establish Dayak owned corporate entities. There are opportunities for oil palm and sugar cane plantations and mills, large scale agro farming, etc. Large scale plantations are owned and controlled by the government agencies or big corporate players sidelining the less fortunate land owners. The Dayak need the opportunities and financial support to get started, that’s all.

3.1.3 It is a known fact that the NCR land owners reap better benefits from small holdings, yet such opportunity is not promoted by the government. SADA must put this as a top priority in order to raise the income level of the rural Dayak. SADA must commit to provide assistance for small holding in the form of education on commercialization and planting, subsiding seedling and fertilizers, etc.

3.1.4 Establish wholesaling networks to benefit the small retails in the rural areas. Based on my some 20 years experience in the FMCG industry, I could see the challenges facing small retail in the rural areas. Their key challenge is being cut off from the supply chain. Many of the retailers are not serviced or neglected by the wholesalers/distributors due to some shortcomings in the supply chain resulting in small margin and stagnation in their business. With the robust development in plantation (oil palm & rubber), the income of the rural settlers will definitely be higher thereby providing opportunity for better retail business in the village. A small retail shop in a long house with 200 dwellers could give a monthly profit of some RM400 to RM1,000 a month depending on location, product offerings, etc. A micro credit loan to the shop keepers could be channeled in the form of supplies (not cash) via the distributor in order to avoid mismanagement of the funds. This initiative will help to curb the rising cost in the rural areas too. (Although my experience in distribution has been primarily in Malaya, I would be prepared to re-establish my network in Sarawak to support any party interested in this endeavor.)

3.1.5 Develop modern commercial centers that provide space for retailing, bazaar for the agro produce and promote tourism.

3.2 Equal Opportunity In Quality Education and Employment.

3.2.1 Provide scholarship especially for the deserving students from low income group (monthly household income of RM1,000 or less). My key message is opportunity. Let me elaborate this with my own testimony. I was not a top scorer in my examination. But I was given an opportunity to pursue higher education and I succeeded up to a master degree. I climbed up the corporate ladder holding up to a general management position in the American Fortune 500 company. Now I am a small time entrepreneur of my own without receiving any assistance from the government. I believe that poverty could be overcome with equal opportunity in quality education. Thus, a completely merit based system will not provide an opportunity that I have experienced. A scholarship dedicated for the poor rural students irrespective of race and religion should be initiated to support students with the right aptitude for learning and hard work.

3.2.2 Establish Mission High School (ala MARA Science College) in all districts to raise the competency of mathematics, science and English. The school would be opened to the poor of all races and funded fully by the government. The headmasters of the schools must be restored to the Christians to preserve the identity of mission schools and demonstrate compliance in the freedom of religion as enshrined in the 18 Points Agreement and the Constitution of this country. Weak command of English has placed rural students at a disadvantage to gain quality higher education and unable to compete for employment in the MNCs. Also, this initiative will instill Christians’ confidence in SADA as well.

3.2.3 Introduce Equal Opportunity law that provide equal opportunity for employment in the government and private sector and that does not discriminate based on race, religion, gender and physical condition. Further, such law should promote recruitment from the low income group to bridge the gap between the poor and the rich.

4. Focus In Rural Development

I would now shift my focus on the implementation aspects of the rural development. As I have observed, lots of problems on rural developments are due to the implementation in the field. Thus, I would like to focus my suggestion on the delivery and financing aspects only.

4.1 Establish a Rural Development Ministry with a full minister position and supported with three Assistant Ministers (AM). The AM will be responsible for the smooth implementation of the developments in various rural areas. The AM are to be located in the rural areas that are of political importance to SADA. Such location could be Bandar Sri Aman, Kapit and Marudi. This will propel rural development and provide employment to the rural folks. It is necessary for the AM to be closer to the rural folks in order to facilitate developments.

4.2 Finance rural development through shared concept. Rural areas are deprived from getting funding from the government due to the priority in urban development. In order to ensure commitment to the rural areas, I would suggest that the government of the day introduce a shared financing concept. This model will compel three parties, namely, the government, investor and the kampong folks to jointly commit for development arising from the commercialization of natural resources extracted within 20 kilometers radius from the village. This shared concept is illustrated as follow.

- The natural resource (timber, coal, etc) is found within 20 kilometers from village A, B and C with 150 households.

- Investor X is granted a license by the government to extract and commercialize the natural resource.

- The government imposes a 10% requirement on the turnover to be allocated for development to village A, B and C.

- All three parties (government, investor and kampong folks) benefit from the commercialization of the natural resource. The investor gain from the profit; the government earns from the taxes and able to provide funding for the developments that benefits the dwellers.

5. Key Success Factors

5.1 Vision. The Dayak need a vision that glorifies the community. In the Book of Proverb 29:18, God teaches us that where there is no vision, the people perish. SADA must remain focus on the vision and become the entrusted body to champion it to the Dayak community.

5.2 Leadership. We have learned from the Book of Nehemiah that successful rebuilding of a nation requires the partnership of action oriented God fearing leaders and God. Action will always beat inaction. This is the difference between the winners and losers. Leaders who are God’s centered will bring equality, justice and blessings to their nation. Thus, it is important that SADA select leaders that glorify God and the community. I would think that new faces in politic would be more acceptable than a recycle leaders with poor tract records.


5.3 Finance. To allocate 50% of oil & gas royalty to rural development. This will ensure commitment towards achieving the vision.

5.4 Opportunity. While meritocracy would be the ideal, we must not forget that an opportunity give new life to mankind. Men were not saved by merit but by the grace of God who gave new life through Jesus Christ. Therefore, the rural Dayak must be provided with equal opportunity to raise their living standard in line with their brothers and sisters in the urban areas and the rights to share the wealth of the state of Sarawak. The basis for opportunity may disregard meritocracy at the initial stage but it does not discriminate on race, religion, gender and physical outlook.

6 Lastly but not the least, I would like to remind all of us on God’s word in Proverb 16:3 that says “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” I wish all of you success.

Duwen Babat

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Catholic Lawyers Society Kuala Lumpur. CLS makes no representation concerning, and does not guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness or reliability of any statement, information, data, finding, interpretation, advice, opinion, or view presented.

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