Rangkaian Khidmat Awam Negeri Sarawak

(People, events, activities and programmes which make for a total quality-managed Sarawak Civil Service)

ISSN 1394-5726

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Temenggong Datu Stephen Jussem ak Tundon
The People's Man

His current appointment as the Bidayuh Temmenggong for the Kuching Division keeps him very busy

Temenggong Datu Stephen Jussem ak Dundon was born in May 1937 in a humble bilik of a Bidayuh Longhouse called Botang Romin Bitubon, a remote area up in Mount Singai reachable only by uphill footpath at that time.

The eldest in a family of nine siblings of six boys and three girls, Temenggong Datu Stephen's childhood was spent mostly in the kampung, helping his mother to look after his siblings while she was away in the paddy farm.

Early Life - hardship & poverty

He was only four years old when the Japanese occupied Kuching in 1941. It was a period that terrified everybody.

Back then, the people were generally poor. Life was simple but the Japanese presence instilled deep fear in everyone. No one went around to the bazaars unless absolutely necessary. After the Japanese left in 1947, he attended school at Kampong Sudoh at the age of 13 where he was taught to write and read by the late Mr. Paul Bong. He lessons stopped when his teacher left six months later.

He was determined to learn and continued with night lessons by an uncle who stopped his studies when the Japanese occupied Sarawak. The initial 15 over aged students dwindled to five later because parents could not afford the monthly fees of RM 10.00.

In 1950 his father sent him to the then St. Peter & Paul's school, Bau ( now known as Sekolah Kerajaan St. Stephen). He was a boarder then paying only monthly school fees; other food and rice were brought from the Kampong. While there, he had to fend and do things for himself.

Getting up close and personal with the Penans

In 1953, he continued his studies at St. Joseph's School Kuching and stayed in St. Peter's Seminary until he completed his Senior Cambridge School Certificate in 1957. The death of his mother in 1953 left a deep impact on him and he almost quit his schooling to look after the welfare of his father and nine siblings. Despite the poverty, he was determined to proceed with his studies and finally passed the renowned Senior Cambridge School Certificate.

He left school at the end of 1957 and found a job as a temporary teacher at St Elizabeth's, Kampung Tijirak along Kuching-Serian Road. He also organised night classes for adults and over aged children in that village. He wanted to ensure that his siblings had proper schooling and although he could not afford tertiary education, he was determined to improve himself.

A golden career in the Sarawak Civil Service

By end of December 1958, he was accepted as a Probationary Sarawak Administrative Officer and had to attend an In-service training course at Sarawak Civil Service Training Centre at Batu Lintang, Kuching on 16 Jan 1959. It was a 1- month course. There were 15 of them in the group. They included Datuk Liang Kim Bang (SFS) Dennis Ong (Judge) Haji Hussaini Jaman (DO and later Secretary of Sarawak Foundation) Walter Chambers (DO), Frank Apau (DO), Noel Hudson Laga (Resident), Daniel Tsen (Resident ) Haji Abu Kassim (Resident) Peter Siburat ( DO & later Rtd. General Manager Miri Port Authority) to mention a few..

After the training, he was posted to Kuching District Office for 3 months (Feb, Mac and April 1959) where he learned to deal with the multi racial members of the public. His first British District Officer (DO) was Mr. D.S. Cottrell and the Resident was Mr. DL Bruen. Later, he served briefly under District Officer, Mr. M.J. Christie in Kuching.

In May 1959, he was posted to the Bau District Office and worked under three D.Os, namely the late Mr. H.A.L. Ferguson, Mr. Michael Sadin ak Nyameh and the late Datuk William Nais. (Datuk William was later promoted as a Resident and appointed as the Second Bidayuh Temenggong for First Division including Serian upon retirement). The First Bidayuh Temenggong was Temenggong Dato Sri Salau Pa Nyaon.

He passed his SAO Government Examinations, both Lower and Higher Standards and Senior Service Government Exams before the 3-year Probationary period expired.

In Bau..

