Wednesday April 17, 2013
UNGAN Lisut was a teenager when she and her family had to relocate to make way for Bakun Dam almost two decades ago. They were part of 9,000 natives relocated to Sungai Asap.
Today, their ancestral home, within a complex series of valleys in mountainous Sarawak, is submerged under a reservoir the size of Singapore.
In between, Ungan has become a community leader. She is deputy president of the Orang Ulu National Association.
At a Human Rights Commission of Malaysia briefing last week on native land controversies, Ungan told a roomful of other non-governmental body representatives her tale of discontent, confusion and helplessness.
“People like me are disappointed that now, after so many years, there is no attempt to relook the matter. We want to be treated the same as anybody else.
“My family and I were moved. I’m now a ‘Sungai Asap’ person without much choice. After we moved, we never saw a sen (of compensation). My parents are both dead but not a sen. This is part of the problem.”
She also spoke about the Penans.
“People refer to Penans as the ‘golden child’ of the Government. People say they always receive the most attention. But do you really think they are treated as the ‘golden child’? Look at the kind of resettlement they are living in.
“No community leader from Belaga will dare say these things. They just won’t speak out. I’m very sad. I’m asking for better support.”
The room was silent.
When Ungan pass the microphone to the next speaker, there were many nods by those attending.
“I can’t speak ‘bahasa halus’ (refined language),” said Gebril Atong, a member of the Punan National Association.
“I speak ‘bahasa kampung’ (local dialect). They (companies) come with all their contracts that we don’t understand. But I just want to say, somebody please make sure they do genuine CSR (corporate social responsibility) programmes.”
Similar stories are found across rural Sarawak, the local community representatives said.
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, which reports to Parliament, will soon release its findings based on a two-year inquiry into native land controversies. In a preliminary report released to the public during the briefing last week, the commission hinted at damning findings.
The Commission is dividing its report basically into two sections:
Problems faced by rural natives and a set of 18 proposals.
The problems, the commission has confirmed, are based on 198 testimonials, out of which, 36 were selected as case studies and representatives of larger issues.
A total of 111 interviewees had their statements recorded to illustrate the 36 case studies during the inquiry.
The commission also highlighted that about 60% of all complaints it received annually in Sarawak and Sabah were about native land rights.
Among the problems shortlisted in the briefing were misinformation, an aging rural population, lack of basic amenities and accessibility to education, and outdated policies.
The commission’s final report is expected to call upon the Sarawak government to, among others, relook its policy of using aerial photographs from the 1950s as one of the measures to determine native customary land use in relation to land ownership, citing possible inaccuracies.
It said clashes between traditional way of life and modern economic systems had left rural communities too reliant on government assistance like subsidies and handouts.
“Such situations allow for easier exploitation,” said the commission.
Chief assistant secretary at the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, Jesrina Kaur Grewal, presented the preliminary report.
Commission vice-chairman Datuk Dr Khaw Lake Tee said rural natives were generally “discriminated against” and “possessed little rights over land that they’ve laboured over for generations”.
“The first step to any permanent solution is for the Government to acknowledge the problem,” Khaw said.
Statements like these cannot be music to the ears of policy makers but the commission is correct to say that the onus lies with the Government.
I really do not need to state my own opinion this week. The commission’s findings are conclusive.
~ The Star