The system of local government can be traced to the time when the Kuching Sanitary and Municipal Advisory Board was established in 1921 by the Order XXVIII issued by the Rajah. Prior to 1921, the functions that were entrusted to this Board were exercised by the Department of Public Works. The Board secured a measure of popular representation in the municipal affairs of Kuching, in that some local representatives were appointed to serve on the Board. The Kuching Sanitary and Municipal Advisory Board continued to function under the said Order of 1921 which was ratified by the Kuching Municipal Order of 1922. This 1922 Order was later replaced by Order M7 (Municipal) 1933 that came into force on 1st January, 1934. This Order M7 was later converted into the Municipal Ordinance. This Municipal Ordinance remained the basis of local government in Kuching until the outbreak of the 2nd World War.
With the introduction and enactment of the Municipal Ordinance and between 1934 and the outbreak of the 2nd World War, other Municipal Boards were established in the townships of Bau, Sibu, Sarikei, Binatang (now Bintangor) and Miri.
In 1940 the Rajah of Sarawak enacted another piece of legislation having some effect of local government. This legislation was known as Order No. N-5 (Native Administration) 1940. This Order empowered the Government Secretary to establish Native Authorities which were concerned mainly with the administration of native affairs of defined areas.This was an attempt to involve the people in the rural areas to participate in the local administration. The Order, though implemented in many areas, did not appear to be successful, partly because of poor government administration at that time and partly because of the interuption of the 2nd World War.
After the War, local government system underwent major changes.In the case of Kuching, the Chairman of the Kuching Municipal Board was requested to carry out a study and make a report on the possibility of converting the Kuching Municipality into a local government entity, to be capable generally of managing its own affairs. Many of the recommendations and suggestions contained in his report had been incorporated in the Kuching Municipal Bill which later on was passed in Council Negri in 1952 and became the Kuching Municipal Ordinance. Thus, Kuching Municipal Council became detatched from other local authorities and operated under its own Ordinance.
In 1947, five “Local Treasuries” at Bau, Simanggang (now Sri Aman), Betong, Sibu and Bintulu were established to deal with the collection of native customary taxes and the government matching grant and payment of native chiefs’ salaries. Their composition is primarily racial in nature and as such they too suffered various disadvantages.
In 1948 the first Local Authority Ordinance was passed by the Council Negri and with the enactment of this legislation, significant changes in the local government system ensued, although some more racial local authorities continued to be established. This Ordinance originally aimed at providing a suitable frmaework for the development of local government system in the rural areas not hitherto covered by the Municipal Ordinance and thus it consolidateed and amplified the law relating local government in these rural areas as contained in the Rural Area Ordinance and the Native Administration Ordinance, both of which were repealed by the Local Authority Ordinance, 1948. Following the passing of the new Local Authority Ordinance, Limbang District Council was established. This was the first multi-racial District Council every formed in Sarawak.
Limbang District Council was established as a political experiment and upon its success more multi-racial district councils would be established. The Government of the day would like to ensure that people of different racial origins could work together so that racial differences would disappear and that they would be bound together by the common link of citizenship of Sarawak. This experiment must have succeeded as more and more mixed local authorities were formed thereafter.
The Local Authority Ordinance, 1948 was amended in 1951 in order to enlarge the scope of the Ordinance so that it would not be limited to the rural areas. Thus, with the amendment, it was possible to establish local authorities to include some major towns which were then constituted as municipal areas. It was envisaged at this time that the Municipal Ordinance might be entirely repealed in the near future, leaving only the Local Authority Ordinance to cater for the administration of local authorities, except the Kuching Municipal Council that would be under its own Ordinance.
In the early days of their existence, particularly during the White Rajah period, all the local authorities came under the supervision of their respective Residents. When Sarawak became a British Colony, there was created a special Secretariat under the charge of the Secretary for Local Government. his Secretariat coordinated and handled all matters relating to local government. With effect from Malaysia Day, the State Government set up a Ministry of Local Government under the charge of a Minister to handle all local government affairs as detailed in paragraph 1 above.
The Local Authorities is the third (lowest) level of the 3-tier Government System, acting as front liners and to enforce 6 Main Ordinances and 39 Rules, By-Laws, Regulations and Orders.