We can’t afford to be divided

We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.

— JK Rowling, British author

As I write this column, several quarters have castigated state assistant minister Datuk Francis Harden for his remark where he reportedly said the government should not pay the salaries of community leaders who support the opposition.

While the Simanggang assemblyman, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t rebutted the claims, I just think that he may have a point.

You see, community leaders serve as the part of the local governance, be it at the village or longhouse level.

And in this respect, they should be representing the interests of the people — ensuring their welfare is well taken care of — not the interests of themselves.

There is absolutely no point in having community leaders who disregard the voice of the people just to promote or spread their own political inclinations.

If the recent state election results tell us something, it is that the people are with the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) state government.

They have elected this government to serve; fulfil their wishes and aspirations for the next five years – the people have spoken.

And if we take this into account, then there should not be any community leaders worth their salt who are leaning towards the opposition, if they are truly honest in representing those under their care.

The Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) man was, again, right in his judgement.

We cannot afford to have villagers and longhouse dwellers being divided among themselves by their own community leaders — whose political inclinations are against their wishes.

As I said time and time again, Sarawak, in need of rapid development — be it in terms of infrastructure, economy and human capital — should not be dampened by disunity among its grassroots.

I still remember the fiasco during the Pakatan Harapan (PH) federal government of old which tried to introduce its own set of village safety and development committees (JKKKs).

It branded its as Federal Village Community Management Council (MPKKP) — but thankfully the plan was scrapped, never taking shape with the fall of the 22-month-old government at the time.

I remember the scheme involved appointing MPKKP members who were endorsed by the Sarawak PH.

A month before the federal government collapsed in February 2020, it was reported that the first batch of MPKKP members comprised more than 3,000 members. They were supposed to start in March.

Can you imagine the repercussions if it ever happened? We’d have two longhouse chiefs in a longhouse — two village heads in a village.

Simply put, we cannot have a ship with two captains which is a recipe for a shipwreck.

I also remember talking to a local MP (now federal minister) who predicted that having such arrangement would bring bitter memories of the full-blown political crisis Sarawak had from 1987 to 1990.

He told me, “We could not afford the disunity and friction in our harmonious Sarawak. It (PH) has done enough to split and divide the people in the Peninsula Malaysia — that is enough. We do not want them (MPPKP) here.”

In any case, similar to how the damage the MPPKP was set to bring, we cannot have community leaders who not only do not represent the wishes of the people but also sow division at the community level.

The people in the opposition argued that the salaries of the community leaders come from the taxpayers’ money and they should be paid.

But then again, it was the opposition-led federal government in 2019 which decided to discontinue the allowance for the JKKKs, community leaders and village heads. This was in anticipation of the establishment of their own MPPKP.

It was the GPS government which continued paying their allowances, in the absence of the usual federal allowance, with a total of RM100 million set aside for the purpose in the 2020 State Budget.

The state government has always taken care of the community leaders’ welfare and has remunerated them accordingly for their service to the people.

However, that being said, we simply cannot have a rotten apple in our midst — this would disrupt the unity that we have been enjoying all this; let’s leave politics to the politicians.

For the rest of us, be it community leaders or mere members, we should not let politics divide us and we should, at all costs, look after our neighbours and those around us.

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