Politicians in power blasted for inertia over Orang Asli rights

Putrajaya has been urged to do more to protect Orang Asli land rights. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A member of a Malaysian Bar committee has blamed political inertia for the lack of recognition and protection of Orang Asli land rights.

Yogeswaran Subramaniam, who sits on the bar’s panel on Orang Asli rights, said politicians in power at both the federal and state levels appeared reluctant to use their executive clout to resolve problems pertaining to the aboriginal peoples’ use of land and resources.

He acknowledged that there were legal impediments, but said the authorities were not even using the powers given to them under current laws to benefit the Orang Asli.

Indeed, he added, the Aboriginal Peoples Act of 1954 confers “phenomenal” powers on the federal and state governments to ensure the protection and well-being of the Orang Asli.

“But there is no satisfactory and consistent policy on Orang Asli access, use and enjoyment of areas that have been declared as aboriginal lands,” he said.

“The federal government has yet to secure sufficient protection of Orang Asli lands and resources. Similarly, the state governments have not exercised their powers to sufficiently protect these lands.”

He said Putrajaya and the state administrations were instead “busy passing the buck” to each other.

Yogeswaran Subramaniam.

Yogeswaran was speaking yesterday at a forum on legal alternatives for the recognition and protection of Orang Asli lands and resources.

He urged state authorities to survey and demarcate Orang Asli lands in consultation with the Orang Asli community, saying they should use common law principles, which he described as “clear-cut in terms of demarcation”.

“They don’t have to pass any new law. They can authorise demarcation, and once the lands have been demarcated, they can, just by executive order under current legislation, impose a moratorium.”

He said the states could then gazette these lands as reserves under the National Land Code or the Aboriginal Peoples Act.

As for the federal executive, he said, it could use its constitutional power to legislate for the acquisition of lands for federal purposes.

“However, the biggest power it has is to create consensus in the National Land Council,” he added.

“Politically, it is not an issue. Pakatan Harapan holds the majority number of seats in Parliament. It controls six states. It can bulldoze the relevant amendments if it wants.”

He said the federal executive could negotiate a national moratorium with the state governments and then let legal experts propose a legislation.

He added that Putrajaya could take legal action against state governments to force them to recognise Orang Asli customary land rights.