Masing's statement insulting to Penans, say groups

Dukau Papau
11:41AM Oct 3, 2012

Orang Ulu leaders and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are reacting strongly to the statement made by Land Development Minister James Masing alleging that the Penans are ignorant of the benefits of the Murum dam, resulting in them being unhappy.

Masing (right) had said that there was a need for better communication between the implementers of the project and the people at the grassroots.

“I have made a recommendation to the steering committee to include Culture and Heritage Assistant Minister Liwan Lagang to be part of the team which oversees the implementation of the project.

“Liwan has vast experience working with the Penans in Murum even before he joined politics.

“My recommendation to the steering committee is that we need to have a better communication system so that any change that we make must be for the better.

“The Penans in Murum are not against the project per se, but they are unhappy with some of the things which are implemented without them being properly informed,” Masing had said.

Reacting to Masing’s remark, Abun Sui Anyit, who is a potential candidate for Pakatan Rakyat in Hulu Rajang, described Masing’s statement as insulting to the Penans, as if they did not know how to value their vast area of land.

“It is an admission by Masing or the government that the government has never communicated the importance of the construction of the dam to the Penans properly.

“The construction of the dam is forced on them without their consent. It is not for the Penans to value the benefits of the dam but the Penan shall know the value and the importance of native rights land,” he said.

The national coordinator of Sarawak Conservation Alliance for Natural Environment (SCANE), Raymond Abin, said that since the beginning Penans have been neglected by the government.

“The government has taken the Penans for granted. They think that all decisions made by the government will be accepted by the Penans, but this is not the case.

“Consultation with Penans must be transparent and any decision made by Penans must be respected,” Abin said.

He said that he had received reports from the ground that out of the eight Penan villages affected, only one village (Long Wat) had received some compensation for their lands, but the villagers had rejected the cheques because the amount was far below what was initially promised.

“I was informed by the Penans themselves that there was a total lack of consultation, and lack of information from the government about their land seizure to build Murum dam. They are especially worried about plans to resettle them early next as no houses have been built yet,” he said.

‘Admission comes too late for Penans and Kenyah’

Meanwhile, SAVE Rivers Network (SAVE Rivers) commended Masing on his admission that there is a “need for better communication between the implementers of the project and the people at the grassroots”.

“However, it is with regret that Masing’s admission for better communication, comes much too late for the Penan and Kenyah communities affected by the Murum dam as the construction started in mid-2008. The target for completion of the project is by the end of 2013,” said SAVE Rivers chairperson Peter Kallang.

He said, “This is why we have been emphasising on the need to abide by the United Nations Declarations of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that Malaysia has signed, whenever the government does any major project involving the rural communities.

“According to UNDRIP, the communities have the right to demand for free, prior, informed consent. This is necessary particularly on large-scale development projects that would affect their livelihoods.

“Free, prior and informed consent in particular, needs to be obtained from the communities before commencement of development projects.

“This was obviously not done for the Penan communities affected by the Murum dam, as admitted by Masing,” Peter said.

SAVE Rivers is extending an invitation to Masing and other high-level government leaders to explain the principles of UNDRIP.

“It is unfortunate that many high-level government leaders do not understand the international UN declaration that Malaysia has signed, and is quick to accuse us of ‘instigating’.

“We therefore would like an opportunity to explain to them the rights of indigenous peoples under the laws of this country,” he said.

Another non-governmental organisation, Borneo Resources Institute (BRIMAS), accused Masing of insulting the Penans for calling them “ignorant”.

“Their recent actions of mounting a blockade are in fact an indication that the Penan communities in the Kapit division are well-aware of their rights according to the Malaysian constitution, land code and UNDRIP.

“The Penans and Kenyahs there do not want the dam,” said BRIMAS director Mark Bujang.

Mark said that according to the Resettlement Action Plan for these communities, compensation is below the poverty level in Sarawak and assistance is only for four years, therefore, is it a surprise that the Penans are very unhappy and are therefore mounting the blockade, asked Mark.

Meanwhile, the Penans from the eight villages have continued their blockade for the seventh day running. The blockade is to stop workers from the Sarawak Energy Berhad and other companies involved in the construction from going to the dam site.

Scores of trucks and lorries are forced to stop at the blockade site.

About 20 police personnel have been dispatched to the blockade site. So far no one has been arrested.


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