Activist: PH may lose Cameron Highlands if it does not help Orang Asli

Logging is still being carried out in Cameron Highlands while water catchment areas continue to be affected. (Bernama pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: An environmentalist predicts the Barisan Nasional (BN) will win in the Cameron Highlands by-election unless Pakatan Harapan (PH) works harder to help the Orang Asli and preserve natural resources.

Speaking to FMT, Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil, who is president of Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia (Peka), said logging was still being carried out while water catchment areas continued to be affected.

Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil.

According to Shariffa Sabrina, rivers must have a “buffer zone” on both sides double the width of the river when logging is done in forest areas with rivers running through them.

This was the standard operating procedure for logging but it was not being followed today, she said.

In its Buku Harapan for the 14th general election, PH had pledged to enforce strict logging quotas to conserve forests, and implement regulations to protect wildlife and marine life to address environmental issues.

But Shariffa Sabrina claimed that the seven-month-old government had ignored a petition Peka sent back in April with more than 100,000 signatures calling for an immediate moratorium on logging.

“If the federal government wants to stop any logging projects, they can call for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) from the department of environment to put a halt on logging. There are so many things they can do.

“Our government is weak and poor in preservation and conservation. This is killing our water catchment areas.

“I don’t have any confidence in the government. I’m just hoping the people do something and bring about change and pressure.”

On the by-election in Cameron Highlands, which has a large number of Orang Asli voters, Shariffa Sabrina said: “If PH cannot come up with anything to help the Orang Asli and natural resources, they might just change their votes.

“We were hoping with the new government that change will benefit everyone.”

Following the filing of an election petition, the Election Court annulled the win of the BN candidate for the Cameron Highlands constituency in the May 9 general election, on the grounds that some voters had been bribed to support the BN candidate.

Orang Asli leaders had testified that BN gave cash and “duit rokok” (pocket money) to their leaders before May 9.

As a result, the Election Commission has fixed Jan 26 for a by-election.

Asked to list specific ways in which the PH government had shown it was not committed to protecting Orang Asli land and water catchment areas, Shariffa Sabrina pointed to the Orang Asli blockades in Gua Musang, Kelantan, as an example.

In Kelantan, blockades are still being put up by the Orang Asli near their native settlements in Gua Musang to keep out timber loggers and planters from what they claim to be their customary land. They started doing this about two years ago.

PH promised to resolve this issue after wresting Putrajaya in the May 9 polls but later said this would not be easy as land issues were under the state government’s purview and, therefore, the federal government could not intervene.

“Look at Kelantan, Pahang, Perak, and now in Kedah where it’s about 50-50 because they stopped logging in Ulu Muda,” she said.

Kedah Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir in October announced that the state would stop logging in the Ulu Muda forest reserve to ensure water supply is continued. About 96% of Kedah’s and 80% of Penang’s water comes from here.

Perak Menteri Besar Ahmad Faizal Azumu recently suggested Orang Asli in the state stop expecting government assistance and “advance on their own”, saying this would prevent them from “indulging in a culture” of seeking help.

On Pahang, Shariffa Sabrina said the state was “mainly destroyed” by radioactive waste, bauxite, mining and rampant logging.

“The problem with the government is we don’t want to reserve whatever forest land as national parks, like the Taman Negara, which was gazetted by the British, not our government,” she said, citing the Pulau Kukup issue.

The Johor government revoked the status of Pulau Kukup, an uninhabited mangrove island in Pontian as a national park earlier this year. The island is now “sultanate land” but will remain a national park.

The move, which was done after Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar decreed it as such, was criticised by environmentalists and a PH minister, which led to a war of words with the Johor crown prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim.

Asked what she felt about the assurances of both Tunku Ismail and Johor Menteri Besar Osman Sapian that no development would take place on Pulau Kukup, Shariffa Sabrina said: “No, no, no, no.”