Debate Speech by Ali Biju N34 Krian, 2nd Sitting 2013
Thank you Tuan Speaker, I’m honored and privileged to have this opportunity to debate the Supply Bill (2013) at the 2nd sitting of this august house. While many issues have been covered by other honorable members, I would like to lay before this august house my deliberations on the salient points pertinent to my constituency and Sarawak in general.
Socio Economic Conditions of The Rural Population
After sitting in this august house for the last several days listening to points and issues raised by my colleagues, I am amazed and surprised by many paradoxes or contradictions taking place here.
Sarawak produces the highest revenue compared to other states in Malaysia. For the year 2014, Sarawak is expected to contribute about RM76 billion from oil and gas only. But we are debating a state budget of merely RM4.6 billion.
Many honourable members are requesting for more allocations to upgrade basic infrastructure and amenities in their constituencies. We request for bigger allocations to finance various projects from federal government, but Sarawak has a reserve of RM22 billion which is increasing year after year. Please enlighten this august House - why it is considered prudent to keep such a large reserve when the basic needs of the rakyat are yet to be fulfilled?
We are told to be grateful and reminded of how lucky we are that we agreed to form the Malaysian Federation 50 years ago. But even senior ministers from the ruling party would like Sarawak’s position in the Malaysian Federation to be reviewed and to ensure compliance with the original 18-point agreement, similar to the stand taken by Pakatan Rakyat.
The native Dayaks are considered bumiputra, and are entitled to privileges. But still, the native Dayaks are called bangsa lain-lain by the federal agencies. I quote a statement from one Dayak leader “We have just celebrated our 50th anniversary of independence, but as far as the Dayak community in Sarawak is concerned, we are lagging in many fields be it business, civil service, education and even the most basic amenities like roads, electricity and water supply”. As said by another prominent Dayak leader, even the Indians get special allocations from the Federal Government – RM100 million for education and skills training, RM50 million for their youth betterment. I just wonder – can the struggling Dayaks get the same in the future? The program called Bumiputra Economic Agenda may be just like a mirage. It will disappear the closer you get. Right now, there is no data which reflects the socio-economic standing of the Dayak community. No agency seems to have any idea the percentage of the national economy hold by the community. If we don’t know where we stand right now, then how are we to go forward? Which direction shall we go? Are we lost?
Tuan Speaker, these are paradoxes of reality that I have mentioned earlier. When I mention Dayak, by no means am I being racist. The intention is to face the reality of society so that the Dayaks can improve their socio-economic standing to be at par with fellow Malaysians.
Tuan Speaker, let us briefly go through the report produced by SUHAKAM with regard to the welfare and rights of indigenous people. From December 2010 to June 2012, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) conducted a National Inquiry into the Land Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Malaysia in response to numerous and persistent complaints received by the Commission over many years from the Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia and the natives of the States of Sabah and Sarawak. Their landmark report, released on 5 August 2013, reveals systemic of lack of care, abuse, and inaction by the Government and its agencies with respect to the welfare and rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In Sarawak, the Commission noted that the different definitions of NCR lands applied by the courts and the state authorities result in injustice to the natives, many of whose lands are being encroached upon by timber and plantation companies with licences and concessions granted by the government. Other issues include problems with surveys, damage to native lands, lack of consultation, lack of or inadequate compensation, etc. The commission noted that there seems to be very few effective legal, administrative and political measures to protect and promote the natives’ right to their land.
The Commission makes 18 critical recommendations under six main themes, namely:
(1) Recognition of indigenous customary lands;
(2) Remedy for loss of customary lands;
(3) The need to address land development issues and imbalances;
(4) Prevention of future loss of customary lands;
(5) The need to address land administration issues; and
(6) Recognition of land as central to the identity of Indigenous Peoples
Mr Speaker, instead of tabling the Report in Parliament, the Federal government formed a National Task Force. The motion by my friend, the member for Ba’ Kelalan, to table the report for discussion in this Dewan with a view to implementing the Commission’s recommendations, was dismissed on 2 days ago.
Mr Speaker, SUHAKAM is an independent body that was tasked to look into the long-standing and systemic injustices suffered by the native communities. If we, as elected representatives of the people do not take this report seriously; if we do not even want to discuss the findings of the Commission, if we do not put our minds and our hearts into taking steps to implement the recommendations, we will be failing in our duties and responsibilities to the people who sent us to this House to speak up for them. The Report contains many inconvenient truths and uncomfortable facts, but these must be faced and addressed. We should not be sitting in these plush leather seats in this cool and grand Dewan engaging in mutual back patting and heaping praises when our people are genuinely suffering in the rural areas. Action is required and I ask, with all sincerity, that political differences and personal stakes be put aside so that we may take the necessary steps towards fulfilling our fiduciary and moral duties to our people. The SUHAKAM recommendations must be adopted and implemented if our native communities, their culture and livelihood are to be protected.
Mr. Speaker, in order to acknowledge the need to implement SUHAKAM recommendations, let me enlighten this august house of two Adat Ibans which are irrelevant and obsolete. These two Adats are Adat Pindah and Adat Tungkus Asi.
