Hannah Yeoh: Taxpayer-funded NRD can do better to end Malaysian mothers’ suffering

·6-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, June 22 — The National Registration Department (NRD) as a government agency funded by taxpayers should speed up the process of issuing citizenship documents to children born overseas to Malaysian mothers, Segambut MP Hannah Yeoh said today.

Yeoh said she is standing in solidarity with the Malaysian mothers in urging the Home Ministry to immediately follow a High Court decision and to issue citizenship papers to these children who are applying to be recognised as Malaysians.

“The National Registration Department is 100 per cent funded by taxpayers, and I do not believe that taxpayers want these mothers to suffer, these are legitimate citizens of Malaysia fighting for their right.

“And as a fully-funded agency, you should be working for the people, and I don’t think we are looking at hundreds and hundreds of thousands of applications to process. So far these last few months, only six applications have come through.

“Surely I think the NRD with all the budget that we have approved for the NRD every year, they can do better than this and they can do faster than this,” she said today.

While the NRD had in recent months approved the citizenship applications for the children of six Malaysian mothers who had sued the NRD in a lawsuit, there are 70 other Malaysian mothers who have applied — as early as last December or this January — but are still waiting for the NRD to process their children’s citizenship applications.

Yeoh said the overseas-born children of these Malaysian mothers are suffering as the citizenship applications have stalled or which have been delayed without progress made, noting: “And every day matters to these children. We are looking at survivors of domestic violence, we are looking at parents who have been separated from their kids simply because NRD refuses to listen to the High Court’s decision.”

She further urged the prime minister to immediately instruct the home minister to follow his own slogan of prioritising “Keluarga Malaysia” or the Malaysian family.

“We really want to see the suffering end,” she said.

Yeoh was speaking in a press conference held by the advocacy group Family Frontiers and affected Malaysian mothers, following a Court of Appeal hearing this morning.

Suriani Kempe said it is time for Malaysian mothers to have equal rights to confer citizenship to their children regardless of where they are born. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Suriani Kempe said it is time for Malaysian mothers to have equal rights to confer citizenship to their children regardless of where they are born. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

Suriani Kempe said it is time for Malaysian mothers to have equal rights to confer citizenship to their children regardless of where they are born. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

Suriani Kempe, president of Family Frontiers, also urged the NRD to follow the High Court order by issuing citizenship documents to overseas-born children of Malaysian mothers to give them “relief from their ongoing hardship”.

“We want to reiterate that the Malaysian government’s discriminatory policies are clearly fracturing Keluarga Malaysia and it is time to end this. It is time for Malaysian mothers to have equal rights to confer citizenship to their children regardless of where they are born,” she said.

In December 2020, Family Frontiers and six Malaysian mothers filed a court challenge against the Malaysian government, the home minister and the NRD director-general.

In September 2021, the High Court decided that the citizenship provisions in the Federal Constitution should be interpreted in a way that does not discriminate against Malaysian women, and ruled that children born outside of Malaysia to Malaysian mothers are entitled to be declared Malaysian citizens by operation of law.

The High Court had also ordered for citizenship documents to be issued to the children of the six mothers and all other Malaysian mothers facing the same situation — if they had followed all the same procedures as Malaysian fathers.

Lawyer Datuk Gurdial Singh Nijar hopes the attorney general would respond favourably and give the necessary orders to the NRD so the Malaysian mothers could avoid taking any further action to enforce their rights. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Lawyer Datuk Gurdial Singh Nijar hopes the attorney general would respond favourably and give the necessary orders to the NRD so the Malaysian mothers could avoid taking any further action to enforce their rights. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Lawyer Datuk Gurdial Singh Nijar hopes the attorney general would respond favourably and give the necessary orders to the NRD so the Malaysian mothers could avoid taking any further action to enforce their rights. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Datuk Gurdial Singh Nijar, a lawyer representing Family Frontiers and the six Malaysian mothers in the lawsuit, suggested that it would be contempt of court for the NRD to not issue citizenship papers to other similarly-affected Malaysian mothers.

He pointed out that the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) had applied to stay the High Court order while the government appeals the matter, but pointed out that both the High Court and the Court of Appeal had rejected the application for a stay and which he said meant the citizenship documents must be issued even ahead of any decision on the appeal.

“They are refusing to give documents. They are saying we got to wait for the outcome. Which means the Court of Appeal’s decision and the High Court’s decision — saying that you cannot stay this, you must issue — is being openly defied, and this in normal circumstances constitutes a contempt of court, which is punishable by imprisonment and/or fine, or both,” he said, stressing that nobody is above the law and that the government should follow the law.

“So we appeal to the attorney general (AG) and the AGC to correctly advise that they have to issue these documents to the mothers in like circumstances wherever they are located, that is the effect of it. And they have to do it expeditiously, because for fathers who are in a similar situation, the documents are issued almost immediately or within a very short span of time.

“Here you have cases of mothers who have been applying and given all their documents something like six months or half a year ago and the NRD is just defying it, this is going to be a breakdown of the rule of law,” he said, adding that he hopes the attorney general would respond favourably and give the necessary orders to the NRD so the Malaysian mothers could avoid taking any further action to enforce their rights.

Gurdial also questioned the AGC’s arguments at the Court of Appeal this morning, where senior federal counsel Liew Horng Bin had on behalf of the government cited a Federal Court decision to say that the Federal Constitution could not be amended to protect Malaysians from gender discrimination.

“That is startling because all these amendments go through the AGC anyway, so I don’t know what they are challenging really,” he said.

Gurdial also argued that the Federal Court decision in April instead made it clear that the Federal Constitution’s basic structure could not be altered, and that this only meant that the fundamental rights in the Federal Constitution cannot be taken away, while amending the Federal Constitution to improve and further amplify the rights could be done.

Article 8(2) provides that there shall be no discrimination against Malaysians based on religion, race, descent or place of birth in any law.

In September 2001, the Malaysian government via Parliament had enlarged the scope of Article 8(2), to now also protect Malaysians from gender discrimination in any laws.

This was done by an amendment to the Federal Constitution to insert the word “gender” to the list of items in Article 8(2) that Malaysians cannot be discriminated on.

Earlier today, Liew had claimed that the Federal Court’s decision meant that Article 8 cannot be amended as it is part of the basic structure of the Federal Constitution, further arguing that the amendment to Article 8(2) in 2001 is invalid and cannot be allowed even if it is to improve the Federal Constitution.

The Court of Appeal is set to decide on August 5 on the government’s appeal against Malaysian mothers being allowed to pass on their citizenship to their overseas-born children.

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