NGOs hit back at Sarawak rep over warning to Penan community

A family from the Penan community in Bintulu, Sarawak, in this picture taken on Dec 2, 2015. (Bernama pic)

KUCHING: Sarawak NGOs have taken Telang Usan assemblyman Dennis Ngau to task for his recent call to the Penan community not to believe everything said by such groups, insisting that they are the real advocates of the Penans’ cause.

At an event on Monday, Ngau had said that wholly believing everything claimed by NGOs would jeopardise the harmony within the group and with other communities.

He also said that not all NGOs which visit longhouses and villages are aware of the exact situation on the ground.

Peter Kallang.

But Peter Kallang, chairman of SAVE River, said the groups’ visits to these places had in fact helped them understand the situation and difficulties faced by the Penan community.

He also questioned the meaning of harmony and unity if the community’s welfare was ignored.

“They are being robbed of their livelihoods because of indiscriminate logging, the setting up of commercial plantations on their land, and pollution of the rivers,” he said.

Mark Bujang.

Mark Bujang of Borneo Resources Institute Malaysia Sarawak meanwhile said Ngau appeared to have failed to understand the role of the NGOs.

Unlike government organisations, he said, NGOs do not promote government policies.

“NGOs exist as a platform for disfranchised and discriminated communities to voice their concerns and grouses when the government fails to look after their interests.

“The Penan community has suffered all these years as they watched their ancestral land being taken over by loggers and converted into plantations.

“Some politicians in power have become rich while the Penans are trying to make ends meet,” he added.

PKR Baram chairman Roland Engan also denied that some NGOs were trying to manipulate the Penan community for political reasons.

“It’s not true,” he told FMT, adding that NGOs like SAVE Rivers, the Indigenous Peoples’ Network of Malaysia and the Penan Empowerment Networking Association (Pena) had been helping the community improve their economy and education and protect their land rights.

“Pena is doing a good job of assisting the Penan community overcome their stateless status,” he said.

Engan also said he looked forward to the setting up of a special task force by the federal government to tackle citizenship issues in the state, especially among the Penans.

He said PKR had also been discussing a plan to set up a radio service for the Penan community, which will be be presented to Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo when he visits the area in October.

“For the Penan community to move forward and be on par with other communities, they must be connected with the right information through radio broadcasting,” he said.