Friday, November 14, 2014

ALI BIJU'S SPEECH AT THE SARAWAK STATE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY 14 NOVEMBER 2014


Debate Speech by Ali Biju N34 Krian, 2nd Sitting 2014

Thank you Tuan Speaker, I am honored and privileged to have this opportunity to debate the Supply Bill (2015) at the 2nd sitting of this august house.

Tuan Speaker,

SUHAKAM REPORT OF THE NATIONAL INQUIRY INTO LAND RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLE

Mr Speaker, I wish to find out from the government what the outcome is of the Taskforce that was formed to look into the findings of the SUHAKAM inquiry. Since it was formed in 1999, SUHAKAM had received numerous and persistent complaints from the Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia as well as natives of the States of Sabah and Sarawak, in particular, allegations of violations to indigenous customary rights to land.
                                              
Instead of allowing SUHAKAM to submit the Report as a Special Report to Parliament and tabling the SUHAKAM report for discussion in Parliament, the Government decided to form a National Task Force to investigate the Report. One of the terms of reference of the Task Force was apparently to review and verify the truth of the allegations contained in the SUHAKAM Report. This was an unreasonable thing for the government to do, as SUHAKAM is an independent body, whose members have nothing to gain by not reporting the truth. It is in fact, an insult to the members of SUHAKAM inquiry, that the government should doubt the veracity of the Report.

Nevertheless, more than a year has passed since the SUHAKAM Report was released and the Task Force formed. In April this year, the chairman of SUHAKAM announced that the work of the Task Force was expected to be completed by the end of that month. More than 6 months later, we have yet to hear anything about their findings.

In the meantime, Malaysia rejected the following 6 proposals put forward at the United nations Periodic Review in October last year:

1. Allow for the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples (Denmark);
2. Ensure that laws on indigenous peoples as well as their implementation comply with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Switzerland);
3. Ensure the rights of indigenous peoples and local forest dependent peoples in law and practice, in particular regarding their right to traditional lands, territories and resources (Norway);
4. Establish an independent National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and ensure that laws, policies and their implementations are in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Sweden);
5. Establish an independent body to investigate disputes over land, territories and resources (New Zealand);
6. Take measures, with full and effective participation of indigenous peoples, to address the issues highlighted in the National Enquiry into the Land Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Finland).

The lame excuse used for the rejection of these recommendations was that ‘Currently, a Task Force comprising senior government officials, civil society representatives and academicians are in the process of determining, inter alia, details on which recommendations can be implemented in the short, medium and long term. As the Government does not wish to pre-judge the outcome of the Task Force’s deliberations, Malaysia is unable to accept these recommendations at this juncture.’ What I did not mention earlier is that the Task Force was not given any specific timeframe for the review, which means it could take 2 years, or 5 or 10.

So while we wait and wait for the Task Force to produce its findings, Malaysia refuses to accept the 6 recommendations of the UN. Malaysia is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007 (UNDRIP) but we will not even agree to a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous peoples. For Sarawak, what is there to hide if our indigenous people are treated so well and with such touching consideration by the state and SEB, as so painstakingly spelled out in the ‘Written Statement Submitted by the State of Sarawak, Malaysia to the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review’ dated 24 October 2013? Maybe the state does not want the rapporteur to see for herself the truth of the situation on the ground.

Mr Speaker, if Sarawak has nothing to hide, then I urge the government to invite the Special Rapporteur to come and see for herself. In order for the Human Rights Council to ‘give due and careful consideration to the facts’, she must see the facts firsthand. The matters set out in the paper do not provide any ‘substantial evidence’ as claimed, they are just statements written by some officers. The evidence is out there in rural Sarawak for the world to see. Thus, I would like to ask the government for an update on the outcome of the Task Force’s investigation into the outcome of SUHAKAM’s investigation.

