Give us power over our own land, says orang asli 

(The Sun Daily) – An orang asli spokesman from Tasik Chini, Pahang, proposed today for the community to be given more power to administer the ancestral lands which they have been calling ‘home’ for generations.

Tasik Chini action committee chairman Ismail Muhammad, speaking on behalf of some 5,000 orang asli from the Jakun tribe, said this could be done if the government enact a law which not only recognised the community’s right to their lands, but also to prevent “rampant destruction” of natural resources which surround the areas.

“As long as the power (to govern) is left in the hands of politicians, I do not see when there will be an end to (logging and mining) activities, which negatively affects our livelihood,” said Ismail.

“We can scream and shout to the heavens, but as long as there is no law (which gives power), nothing will change,” said Ismail during the launch of Transparency-International Malaysia (TI-M)’s documentary on Tasik Chini here yesterday.

The 37-minute documentary titled “Hacking at Harmony: Tasik Chini and Ecosystem on the Brink” was produced as part of TI-M’s Forest Governance Integrity Programme, in collaboration with NGOs, local communities and government agencies.

Aimed at addressing issues and challenges on forest governance, Tasik Chini was selected as a pilot site for the programme, following concerns over the degradation of Malaysia’s only Unesco Biosphere Reserve.

Widespread commercial activities on sites which borders several orang asli villages around Tasik Chini has since caused the once clear blue water to turn murky brown, destroying its once famed lotuses and various fishes – a main source of livelihood for the community.

Peninsula Malaysia Orang Asli Network representative Shafie Dris also claimed that the people in power are largely “ignorant” of demands made by the community.

“The perception is that we are demanding for large acres of lands … In fact, all we want is for the government to recognise the rights to our ancestral lands, where we have been residing for generations, and will continue to do so for generations to come,” said Shafie.

Tenaganita programme officer Katrina Mariamauv meanwhile noted that comments made by the orang asli representatives reflected the “urgency” felt by the people over a need to protect their lands from rampant development.

“While awareness raising (initiatives) are crucial and important, but the time for action is right now!” she said.

Mariamauv called for the parties benefiting from the “destruction” of natural resources to be made accountable for their actions.

Speaking at a press conference, TI-M secretary general Josie Fernandez said the official documentary will also be distributed to policy-makers in hope of inspiring positive change.

Fernandez earlier chaired a forum on threatened forest sites in Malaysia which saw two speakers elaborating on impacts of rampant logging and commercial development to the Segari Melintang forest reserve in Perak, as well as the Tranum forest reserve in Pahang.