His 1959-61 Government service in Bau was a real on-the-ground training for him. He travelled extensively to all the Kampongs, Longhouses and Chinese settlements in the District. There, he was also appointed as a Magistrate Class III with power to hear small cases like riding bicycles without light and stealing. He also viewed dead bodies of people being murdered or accidentally shot at border Kampongs like Gumbang, Krokong, Serikin, Pejiru, Pangkalan Tebang, Tringgus and Jagoi Stass. These were quite common in the 60s in Bau because there were many barter-traders, locally known as "Simokel". These notorious traders would come to Bau via Jagoi, Serikin, Duyoh, Sarabak and Pejiru from Kalimantan. He was tipped during the training that whenever they were posted to any station in Sarawak, they should try to travel and visit all places in the district after familiarising themselves with office procedures for a month. This would help a new officer in his day – to – day dealings with the public.

Outside Parliament Building, London with other overseas students in 1963

Sharpening his saw

Early in 1962, he was selected by the government to go for a Diploma course in Public & Social Administration in South Devon Technical College, Torquary, U.K. for a year. His selection came just a few months before confirmation of service (SAO III). Two other officers selected included the late Mr. Augustine Chong (SAO 1) and Mr. Goh Hak Seng (SAO I). It was an exciting moment for him because it was considered a great privilege to be offered an In-service training course overseas at that time. "This really spurred me on to work harder with greater determination. I was aiming to get my Degree as some of my colleagues who went to Canada did after completing their Diplomas", he added.

When he came back to Sarawak equipped with a Diploma at the end of 1962, he went to see a senior officer in the State Establishment Office, Encik Yee Fung Mo to ask him whether the government could consider his application to pursue for a Degree course. He told him bluntly that his friend's case was the first and the last for a native officer to be granted a chance to do a degree course after completing their diplomas. "I remember feeling terribly upset and I can never forget that incident to this day as there are so many sensitive and polite ways of telling people of such things. I had no alternative but had to abide by the Government directives and waited for my new appointment", he explained.

On the ground with the people

He was posted back to the Kuching District Office as an SAO assigned to deal mainly in Bidayuh affairs. He also travelled to coastal Malay kampongs and Iban kampongs to personally meet their Tua Kampongs and Tuai Rumahs. He held dialogues with them including their "anakbiaks". He explained Government policies, directives and council rating systems on properties and gun licences. His travelling team usually composed of relevant government departments' representatives so that they could explain to the people their own departments' policies on various matters. During his travels, he also conducted the popular "Tin System Census" that was very useful to the Government during that time. He made his travelling programmes quite regularly; to the hitherto remote Bidayuh areas, like Padawan, Penrissen, Pinyowa, Braang and Siburan areas of Kuching District and helped them organise compound cleaning and other gotong-royong activities.

He was the voice of the people and to know their problems and issues, he had to get close to them in order to bring them up to the Government regularly through his Travelling Reports.

In a district he might be given few assignments by his D.O. or senior SAO or Senior Native Officer (SNO). In his case, he was attached to a Social Research Team from Holland. He had to follow them in their programmes either to the coastal areas or inland areas. He translated, organised meetings with the headman and the Research Team and prepared other logistics. An SAO's duties were many and varied. As the "Jack –of-all-trades" he had to be knowledgeable in many aspects of the local lifestyles. To survive and excel, the SAO needed to have lots of patience, deep endurance, consideration for others and a sense of compromise and moderation, he added.

Serving as Liaison Officer to Commonwealth Colonels from the Green Jacket during a longhouse visit to Benuk at the peak of the Confrontation of 1964

The Confrontation of '63

The hated 2-year Indonesian Confrontation came in 1963. All SAOs could not escape their responsibilities as front-liners on the ground along with the police and military personnels. As for Temenggong Datu Stephen, he was involved in the Padawan, Tibia, Braang, Pinyowa, Benguh, Penrissen, Siburan and the three Controlled Areas of Siburan, Beratok and Tapah where the Clandestine Communist Organisation (CCO) activities had been very active. He was appointed as a member of Psychological Warfare with the Commonwealth Forces (Green Jacket) at the border villages in the above-mentioned areas. He travelled extensively within these areas. His roles were to organise dialogues, meetings with the people and shows of psychological films to the people at the border areas. This was to enlist their support and co-operation with the Government through its machineries which included the Military, the Police and Civil Service. These had been dangerous assignments and had to be done tactfully.

