Sarawak is now in the midst of the ‘Sarawak First’ sentiment. While these ‘Sarawak First’ expectations are on the rise, there are perhaps other numerous important elements which also need to be addressed from the structural and administrative aspects either to maintain, reinforce or further strengthen our autonomy.

Waiting for Putrajaya to respond to the cries for help is subject to too many ever-increasing variables and Malayan self-interest.

It is indeed good to see initiatives such as the setting up of Petroleum Sarawak Berhad (Petros), our very own state-owned oil and gas exploration firm established in August 2017 and owned by the Sarawak government.

Utilising Petros to press for assertion to manage our oil and gas resources to benefit Sarawak is a good initiative. The provisions in the amended Mining Ordinance (OMO) 1958 vesting powers to Petros to regulate oil and gas activities in Sarawak have received strong support from Sarawakians and is a step forward towards Sarawak exercising its constitutional rights.

On Nov 3 2017, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg also officially launched the state-owned Development Bank of Sarawak (DBOS) with an appropriate slogan, ‘A Bank that makes a difference to Sarawak’.

During the launch in Kuching, he said, “We have to run to be able to catch up with the more developed parts of the country and the developed world.”

Sarawak needs its own bank to focus on funding development projects which are people centric.

Both Petros and DEBOS are very recent examples of systems which have been put in place to plan and ensure sustainable development in Sarawak.

So what other initiatives or systems do we need to introduce to keep Sarawak growing in a safe and stable environment?

Perhaps a Sarawak Registration Department under a new Sarawak Home Affairs Ministry. But, for what purpose, you would rightfully ask? What does it do for Sarawak?

Before answering this, let’s look at Project IC, the name used in Sabah to describe the alleged practice of systematically granting citizenship to immigrants by issuing identity cards. The term, Project IC, has been widely used by the media and political commentators. The alleged object of the alleged Project IC was to alter the demographic pattern of Sabah.

This outcome of Project IC led to much discontent and drastically changed the social fabric of Sabah and of course the political landscape.

If Sarawak is to maintain control for the foreseeable future of its immigration and policy on residency rights, it would need to have its own secure citizen’s database system.

On August 11 2012, the federal government even officially set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) to investigate problems related to illegal immigration in Sabah. In the 1990s, due to a clandestine exercise it was reported the population growth in Sabah rose by 78 percent.

What check and balance is there at the moment to prevent a ‘Project IC’ scheme from happening in Sarawak? Can an assurance be given that it would not be silently introduced here without knowledge of the Sarawak government or its people?

So what is to prevent ‘corrupt officials and syndicates’, as reported by the RCI of creating the same problem in Sarawak? I am not sure if our current system managed by Putrajaya can be utilised wrongly to issue passports and identity cards to those who are not entitled with the ‘K’ prefix indicating Malaysians with exclusive Sarawak residency rights without Sarawak’s knowledge.

So back to Sarawak. Is there a database of Sarawak citizens exclusively managed by the state government? I do not know. If we don’t, let’s have such a database as it would be essential to maintain the integrity of Sarawak’s right under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63). If Sarawak is to maintain control for the foreseeable future of its immigration and policy on residency rights, it would need to have its own secure citizen’s database system.

The time is right to create such a database with a department to manage it and the introduction of Sarawak identity cards would be a good start.

There can be many spin-off benefits to a Sarawak identity card, especially with the introduction of all things digital into Sarawak. It could be linked to privileges and benefits extended to Sarawakians only and many more innovative and creative endeavours.

This creation of more databases under Sarawak’s management can be extended to many systems such as vehicle registration, Sarawak’s own Register of Societies and many more.

Such systems could start on a small scale and be expanded over a period of time, giving Sarawak the capacity and competency to run and manage its own information and technology.

Having a parallel and complementary system to Putrajaya will definitely enhance our capacity in managing our own affairs.

The introduction of a parallel departments, ministries and systems should not be seen as challenging Putrajaya. It is a natural progression and extension of the current direction. We already have our own Ministry of International Trade, Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Research and many more departments with parallel functions such as the Public Works Department.

The creation of a Sarawak Home Affairs Ministry with oversight related to manage Sarawak citizenship and safety will complement the federal ministry. Having an optimistic approach that there will be no repeat of the alleged Project IC is good. However, prevention is better than cure, just in case an attempt is made by ‘corrupt officials and syndicates’ as mentioned in the RCI.