Malaysian Citizenship bids need to wait almost forever

Malaysian Citizenship bids need to wait almost forever

  1. “Once the applications reach Putrajaya, virtually nothing is done,” disclosed former Sabah chief minister Chong Kah Kiat, citing his personal experience during his term in office.
  2. “I had to personally see (former premier Dr) Mahathir (Mohamad) to get approval for 300 applications for Permanent Residence in Sabah from foreigners.”
  3. “These applications were from people, mostly professionals like doctors, who had been in the state for up to 30 years.
  4. The state government had approved their applications but they were held up at the federal level for no rhyme or reason by ignorant civil servants. It’s a mindset problem in Putrajaya.”
  5. One fear among Sabahans and their political leaders alike is that the applications for citizenship dating back to 1963 may either be “missing in action” by now or “even thrown away after some time.”
  6.  In that case, the onus will be on the applicants to prove that they did indeed follow-up on their applications at regular intervals, according to a source in Sabah NRD.
  7. “Even acknowledgment slips of applications received by the NRD are not good enough for them to press their case. If you merely file an application and just back and wait, you may be waiting forever. Nothing will happen in most cases.”
  8. In many cases, the applicants apparently went to their graves with their citizenship applications still pending, or ironically, had them approved only after they had passed on.
  9. It is pointed out that the officers handling the citizenship applications lodged in 1963 at the NRD would have long retired from service and perhaps even passed on. Still, “hope springs eternal in the human breast” in Sabah, judging by the spectacle of 80-year-olds approaching their legislators for assistance in securing their citizenship papers.Cynics can’t help but wonder with wry humour why 80-year-olds, “with one foot already in the grave”, still need their Malaysian citizenship papers “since this definitely won’t be an issue where they are going.”



The Putrajaya STF (PJ-STF), according to its KPI (Key Performance Index), has “cleared” 50 percent of the 32, 900 applications for citizenship received before 2008. It is not known how many of these applications have been approved. The PJ-STF has pledged to “clear the backlog by the end of this year.” It has been estimated in the past that 30,000 Sabahans alone are not Malaysians.

Besides, the NRD receives 500 applications daily for citizenship and has a backlog of 16,000 appeals alone for entry permits, the first step on the road to permanent residence. These applications, rejected by the Immigration Department without assigning any reason whatsoever, are from foreigners who have family in Malaysia. The numbers include foreigners married to Malaysians.

Politicians across both sides of the divide in Sabah want a Special Task Force for Sabah (STF), headed by a local, “to expedite the backlog of citizenship applications lodged since Malaysia Day in 1963 and ease other similar bottlenecks as well.”

A Sabahan, it is suggested, “would be in a better position to understand the situation in the state.”

The call for the STF follows the belated discovery that the Sabah National Registration Department (NRD) acts more as “a remote post office” and is kept completely out of the picture by Putrajaya. There is some public suspicion that the status of the Sabah NRD has in fact been further downgraded since the appointment of a local head, for the first time, recently.



 The Sabah NRD’s lowly status was discovered in recent days when 50 elderly applicants for citizenship queried their current status through the Sabah Peoples Progressive Party (Sapp).

Another 137 applicants approached the Sabah MCA for help with their citizenship applications, permanent residence and MyKads, according to Edward Khoo, the state liaison chief.

“The NRD here (in Kota Kinabalu) doesn’t even know about these pending cases. They don’t have records. At least, they should be keeping track of the applications,” fumed Sapp Wanita chief Melanie Chia (Luyang).

 “Many of these people are already in the 80s and are still holding their red IC (permanent residence).”

Chia claims that citizenship, by virtue of the Malaysia Agreement, “is automatic – via the merger of territories – for those who were in Sabah before Malaysia Day.”

The implication drawn is that the applications have not been approved for some reason – ignorance and a mindless bureaucracy is hinted at – and is unlikely to be approved, given the passage of time, despite the Malaysia Agreement.

Her views were echoed by Sapp deputy presidents Liew Teck Chan (Likas) and Eric Majimbun (MP for Sepangar) who is among those who raised the idea of the STF and also a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the NRD and the extraordinary 301 percent rise in the number of ‘Malaysians’ in Sabah since 1970.

Majimbun disclosed that he had in fact raised the idea of the STF in
“should also look into delays encountered by Sabahans, generally those living in the rural areas, in applying for MyKads.”

Parents’ status a stumbling block

He lamented the fact that “many natives in the rural areas were in fact in the category of stateless people”, being either without birth certificates, the case with the elderly, or without MyKads in the case of the young even if they had birth certificates. The stateless status of their parents remains the stumbling block.

No identity documents

Moyog (Upko) state assemblyperson Donald Mojuntin likewise cited his personal experience with applicants in Kibabaig in Penampang, Beluran and Kota Marudu. Mojuntin heads Upko’s citizenship and security bureau.

Upko stands for United Pasok Momogun KadazanDusunMurut Organisation. Pasok is the Dusun term for Natives and Momogun for non-Natives. The Kadazan are urban Dusuns.

“Among the problems is that many people have no form of identity documents including birth certificates,” said Mojuntin who is also the assistant Finance Minister, a job he secured when Sapp pulled out from the BN on Sept 17 last year. “Then, there were teenagers and as well as adults – the stateless category – who only had birth certificates.”

Majimbun noted the formation, not so long ago, of a 60-strong STF at the NRD in Putrajaya to deal with the backlog of applications. However, Sabahans are generally not impressed with what it has done for the state so far. Hence, the call for a STF just for Sabah.

Lawyers in the know suggest that “not clearing one’s citizenship status could affect as well family members who follow since the policies keep changing arbitrarily.”

Children appear to take their citizenship status, according to tightened policies in recent years, from both their parents, at least in Sabah.

Nevertheless, Chia like the others, remains undeterred. For them, “it’s also an issue of principle”, no matter how long it takes. She expressed surprise and extreme disappointment that the NRD hasn’t been able to settle the pending cases, one way or other, despite the passage of nearly five decades.

Joe Fernandez

Citizenship bids in Sabah pending since 1963, Malaysiakini news

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