The SAOs' duties also included assisting the sick, the poor, the blind and the needy in the villages. A few blind children had been recommended to the Government Blind Centre in Kuching for assistance. Some managed to study; graduate and today are heading welfare organisations, while others were trained to earn a living in some other ways such messaging.

The civil service - Then and Now

Life in the 50s-70s was slow-paced, very private and with few public facilities. This was especially true in the rural areas. There was little if no competition at all. The cost of living was low. For example, a kati of sugar was only 25 cents or 30 cents. Kerosene oil was 10 cents per bottle.

Temenggong Datu Stephen started his career in the government service with great care. His priority was to ensure that he pass his civil service examinations and to continue to aim higher. Once he was given assignments to do, he was determined to do them well and made his decision correctly and confidently. "We exercise more discipline, too. Officers were not allowed to go out freely. For coffeebreaks, we had to bring our own coffee with us in a flask and had it in the office – no breaks outside during office hours", he said.

Things are so much different today. The people's levels of education are much higher, their lifestyle fast-paced and the working environment more conducive and productive. My advice to the younger generation is that one must first be interested in life, eager to do something new and improve oneself as much as possible by up- dating one's knowledge through reading and networking. If money permits, travel overseas once in a while. Be good and kind to everyone. It doesn't cost you to smile and greet others by saying "hello" or" good morning, good afternoon or apa khabar". "Practise humility or try not to show your sour face to people that you meet. Always be a peacemaker and advisor and show leadership by example in whatever you do. These are certainly not easy, but they are challenges one has to face", he commented.

Serving the Bidayuh Community

Being a Bidayuh and a civil servant, he tried to the best of his ability to serve and contribute to the development of all the communities including the Bidayuh community whom he had the good fortune to work with in the course of his work. His current appointment as a Temenggong to the Bidayuh community of the Kuching Division, saw his days filled with meetings with the people, dialogues with community leaders and Ketua Masyarakat.. He wanted progress and development for the rural poor. His own experience with poverty and hardship during the Japanese Occupation made it easier for him to empathise with the poor and destitute.

His vision for the Bidayuh Community is for each family to focus seriously on education to ensure the survival of the Bidayuh Community. The human development factor is crucial, he said. What he saw as the greatest challenge to the community is the building of team spirit and togetherness among the leaders. "Development needs the majority's support and the government's blessing", he said. Leaders should always practise fairness, avoid extremism and maintain moderation, unselfishness and humility.

And for those still serving...

He reminded serving government officers to safeguard their achievements and contributions by being conscious of their behaviour in public. Always bear in mind that your record of character in service is vulnerable and unsafe until you have received your first monthly pension. By then you would feel safe and proud that you had made it a day, he advised.

He felt grateful that he was able to work in an environment where one's contribution to the society has no bound. The greatest contribution one could give to the community, in his mind, is one's readiness to explain, to advise, to motivate, and to guide, without prejudice, the people on Government policies, education and development without being tired oneself. The success of the people whom one served is the just rewards and a reflection of one's commitment and dedication, he concluded.

Temenggong Datu Stephen Jussem ak Dundon, 65 is married to Datin Emily ak Sirumba and they have six children. He is an active volunteer and has served in many organisations including DBNA, Pensioners Association, PEMADAM, Dayak Cultural Foundation to name a few. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of several corporations and government bodies.

Temenggong Datu Stephen Jussem ak Dundon

Career Profile

1960 Joined Sarawak Administrative Service as an SAO

1965 - 67 Appointed Deputy State Supervisor of Election, Sarawak

1967 - 69 Appointed DDO for Kuching Division and Private Secretary to YAB Datuk Tawi Sli for 6 months

1970 - 72 Private Secretary to Sarawak 3rd Chief Minister

1973 - 75 Private Secretary to 2nd TYT of Sarawak, Tun Datuk Patinggi Tuanku Haji Bujang

1978 - 81 Promoted as State Training Officer, Chief Minister Office

1982 - 84 Attached to Protocol Unit and posted to act as Resident for Kuching

1985 - 87 Promoted as Resident of Kapit

1987 - 89 Served as Resident of Miri

1989 - 92 Appointed as Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Housing before retiring from the Civil Service

1999 - Appointed as Temenggong for Bidayuh Community in present Kuching Division

He was awarded the Darjah Jasa Bakti Sarawak (DJBS) which carries the title 'Datu' in 2000.


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