Recently, several Iban organizations had come up with proposals, one of which was to request the Majlis Adat Istiadat to study and review all customary laws detrimental to the progress of the Iban community and to make recommendations to the Majlis Mesyuarat Kerajaan Negeri (MMKN) for their amendment.
There was an attempt to amend the obsolete adat 15 years ago when the Majlis Adat Istiadat organised a symposium called Aum Perambu Ubah Adat Iban 1993, in February 1998 in Sibu. This Aum was attended by several Iban community leaders, Iban Head of Departments and some representatives of NGOs. One of the objectives of this Aum was to discuss the proposed amendments to several sections of the Adat Iban 1993. This was in line with the Majlis Adat Istiadat Ordinance 1977 section 3(b) to review from time to time the Customary laws of the Natives and make recommendations to the MMKN relating to their application, codification, publication and enforcement; and 3(c) to recommend to the MMKN on the deletion and abolition of any adat the practice whereof is, in the opinion of the Majlis, detrimental to the progress of any Native community or the adat is found to be inconsistent with any other state law.
On the concept of Pindah, section 73 of the Adat Iban 1993 has caused restrictions to the Iban community, as it stipulates “whoever moves out from his longhouse to another Division or District or to the jurisdiction of another Penghulu or to another longhouse under the same Penghulu without prior approval of the District Officer or the consent of the Tuai Rumah concerned or of the Penghulu, shall be deprived of all rights to the untitled farm land or any customary land that has not been planted with crops and all such land shall be owned in common by the people of the longhouse concerned”. Obviously, the effect of section 73 of the Adat Iban 1993 is that the Dayak NCR landowners who had migrated in search of jobs or greener pastures to other areas may find themselves landless. This is by virtue of the effect of Sarawak Land Code 1958, which disallows any Dayak including the Iban to open up a new area for settlement. The Iban society has changed a lot today, and the old definition of pindah may affect the individual rights of the villagers over their NCR lands. After a lengthy discussion section 73 was recommended to be deleted.
Subsequent to this Aum, several meetings were held with some community leaders in other parts of Sarawak to get more input and opinions concerning proposed amendments. After the Aum and meetings, the Majlis Adat Istiadat was tasked to write the proposed amendments to the Adat Iban 1993. Soon after the draft of the proposed amendment was completed, several discussions were held with the officers from the State Attorney General’s office, the last one being in 2004. It was hoped that after several discussions the draft would be brought to MMKN for approval. I would like to know whether the proposed Amendment of the Adat Iban 1993 has been approved or not.
Adat Tungkus Asi
Mr Speaker, prior to Brooke era and during the rule of the three Rajahs and the later Colonial rule, pindah or migration was related to livelihood, with its sole purpose being to open up and acquire new territories (mubuk menua baru). Menua baru is a resource-rich frontier where wildlife, fish and forest resources are plentiful in a new undisturbed virgin jungle that guarantees food security for livelihood. However, migration from one district to another required permission from the Rajah. The Rajah without hesitation imposed the Fruit Tree Order of 1899 to discourage pioneering Ibans from opening up new areas for settlement. The pioneering Iban from the resources depleted regions interpreted the law as a “penalty” for establishing a new settlement in another district. Therefore, the adat tungkus asi’ was instituted by pioneering Iban communities as a remedy by compensating the original cultivator upon his move to another division or district. The compensation was given in the form of tungkus asi’ so that original cultivator would not go empty-handed.
Tungkus asi’ literally means a pack of rice or bekal. Tungkus asi’ is a phrase for a common package of cooked rice which longhouse residents take with them to the farm, on hunting or gathering trip or when embarking on a journey far enough from home to require food. Secondly, it is the symbol associated with a journey outside a longhouse territory (either a temporary departure or permanent departure from a longhouse). For a temporary departure from the longhouse, tungkus asi’ takes up the meaning as a surety in the context of Iban Customary law or adat. The property or the land is held in trust and there is no permanent transfer by the traveler, normally the transfer takes place between a close family member or relative because it is easier for the traveler, upon his return to reclaim his rights to the land from a close relative.
In the case of a permanent removal from the longhouse, tungkus asi’ is regarded as a token gift is a symbol of the transfer of rights of land ownership to a relative (transferee), where the latter gives tungkus asi’ to the transferor as compensation for cost incurred in the original clearing of land when the transferor migrates out from a longhouse to another place. Permanent exit from a longhouse implies that an individual will not return. If the transferor has no relative in a longhouse, such rights would be transferred either to a longhouse community or to any of his kaban belayan who may not be necessarily be close relatives in neighboring longhouses upon payment of compensation to the transferor.
The retention of the status quo of tungkus asi’ is a way of stereotyping 21st century Ibans as basically unchanged in their economy and culture from their 19th century ancestors. This kind of argument does not distinguish between pioneering migration during the Brooke era and economic migration in the 21st century. Neither does it take into account the evolution of a dynamic land market and land use. The prohibition of the buying and selling of land not only for cultural purposes but also for profit is not only illogical, it is also absurd. It is therefore apparent that tungkus asi’ no longer serves its purpose but rather makes possible exchanges within the market economy dysfunctional by rendering this category of land a dead and frozen asset.
