Thursday, September 09, 2010

S'wak ignores promises made to Penan

As reported by FreeMalaysiaToday dated 8th Sep 2010

KUCHING: Sahabat Alam Malaysia (Friends of the Earth) has condemned the state government for reneging on its pledge to help the Penan community to live a new way of life.
“Despite their pledges contained in a memorandum signed last year between the Penans and the government, the government has completely failed to honour them,” said SM Mohamed Idris, SAM president in a statement emailed to FMT.

The five pledges were: 
  • To make an effort to bring Penan community leaders to meet with the higher authorities to discuss  matters  concerning their land and traditional territories;
  • To make an effort to bring the Penan community’s application for the construction of kindergartens and primary schools at each Penan longhouse to the appropriate authorities;
  • To increase the number of community leaders for the Penan communities;
  • To make an effort to introduce agricultural activities that are suitable for the Penan communities; and
  • To make an effort to obtain financial allocations for the housing and healthcare needs for the Penan community.  
These pledges were a counter-proposal to the demands made by the Penans which included a call to stop all logging operations and encroachment on their NCR (native customary rights) land in a bid to avoid starvation among their people because of shortage in forest resources.

They also urged the government to acknowledge their NCR land status and recognise their boundary.
They also urged the government to allow them to decide on the developments that involve their NCR land; and for companies to respect their rights to their ancestral land and way of life.
“We are troubled by the fact that in spite of the revised and watered-down contents of the memorandum of understanding, the state government has yet to fulfil any of the pledges to assist the Penan community a year later,” said Idris.

Resettlement plan
He said that compounding the matter is the fact that in the months following the signing of the MOU, Telang Usan assemblyman Lihan Jok, had reportedly said that the state government wanted the Penan community to relocate to a government resettlement site similar to the Sungai Asap Resettlement project.
The December report in a local newspaper quoted him as saying that the demands in the MOU will only be fulfilled if the community agreed to being relocated to the site.

“Apparently, the state government wanted the Penan community to stop living a semi-nomadic life and to settle in one place with jobs in rubber plantations and only then will plots of land be provided for them.
“Following this SAM has written to the state authorities to request that consultations should be conducted to inform the community of this plan, but to date there has been no response.

“Also perplexing the community is the question of RM2.7 million government allocation for Penan housing as announced by Miri Resident, Ngenang Janggu in the Borneo Post on Sept 18, 2009,” he said.
In relation to the symbolic event, the Sarawak Penan Association (SPA) has rightfully asserted that the state government cannot continue to act and function in such a non-transparent manner, denying the Penan community of consultations and disclosure of information.

Idris said: “We also strongly support the SPA in its position that the community cannot be forced or threatened to move from their rightful home. The right to livelihood and property is a right protected by the Federal constitution. “We believe that the poor governance system is Sarawak pertaining to forestry, land and NCR matters has long needed some major transformative changes. “We therefore believe that fulfilling of the people’s demands this time around and a serious study on all their existing grievances will be a right step in this direction,” he said.

Symbolic blockades 
Meanwhile more than 150 Penan villagers from Sg. Layun, Apoh, Tutoh and Patah gathered in Kpg. Long Nen and Long Belok to stage symbolic blockades in commemoration of their one year blockade anniversary on Sept 2, 2010 which brought the logging industry to a halt.

At 7.00 am on that day the villagers from Long Nen, Long Belok, Long Sayan, Long Kevok, Long Bangan and Ba’ Marong waving banners and holding placards across logging roads urged the reinstatement of their demands which were government had not fulfilled despite signing the letter agreeing to them in a memorandum of understanding (MoU).

The blockade erected last year which lasted for more than a month from August to September was compelled by the apathy shown by the state government towards the communities and their native customary rights (NCR). Their land has been continuously plundered by logging and oil palm companies despite the strong opposition displayed by the communities over the last three decades.
Following the setting up of blockades last year, the Penans from Long Nen and Long Belok issued the four sets of demands to the state authorities.

In response assemblyman Jok, turned up at the blockade site and instead of listening to the genuine demands of the Penans pressured them into agreeing to the government’s pledges to assist them.
Until today, none of the pledges has been fulfilled.

"Land is our life and blood, without forest we cannot survive. We're not like the people in the towns, who have money and can buy things. If we lose all the things the forest gives us, we will die" - Penan, Sarawak, Malaysia


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