Statelessness and the administrative state
The legal prowess of the first-line bureaucrat in Malaysia
in Statelessness, governance, and the problem of citizenship
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Decisions made by those frontline bureaucrats who process applications can have life-altering outcomes for the people who are affected. This chapter explores how the administrative work of government officials in Malaysia can affect individuals’ ability to access Malaysian citizenship. While the analysis is of very local contexts in Malaysia, its implications are much broader given many states around the world use a delegated system of administration to make decisions. Further, the principal way in which many people may interact with their governments is through administrative encounters with local officials. On the basis of interviews with people with a variety of perspectives on the work of Malaysian registration offices, this chapter illuminates the often-overlooked effects of encounters in administrative offices on stateless persons and on the governance of citizenship. It invites the reader to include the consideration of these low-level government officials in global thinking relating to statelessness. Of concern is not just the difficulties stateless persons have in understanding administrative processes and applications but the potentiality that individuals may be denied forms, information, and the opportunity to apply for citizenship, for no other reason than the discretion of the government employee. This chapter advocates for a wider lens when examining legal venues, legal accountability, and reform given the wide discretionary power exercised by frontline government officials to make decisions that effectively create and maintain statelessness.

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