The endless nightmares facing NCR landowners in Sarawak
by Joseph Tawie
COMMENT: Since he took over as Sarawak chief minister on Feb 28 last year, Adenan Satem has been saying countless times that his government is giving top priority to the development of rural areas. He has admitted that the rural areas have been neglected.
And the latest assurance came on the night of Sept 16 in an interview with TV3.
Adenan’s promise of narrowing the gaps between the rural and urban areas is nothing new. His predecessors Abdul Rahman Yakub and Abdul Taib Mahmud did the same. Yet today, the rural folk are far, far behind in terms of development causing big gaps of living standards and livelihood between the urbanites and rural populace.
Can we trust Adenan to keep to his word?
Perhaps, we can when we see his first (2015) budget delivered in November 2014, that he sought RM655.9 million for the construction of roads, electricity and water supply in the rural areas.
He sought another RM500 million from the State Legislative Assembly in April this year, bringing the total amount to RM1.156 billion.
This is a huge amount of money needed to transform the rural areas where up to 80 per cent of the longhouse folk are still living in “darkness” and isolation due to the lack of electricity, roads and clean water.
Is Adenan trying to be nice and wanting to the “chief minister for all”?
Many elder Ibans remember how he chastised the defunct Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) and its leaders for fighting for the customary rights of landowners.
As assistant minister of land development in the Taib government, Adenan was very vocal against the Iban landowners in the Balai Ringin NCR land case in Serian in 1985, telling them they were very “stupid”.
He even accused them of “land-grabbers” or “land plunderers”. For those remarks, a group of Ibans lodged a police report against him.
Political observers see his focus on rural development as an admission of the failure of the previous state government on rural development for which he is trying to narrow the wide gaps between the rural and urban areas.
In this way he hopes to win back the hearts and minds of the rural voters by seemingly dissociating himself from Taib’s “politics of development” which is regarded by the natives as very destructive to their livelihood.
Examples of such “destructive policies” include the construction of mega dams such as the Batang Ai in Lubok Antu, Bakun and Murum dams in Belaga. Because of these dams, the lives and the livelihoods of those affected by the dams are not only uprooted, but also their ancestral lands were submerged, their longhouses and villages displaced.
They were forced to be relocated to other areas to start a “new life, new beginning and new hope”, but instead they were and are now faced with unsolvable multiple problems and miseries never before experienced by them.
Only companies such as CMS and Naim Cendera benefited from the dam construction.
Altogether 12 mega dams were planned for construction by the previous government.
The previous administration’s another example of “destructive policy” to the Dayak was the granting of provisional leases (PLs) on their NCR land and given to oil palm companies. Once these companies received their PLs, they then cleared the land and destroyed all the fruit trees, cash crops, pepper, rubber and cocoa gardens.
In all cases, the landowners were chased away and their longhouses demolished. No compensation has been paid as the land “belonged” to the companies.
But the worst nightmares facing them were that when they lodged police reports regarding the encroachment into their land, they themselves were arrested and sent to jail.
Now as chief minister, Adenan apparently realises that the Dayak’s support in the coming state election is very crucial to BN’s victory, especially when the Opposition is all out to deny the state government of the two thirds majority in the state legislative assembly.
Building roads and supplying electricity and clean water to longhouses are meaningless to the longhouse folk. What is most important to them is that the government should recognise their land, their “pulau galau” (territorial domain) and “pemakai menua” (forest reserve) as their NCR land. To them land is their life. Without it, they are just like fish without water.
Will Adenan do it in exchange for their votes?
(DISCLAIMER: The information and views set out in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of Theantdaily.)
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