First and foremost, we wish to extend our congratulations to Yang Berhormat Jannie Lasimbang and Parti DAP Sabah for her victory in the recently concluded 14th General Elections. Borneo 360 ALIVE had the pleasure to meet YB Jannie Lasimbang, the newly appointed Sabah Assistant Minister for Law and Native Affairs to share her views.
YB Jannie Lasimbang, a well-known grassroots activist, is no stranger to politics and how it is often exploited to control dissent, stifle arguments and sweep dirt under the rug. As a founding member of the Pacos Trust, a group supporting Sabah’s indigenous people, and former Human Rights Commissioner of Malaysia (Suhakam) commissioner between 2010 and 2013, Jannie has championed the rights and causes of the state’s marginalised indigenous people for more than two decades.
In an interview with The Malaysian Insight, Jannie said, “All this while, being in a non-governmental organisation, I believed I could do so much change, but in the end, I realised it’s a bit hard.”
Past efforts of activists have led to greater representation and improved living conditions for the indigenous communities, but there were many limitations working as an activist. One of the most prejudicial was the legal restrictions to enacting change. During her tenure as Suhakam commissioner, Jannie produced the National Inquiry into the Land Rights of Indigenous People of Malaysia, where the panel concluded that there was a trend of systemic violation of human rights happening through laws and policies in the country.
Shackled by the previous government’s hard-line stand on human rights issues in the country, Jannie began to seriously consider becoming a lawmaker in 2013 to bring about real change. Her decision to join DAP was based on the party’s commitment to making women an integral part of the decision making process in the country’s law and administration.
Women empowerment strikes a chord in Jannie’s fight for equality and fair treatment as she believes women should be given their rightful place of dignity in society matters. In an interview with Borneo360Alive, she recounted how the women campaign workers, many of them in their 50s, worked tireless throughout her recent GE14 campaign because they believed a change had to happen if Sabah were to see any real progress in the future. With limited funds but buoyed by a sense of urgency, these women made their presence felt particularly in villages, and encouraged the voiceless to come forward and finally have their say.
When the results of the Kapayan constituency was announced, Jannie had managed to garner a majority of 13,250 votes over her more experienced and moneyed opponents from the then-ruling Barisan National and several other candidates from Gabungan Sabah and the alliance of Parti Cinta Sabah-PKAN. This was the biggest majority of any party candidate in the GE14 and for a first-timer in the political arena, Jannie was both surprised and elated.
Even though there were signs that the people of Sabah were getting restless under the Barisan National administration, Jannie did not want to raise her hopes too much as was the case in the last election in 2013. Her victory, and all those who stood against the ruling party, had tipped the balance in favour of a new era in Sabah politics, and the chaos that ensured a week after the election could not dampen the sense of pride in the people of Sabah for daring to stand up for a more hopeful future.
In the wake of the elections, three new portfolios were introduced into the new Sabah cabinet which are the Health and People’s Wellbeing Ministry, the Education and Innovation Ministry, and the Legal and Native Affairs Ministry of which Jannie has been appointed as Deputy Minister.
The portfolio handed to her under the ministry is to see the Native Court being upgraded to be on par with the civil court. While the Native Court has improved its jurisprudence over the years, a number of changes is expected to happen to make it more relevant to not only the indigenous people but also others who live within the same community. Training courses to strengthen and upgrade the Native Court system, particularly those related to adat or native affairs, will be conducted in line with the vision of this new ministry.
Further to this would be Jannie’s own vision which she had been promoting while on the campaign trail, and that is to restore the pride of the indigenous people in their own culture, language and identity. This includes land matters as it does matter where one comes from and how this heritage can be passed on to the younger generation.
Land reforms will take into account not just land ownership but environment protection as well. Jannie opined that her ministry was not set up to benefit just one ethnic group but all others too to create a clean, harmonious and meaningful living environment. This is the future that the younger generation has to build for themselves and this is the vision that Jannie will strive to achieve with the support and confidence that she has been entrusted upon.