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Orang Asli - not how much is allocated but how much actually reaches them in real terms in concrete benefits

2008 Budget Speech (5) 
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Dewan Rakyat, Monday): The Budget states that the government is committed to improving the quality of life of Orang Asli, allocating RM170 to the Department of Orang Asli Affairs to carry out numerous programmes and projects.

We should listen to the views of the Orang Asli community, and the following are some feedback from the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC).

With regard to the financing of Orang Asli development, the issue is not how much is allocated in the annual budget but how much actually reaches the Orang Asli in real terms, in concrete benefits.

Non-delivery of benefits

A survey conducted COAC, POASM, YKPM and other NGOs involved with Orang Asli issues found that subsidies and allocations meant for the Orang Asli were not delivered to them. This included the education support for students coming from poor households (which the PM announced last year was increased from RM30.00 per student per month to RM50.00).

In some districts, the transportation for Orang Asli schoolchildren was disrupted as the contractors were not paid their fees for months at a stretch (in Tapah this year, about 250 Orang Asli students had to skip school when the bus contractors decided to protest the 7-month delay in payment of their fees by refusing to transport the schoolchildren).

In fact, in yesterday�s NST, in a report on the launching of the K9 school for the Orang Asli in the DPM�s constituency, the Education Minister admitted that the Orang Asli are now getting what the Malays got 50 years ago!

Land encroachment and development

Encroachment into Orang Asli traditional lands � a result of non-recognition of these lands as titled Orang Asli territories � have led to logging, land-grabbing and outside development (for others).

It is now generally accepted, even by the JHEOA, that there can be no real development for the Orang Asli if there is no security of tenure.

Thus far, the courts have also accorded the Orang Asli recognition of full title to their traditional lands. The authorities, however, still choose to deny the Orang Asli this fundamental right, thereby allowing the remaining lands of the Orang Asli to be slowly whittled away.

Some of the lands that were approved for gazetting as Orang Asli Reserves as far back as the 1960s and 1970s were never administratively gazetted. In fact, some of these areas have now been reclassified as state land or Malay Reserve Land, or have been given to individuals and corporations � without the Orang Asli�s knowledge, let alone consent.

And while it is being bandied about that the proposed Orang Asli Land Policy will address the Orang Asli land problem by setting aside some 75,900 hectares for 30,000 Orang Asli families, the reality is that the Orang Asli will stand to lose 51,798 hectares (40 per cent) of the 127,698 hectares that the government already recognises in 2003 as Orang Asli lands.

Furthermore, these 6.25 acre (2.53 hectares) family plots are assigned to them on a 99-year-lease basis. Nothing can be more graphic of the Orang Asli�s fate � that their inalienable right to their land now has an expiry date.

Agricultural development contracts keeping Orang Asli in poverty

At a time when high commodity prices for rubber and oil palm are enabling smallholders to reap excess returns on their hard work, many Orang Asli cultivators are only enjoying dividends of about RM1,200.00 to RM1,500.00 per year.

This is because the JHEOA has contracted out the development and management of such agricultural schemes to contractors such as Risda and Felcra, as well as other private contractors, who charge huge amounts as management fees, apart from deducting for fertiliser, labour (usually foreign), and other costs. The Orang Asli are treated as mere share-holders, enjoying the annual dividend that works out to about RM100.00 per month. In fact, there has been at least one case of an Orang Asli being arrested and put away in detention for tapping his own rubber trees (in RPS Betau, Pahang).


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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