Mr. Speaker,

We have just passed the motion from Nangka unanimously supported by the members of the House. We are protecting the living. Which is very fine. BUT, we have forgotten to protect the dead, Mr. Speaker. What do I mean by this? Zaman sekarang bukan sahaja orang hidup kena rompak, malahan orang mati pun kena rompak.

When you mention ENGKUBANG PENDAM to any Iban, they will immediately understand the concept of tomb raiding, just like in the movie Tomb Raiders starring Angelina Jolie.

Tomb Raiding at various cemeteries in Sarawak has been quite rampant during the last several years. The most recent one took place at the Roman Catholic cemetery near Temudok in Simanggang Division, where 5 graves were desecrated. It was mentioned that the motive was to steal valuables that were buried together with the deceased, such as gold rings, necklaces, money, expensive watches and so on. These items might be worth several thousand ringgits.

Desecrating or defacing or excavation or exhumation of graves is a serious offence. The codified Adat of the various ethnics including the Adat Iban 1993 provide for the propitiation, restitution and fines for the offences of desecrating of graves.

For example, Section 192: whoever breaks or takes away any baiya from a person’s graveyard shall be fined two pikul and shall provide a tunggu of 200 Mangkul and shall return or replace the baiya as well as provide genselan consisting a pig, KeringSemengat.

Now the question is, whether such a minimal fine is sufficient deterrent to discourage hopeful tomb raiders from graveyard robbery. As the Adat of various ethnic natives deal with their respective races, in the case of desecration of the tombs of other races, say that of the Chinese, under what law can the offenders be prosecuted? For the interest of this August House, it is my hope that the relevant authority can enlighten us on the number of tombs that had been desecrated and how many offenders had been prosecuted.

Besides the ethic Adat which deals with graveyards, there is no provision in the State laws to specifically deal with the said offence. Therefore, it is my hope that this August House legislate an enactment to give the power to prosecute, charge, award damages, order the return of the belongings of the deceased and the offender to repair the tomb to its original state and sentence the offender to a jail term. 

Mr Speaker,

Under-Utilization of Council Fund
Based on Financial Report ended 31 Dec 2013, the Saratok District Council has considerable assets in terms of cash amounting to approximately RM29 million. These assets consist of Cash in Bank, Investment of Reserve Funds, and Investment of Temporary Fixed Deposits. As stipulated in the “Local Authority Ordinance 1996” there is a certain percentage of funds to be retained by the local authority, a sufficient portion but not too excessive. For example, Majlis Daerah Betong keeps a reserve of RM6 million only. Thus I urge the Ministry of Local Government to work together with the Saratok District Council to use the funds prudently by upgrading kampung roads throughout Krian constituency and not just keeping it as reserves. It is an awkward situation that rural villages have to endure hardships due to a lack of access roads but at the same time available funds are kept as reserves in the banks.

For example, Rumah Ibi of Nanga Ibus is merely 3km from the nearest road but is still not connected by any type of access road. Construction of a kampung road commenced last year but only a potion was completed due to budget constraints. Thus, I urge the government to divert a potion of the reserve funds to construct a kampung road to Rumah Ibi, which I believe will cost less than RM1 million. Currently, the poor longhouse folks have to use the crocodile infested Seblak River to go to Roban Town. Other kampung roads that urgently need upgrading using the reserve fund are JlnUluAwik, JlnNanga Batang-Nanga Long, Jln Nanga Drau, Jalan Krangan Rusa, Jln Abu Bengang and Jln Ulu Senulau. There are sufficient funds to upgrade these kampong roads, no more excuses of no funds.


Oil Palm Smallholders
Mr Speaker, the government effort to assist oil palm smallholders through MPOB is commendable. This program, which is under the poverty eradication program, is well-received by the native smallholders. The introduction of licenses by MPOB in order to be able to sell directly to mills may be necessary to avoid stealing of FFB. However, some common sense should prevail to allow smallholders to sell without hindrance. The licence should not be construed as a burden to the very people that the goverment intended to help. “Marahkan nyamuk seekor, kelam budi bakar”. It is common practice for smallholders to keep planting additional oil palm trees through their own effort, according to their capability, slowly, from time to time. As a result, over a few years, their acreage gets bigger and bigger but the increase may not get registered inthe MPOB office.

