8 OCTOBER 2017
I am amused that the group of community leaders should feel compelled to defend DCM James Masing’s miscalculation in sending 160 of them in a military plane to Putrajaya to pledge support for the PM. Temonggong Wilfred Billy Panyau is entitled to his opinion that it was not disrespectful to be flown in a military plane instead of a commercial plane. If he is happy to be treated like that, so be it.
However, Wilfred cannot claim to speak for all ex-servicemen. He and his other community headmen friends may be doing fine, having been appointed headmen and getting allowances from the government, but what about the other retired servicemen who have not been so lucky? It had been reported in 2012 that 60% of ex-servicemen live in poverty and are struggling to make ends meet. What does Wilfred have to say about these 60%? Are they being taken good care of by the government?
As for his claim that he and his friends were appointed because the government recognises their sacrifice and commitment to protect the country, that is just illogical. All the existing ex-servicemen made the same sacrifice and had the same commitment, where are their appointments? Many of them are just struggling to survive. If Wilfred claims that he and his friends deserve to be respected for their sacrifice and commitment, where is the respect for the rest of the retired servicemen? How should this respect be shown? I’m sure they would also like to know the answer.
In fact, last year, I had made a statement about the appointment of community leaders after I had received numerous calls expressing concern that the recent appointments of community chiefs and headmen had been of individuals who are chosen because of their affiliation with BN component parties. I had said in my statement, ‘Many of these appointees do not have the standing in the community, which is essential for those who hold this position. Many do not have the respect and support of their local communities that they are expected to represent.’
DCM James Masing’s initial statement was that he could not afford to fly them all on the commercial plane – that in itself implies that the commercial plane is the preferred option. He also said that the community leaders were there to pledge support to the PM. Only after the criticism levelled at him did he come up with the story about the flight being a reward for fighting communists. Which brings me to ask – exactly how many of these community leaders fought the communists in those days?
Whatever these community leaders may say, the fact remains that there was blatant abuse of power by the DCM in using a government asset for his political purpose in flying these people to Putrajaya. Moreover, it was disrespectful of him for using these political leaders this way.
Finally, I wish to say to Wilfred and his friends, who are ‘warning’ critics not to use them for political mileage, to please look at themselves square in the face and ask themselves what the DCM was doing, if not using abusing his powers by using them for political mileage? They have been politicised, no matter how much they deny it. When we in the opposition see something unethical, it is our duty to point it out. Sometimes the truth hurts, and it is easier for them to deny rather than to face the uncomfortable truth.
Wilfred and other community leaders would do well to remind themselves of the Community Chiefs and Headmen Ordinance 2004 which prohibits them from being affiliated with any political party. They are meant to be politically neutral, and their duties are to speak and act in the best interests of the people they represented. Why should they allow themselves to be used by a BN party to go to KL and pledge support for the PM?
It is a sad day indeed when community leaders cannot see that they are being exploited by political parties, and an even sadder day when they insist that they are being rewarded and respected even when others see it as blatant disrespect and an abuse of power. Worst of all, they do not even care that the law prohibits them from being affiliated with political parties. We again reiterate our call for community chiefs to be appointed by the communities and not by the government, so that the position can again be accorded the respect it once enjoyed.
Chairman, KEADILAN Sarawak