PETALING JAYA: Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) have accused Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and the National Registration Department (NRD) of failing to protect stateless Indians in the country.

In a press statement yesterday, LFL co-founder and adviser, Eric Paulsen, said Najib was ultimately responsible for the problem as the NRD is a department under the Home Ministry and implements policies decided by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

He dismissed Special Implementation Taskforce (SITF) chairman N Siva Subramaniam’s statement yesterday which suggested Najib and the NRD were doing a good job in addressing the problem while blaming the Home Ministry and, to a lesser extent, individuals affected.

“We are therefore at a loss as to how he [Siva] can praise the Prime Minister when he is ultimately responsible for the citizenship policies and practices in the country,” he said.

He added that the NRD was a government department responsible for ensuring all bona fide Malaysians are registered and issued with corresponding identity documents.

“Instead of recognising these people of Indian origin – born and bred in Malaysia – they chose instead to perpetuate their statelessness by discriminating against them and placing an unrealistic burden of proof on them to “prove” their citizenship,” he claimed.

Citing the Sabah “citizenship-for-votes” scandal, Paulsen pointed out that the Home Ministry and NRD have powers to simplify citizenship procedures and requirement.

“…but it had been exercised improperly and with ulterior motives,” he said.

LFL accused BN and the NRD of “serious lack of concern and care” for people of Indian origin and other stateless communities.

“There is no genuine effort to register the affected communities nor is there any special procedure provided to facilitate their registration despite knowing the historical inequities and the context of their present circumstances that have kept them stateless for generations,” Paulsen said.

He added that Siva “should know better than to blame the affected communities when he knows that the applications are usually hampered by administrative obstacles, burdensome requirements, gross delays and require repeated visits and interviews”.

“Even then, these cases are rarely resolved despite fulfilling the general citizenship requirement and they are forced to continue living a precarious and wretched existence without recognition as citizens.”

He urged BN and the NRD to immediately rectify the situation by registering the affected communities under proper procedure for nationals (as opposed to foreigners); simplifying the application procedure and documentation requirement; and undertaking mobile registration.

Yesterday, Siva said the issue of stateless Indians in the country is aggravated by Home Ministry officials handling the matter and Indians themselves who have a careless attitude.

He said that the major complaint was the “unfriendly” nature of Home Ministry officers when interviewing them.

He said the problem is further complicated by Indians, especially those living in estates or rural areas, who do not register marriages or birth.

Siva added these people are mostly uneducated as they could not afford formal education.

Free Malaysia Today,Lisa J. Ariffin| January 24, 2013