Yesterday I watched the press conference of the Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin in anticipation of an announcement that he will see to addressing long pending citizenship applications. Alas all I heard of was on border security and mostly on documented and undocumented migrants.
It has been 18 months that he has reigned the post of Home Minister and approval of citizenship applications has been slower than usual.
While we are all well aware that awarding citizenship to any person is considered the highest order of recognition of any nation, there also has to be a mechanism in place to ensure that one does not have to wait for decades to obtain their citizenship.
Many who were born in Malaya and post independence, are waiting for a response – if they were successful with their applications or not? In some cases, their applications are denied and as they are not informed of the reason, they are left in the dark on submitting new documents to re-apply or to appeal the decision.
Over the past month there have been many articles published on the woes of obtaining citizenship in Malaysia – from a moral policing point of view on children born out of wedlock, on children born to Malaysian mothers overseas, children born to foreign spouses, senior citizens awaiting their citizenship documents and the list goes on.
The crux of the issue here is the discriminatory practise of awarding citizenship to whomever the Home Minister approves or fancies – in spite of glaring doubts on their eligibility as seen in the cases of Liridon Krasniqi, Ragad Waleed, Mat Dan and many others who have been “offered” to be called Malaysian including the likes of Zakir Naik as well while other documents are awaiting an approval by the Minister.
Many have submitted complete documentations and are awaiting for their citizenships through the stroke of the pen held by the Home Minister.
And the Home Minister must be bound by a time frame to do that and not at his whim and fancy.
While many legal and human rights experts say that there is no need to amend the Federal Constitution, the issue is in the interpretation, enforcement and the execution of what is in the law. And therein lies the problem.
Let us be reminded, including those who are part of the Ministry of Home Affairs – Minister and his 2 Deputies, Article 8(1) of the Federal Constitution states that “All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law”.
Does that not apply for citizenship as well? Doesn’t the act of discriminately expediting and approving selected applications in record time and other applications placed in “cold-storage” contravene the Federal Constitution?
In a recent forum Deputy Secretary of the Home Ministry’s Nationality Department Mohamed Shahrizal Yahaya said the government was attempting to facilitate citizenship applications, but it was on a case-by-case basis to avoid people from taking advantage of the benefits of becoming a Malaysian citizen and he said the officers have no choice but to follow set rules and regulations, adding that they must take into account the impact on the country as a whole.
While I agree that citizenship applications need to be scrutinised, were the same guidelines used when approving applications by footballers and celebrities in record time when scores of people have been waiting from birth till their old age to be called Malaysian having been born here years ago?
I call on the Prime Minister and Home Minister to go back to the drawing board to:-
i) set in place Key Performance Index (KPI) measurements for citizenship applications and a 2-weeks respond window that the document is in process as well as a 90-day processing period;
ii) state reasons why applications were rejected or denied so that applicants can resubmit their applications or appeals with fresh validated documents;
iii) state clear SOPs for children especially on their admission into schools which often takes an “immigration” policy for the child to obtain a foreign passport when the father is Malaysian;
iv) form cross-Ministry committees including the Home Ministry, Women, Family and Community Development Ministry and the Education Ministry for a holistic and macro approach on citizenship for foreign spouses and children in orphanages and those in homes for senior citizens.
v) a 30-day time limit for the Home Minister to approve citizenship applications that have been vetted and have complied with all application requirements.
There must be no discrimination whatsoever – based on gender, language, ethnicity and age in the processing and the approval of citizenship by people who wish to be Malaysian.
As how the Home Minister zealously speaks on undocumented migrants and controlling border security, thousands of people waiting for years to be called Malaysians hope the same approach to their long wait.
Member of Parliament for Batu Kawan