PETALING JAYA: Government policies and actions for the Orang Asli are doing them “more harm than good” as they are still in poverty after half a century, an activist for the community has charged.
Calling for a revamp of the policies, Colin Nicholas, coordinator for the Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC), said official statistics showed that the Orang Asli poverty rate stood at 89% in 2020, with 99.25% in the B40 income bracket.
“After 40 to 50 years of development projects and programmes for the Orang Asli, they are still in poverty,” he told FMT. “These programmes are actually keeping them in poverty because profits from the projects go elsewhere instead of to the Orang Asli.”
Nicholas also criticised the government’s land policy on Orang Asli and referred to a statement earlier this month by deputy energy and natural resources minister Ali Biju.
Ali said 2.4ha of forest area was to be given to each Orang Asli family to help improve their standard of living.
However, Nicholas said it was ignorant of Ali to believe that granting 2.4ha per household could lift the Orang Asli out of poverty.
He said the land grant policy had some flaws.
Not every family was to be given the 2.4ha as the scheme was at the discretion of state authorities, he said, adding that some households were awarded much smaller plots.
The Orang Asli in some cases were not allowed to cultivate the land themselves but only given the dividends from the profits the land yielded.
Nicholas said it was common for Orang Asli families to receive only RM200 to RM800 a month from the dividends, while those in some areas received nothing.
He called for a more varied government approach instead of the current focus on agricultural development, by catering to the community’s education, healthcare and socio-cultural needs.
In 2009, the National Land Council chaired by then deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin approved a policy to award land to the Orang Asli for agriculture and housing.
Under the scheme, about 30,000 Orang Asli households were to get permanent titles to agricultural lots ranging from 0.8ha to 2.4ha. The land could not be leased, rented or mortgaged without authorisation from state authorities, and it was also non-transferable in the first 15 years.
Lawyer and activist Siti Kasim said the plight of the Orang Asli mainly stemmed from the group having no registrable title to their customary land.
She said they could be evicted from their land whenever state authorities had other intentions for it, while the Orang Asli were unable to seek government assistance to develop the land while they lived on it.
“The lack of land titles prevents the Orang Asli from using their land as capital,” Siti said. “Without capital, the Orang Asli cannot embark on any undertakings to further their economic status.”