Licences enable planters to sell FFB directly to the nearest oil palm mills where they can get fair prices. However, those poor planters who are not registered with MPOB have to sell their FFB to middlemen whose payments can be as low as 30%-35% lower than mill price. This is very unfair practice to the planters. With such a low price, they are unable even to buy fertilizer and weedkiller to maintain their farms.
Planters are facing difficulties in applying for or updating their licences from MPOB. It may take several months for the planters to apply for new licences, renew expired licences or register increased acreage. In Saratok alone, there are estimated to be more than 1,500 oil palm smallholders. The concern is whether MPOB has enough manpower or capacity to monitor and verify the size of every of smallholding in order to comply with requirements stipulated in their licences. I urge MPOB to simplify procedures and criteria in the application process.

I would like to highlight the case of smallholder Indai Arun from Saratok. She is facing a lot of obstacles trying to sell her FFB to the mill. The MPOB licence allows only 2.0ton/month/ha production of FFB as a benchmark. However, for the farms that are very well maintained such as that of Indai Asun, with ample fertilizer on fertile soil, the production is more than 2.0/ton/ha/month. As a result, this unfortunate excellent planter is being denied the chance to sell her extra few tons of FFB at the mill. She is forced to sell the extra FFB to middlemen who pay 30%-35% lower than mill price using somebody else’s licence. Why is she being punished for being a better planter? Why is MPOB’s policy being imposed so stringently on a poor smallholder like Indai Arun? She even requested MPOB staff to go immediately to her farm to verify the size of her farm and check whether there was any stolen FFB case around her area. Of course MPOB staff were unable to assist her in this predicament. Common sense should prevail as nobody has reported any stolen FFB around that area.

The insufficient number of mills to cater for the increasing FFB quantity is another major factor affecting smallholders. This is even more pressing during the months of June – Oct when the FFB production is higher. On many occasions, the smallholders have to wait for more than 1 day to sell their FFB at the mills due to congestion. This august house was informed by the Minister 2 years ago that a new oil palm mill was to be constructed at Pusa. Sad to say, until now, that mill has never been constructed. Imagine the situation 3 years from now when more oil palm holdings are expected to produce more FFB. Will there be sufficient mills to cater for such increment?

                                            
Saratok Water Treatment Plant.
Mr Speaker, during previous DUN sittings in the last 2 years, I had highlighted the problems in the construction of the Saratok Water Treatment Plant. This august house had been warned as recorded in the Hansard of the status of construction, which apparently had faced major delays ever since the beginning of its commencement in 2nd Dec 2011. But sad to say, my warnings were taken lightly by the main contractor and the Ministry in-charge. Too many assurances were made on the necessary steps taken by the contractor to expedite the work progress. Too many promises of completion period were announced in the local media. In fact, the last promise was made during the height of water crisis when many State and Federal Ministers visited the Saratok Water Treatment Plan. They said the plant would be completed by Oct 2014. However, people were very skeptical of this announcement since they had been deceived many times already. If you ask any workers involved in the project, they would say that there is no way it could be completed by Oct 2014. Now is November already, déjà vu, it is a reality now that the project is delayed yet again. This is the fourth time already that the project is delayed. The initial completion date was supposed to be 1st of June, 2013. This means the delay is 17 months already and double the contract duration. Therefore, I urge the Minister in charged to provide the most realistic expected completion time to the people in Saratok. Otherwise, when the dry season comes next year, Saratok will definitely face another water crisis just like what happened during  Hari Raya in July 2014 this year. During that time, JKR had to get water from Betong and Sarikei by using lorries. This urgent measure was barely capable of supplying enough drinking water to all the people of Saratok.
                
Mr Speaker, with that I would like to conclude my speech with Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Thank you.

Ali Biju
N34 Krian

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