The Iban community is facing a dilemma. There are economic opportunities arising out of the government transformation programmes involving lands as assets; however the NCR landowners find it not conducive as long as the status quo of tungkus asi’ remains what it was before. The rural NCR landowners hold such tremendous economic potential if their NCR lands can be converted into assets as capital to earn profit. Being able to participate in the open market economy and having their assets as capital would certainly empower and strengthen them in economic advancement. However, the current misplaced assumption that there is a prohibition of buying and selling of NCR land and legitimizing the transfer of ownership using tungkus asi’ is seen as subtly freezing the NCR lands as assets. During the pioneering years, the application of adat tungkus asi was well-intended, but like any other customs, traditions and cultures, adat tungkus asi has evolved. As long as the current practice of tungkus asi’ persists, the status of NCR land remains, the value of the assets (NCR lands) will be locked and frozen and therefore, cannot be converted into capital for investment. Using such items, like setawak/tawak, bebendai, engkerumong, tajau, pigs in exchange for land was acceptable and appropriate during the pioneering years, but who will now accept any of those items in exchange for his land?
The case of Bisi Ak Jinggut @Hilarion Bisi Ak Jinggut V Superintendent of Lands and Survey Kuching Division & 3 others (2008) 1 LNS 245 is a classic example where the misinterpretation of agrarian law seemingly prohibits the selling of native customary lands. The judgment in this case is indeed a miscarriage of justice and disadvantageous to the NCR landowners as it makes it illegal to transact or buy native customary lands from one’s own native community. The non-transferability of native land has created a storm and outcry among the Iban community. Despite of the decision of the case above, it is common knowledge that selling and buying of native customary lands is taking place in Sarawak.
Therefore, I am of the opinion that adat tungkus asi should be deleted or amended in tandem with the dynamism of the adat of our community. Customs, traditions, or cultures (Adat) are dynamic. Custom is about adaptation. It evolves with growth and strengthens with the strength of the people. According to A. J. N Richards, customary law (adat) is alive and always changing. Adat that is considered detrimental or obsolete should be discarded or abolished if it does not serve any purpose at all.
Infrastructure Development in N34 Krian
Mr Speaker, the people of Krian do acknowledge and appreciate the ongoing construction of several major infrastructure projects and basic amenities throughout the Krian constituency. The completion of rural electrification programmes to most of longhouses, schools and clinics along Ulu Krian, Budu, Kabo, Awik, Mudong, Melupa undeniably has improved the living conditions of the residents. However, some areas are still not covered by basic infrastructure and amenities. Here, I would like to highlight the outstanding issues.
Rural Electrification Scheme (RES).
During previous DUN sittings in the last 2 years, I had highlighted the problems faced by contractors in installing electrical lines between erected electrical posts at Ulu Awik and Ulu Kabo areas, mainly due to oil palm estates. Again, I would like to request that all government agencies work together for the smooth implementation of the project. The affected areas are twenty-five longhouses and 3 rural primary schools, namely SK Nanga Apan, SK Ulu Awik and SK Lempa.
According to local Iban Adat, these uncompleted posts standing alone, if left unattended for years, are considered “mali” or taboo. This is called “ragai” and the traditional Ibans believe that it may bring misfortune to the people living within the affected areas. Therefore, in order to appease the angry spirits, special traditional ceremonies should be performed. Otherwise, please continue the construction work without further delay.
Whilst we are on the subject or RES, may I also ask the Minister when the government will bring RES to other areas in the Krian constituency such as Beratong-Supok which is merely 2 km from Roban Town?
Clean Water Supply
Mr Speaker, apart from the issue of the construction of the Saratok Water Treatment Plant at Kaki Wong which was answered by the assistant minister, another issue related to water supply in Saratok Town is low water pressure. The main contributing factor to low water pressure is the aging piping system built in the 70’s that carries water to Saratok Town. The piping system really needs upgrading and I was informed that the upgrading work will be carried out soon. May I know how soon and status of tendering process?
The upgrading work to tar-seal Ulu Awik and Ulu Krian Roads seems to be progressing on schedule. I would like the Ministry to provide details of the completion percentage. I note that the current upgrading contract merely covers about 12km for each road. When will the remaining portion up to the end of road be carried-out?
The construction of an access road of a few kilometers to Rumah Ibi, Nanga Ibus, is ongoing. However, it does not reach the longhouse, maybe due to budget constraints. The longhouse residents would like to know when the remaining portion is to be completed.
Other gravel roads that badly need upgrading are as follows:-
• Engkudu-Sg. Anak Road
• Nanga Batang Road
• Babang-Krangan Rusa Road
• Nanga Dara-Nanga Long- Nanga Alum Road via SESCO transmission line.
• Sungai Engkabang-Drau Road
Mr Speaker, with that I would like to conclude my speech with Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Selamat menyambut Maal Hijrah. Thank you.