The development of local government administration in Sarawak began with the establishment of Kuching Sanitary Board (KSB) in 1921 as a means to address the town’s increasing urbanisation.
13 years later, KSB was elevated to Kuching Municipal Board (KMB), paving the way for similar boards to be formed in other major towns namely Sibu and Miri, and smaller bazaars such as Bau, Sarikei, Binatang (now Bintangor), Bintulu and Limbang.
In rural areas, Native Authorities were set up under a legislation called Order No. N-5 (Native Administration) 1940 to encourage local people to participate in the administration of affairs concerning their communities.
Unfortunately, the effort was short-lived, primarily due to poor government administration at that time, and the impending Second World War.
In fact, operations by local authorities in more urban areas were suspended due to the Japanese occupation, and were only reconstituted by the British Colonial Government as civil administration were restored after the war ended.
Since then, local government administration in Sarawak continued to evolve throughout the Crown Colony era. Among many others:
- The first Local Authority Ordinance was passed by the Council Negri in 1948, leading to notable changes in the local government system especially in rural areas, and the establishment of Limbang District Council – the first multi-racial district council in Sarawak. LAO 1948 was then amended in 1951 to expand its scope to urban areas.
- KMB became Kuching Municipal Council (KMC) in 1953, following the enactment of the Kuching Municipal Council Ordinance.
- Until the formation of Malaysia in 1963, apart from local authority services such as public libraries, recreational facilities and public utilities, local government entities in Sarawak were providing services in terms of primary education, public health, town planning and firefighting.
Sarawak underwent a new phase in its local government administration upon becoming a member state of Malaysia.
One of the most significant developments in this period was the restructuring of the system that was completed at the end of 1981 through the enactment of the Local Authority (Amendment) Bill, 1977 and the Kuching Municipal (Amendment) Bill, 1977.
It saw the Government at the state level having increased control over local authorities in terms of policy formulation. It was also in line with reforms at the federal level in order for local authorities to better serve urban and rural grass-root communities.
Another vital milestone was the passing of Local Authorities Ordinance (LAO), 1996 and its enactment in 1998, which aimed “to consolidate the laws on local authorities in Sarawak”, subsequently repealing the 1977 ordinance.
Local Government Administration at Present
The local government is the third and lowest level of the three-tier government system in Malaysia.
Under the provision of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia, its administration and affairs are under the purview of the State Government. For Sarawak, this refers to a Ministry of Local Government, which was first established following the formation of Malaysia in 1963.
Under LAO 1996, there are three types of local authorities in the State: city councils, municipal councils and district councils (Table 1).
The Ministry of Public Health, Housing and Local Government Sarawak is in charge of overseeing and coordinating the functions of all local authorities. However, this does not apply to Dewan Bandaraya Kuching Utara, Majlis Bandaraya Kuching Selatan and Bintulu Development Authority, which is under the administrative jurisdiction of the Premier of Sarawak’s Office.
Sarok, A. (n.d.). Local Government Administration in Sarawak. https://www.academia.edu/9229044/Local_Government_Administration_in_Sarawak
Ministry of Public Health, Housing and Local Government Sarawak. (n.d.). Introduction. https://mphlg.sarawak.gov.my/page-0-77-172-Introduction.html
Ministry of Public Health, Housing and Local Government Sarawak. (n.d.). Local Authorities in Sarawak. https://mphlg.sarawak.gov.my/page-0-0-163-Local-Authorities-In-Sarawak.html