The AG has taken his slick dance moves to court and is suing the Kelantan state government for violating the land rights of the Temiar Orang Asli community in Gua Musang.
Thomas said: “For the first time since Merdeka, the federal government is instituting legal proceedings on behalf of the Orang Asli in recognition of the federal government’s constitutional and legal duty to protect and promote their well-being and advancement.”
He said the pursuit of profit must not come at the expense of the Orang Asli and their inherent rights as citizens of this country, including the right to land and resources which they own and use.
His statement is loaded with innuendo.
Firstly, the federal government made it clear that it recognises natives’ rights to the land that they have occupied for centuries.
Secondly, it raises the question of who really profits from timber logging – the state government or individuals.
Thirdly, it speaks of the untold ecological damage created by the extraction of timber.
Indigenous rights have always been the main grouse of people living in the East Malaysian states, where successive chief ministers have been accused of profiting from timber logging.
The latest is former Sabah chief minister Musa Aman who has claimed trial to 35 charges of graft related to the award of timber concessions.
In a book entitled “Money Logging”, Lukas Straumann singles out Abdul Taib Mahmud, the governor of Sarawak, for the wanton destruction of the forest, and for trampling on native rights.
Kudos should be given to the current chief minister of Sabah, Shafie Apdal, who, among others, has banned the export of round logs from Sabah.
The days of quick profit are over for Sabah. The destruction of the forest created an ecological imbalance where animals, like orangutans and elephants, and human beings fight for the last remaining territory in the tropical rainforests of Borneo.
We have seen the extinction of Borneo rhinos in our lifetime; we don’t want to see the same fate befalling the remaining animals of Borneo.
Shafie has also created the law and native affairs ministry, recognising native laws and customs as part and parcel of the state legal system.
According to Jannie Lasimbang, the assistant minister of law and native affairs, 75% of natives bring their matters to the Native Court instead of the civil courts.
According to the courts’ records, among the most recurrent cases are those on infidelity, inheritance disputes, adoption and polyandry.
She said natives are more comfortable with the Native Court as it is nearer to their hearts. Besides, it is cheaper to go to the Native Court than a civil court because they don’t need to hire lawyers to have their cases heard.
According to a paper prepared for the 31st Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review in November last year, the indigenous people make up approximately 210,000 people, or 0.7% of the population of Peninsular Malaysia; the Orang Ulu people of Sarawak make up approximately 1.9 million people, or 70.5% of the Sarawak population; and the Anak Negeri constitute approximately 2.2 million people, or 58.6% of the Sabah population.
By these statistics alone, the majority of indigenous people live in East Malaysia.
Activists have asked why the AG has not taken action against the likes of Taib and the government of Sarawak for trampling on indigenous people’s rights and damaging the environment. Some say it is selective prosecution, others view it as a test case.
Since the Pandora’s Box is now opened, will Sabah and Sarawak follow suit to sue Putrajaya for oil rights? It’s not a one-way street, for sure.
After the cue of the Kelantan case, will Sarawak take the same path to sue the federal government as 70.5% of the population is regarded as indigenous people and can claim native rights to the oil resources?
The Malaysia Agreement is still at the heart of discussion between the federal and state governments, and the angst from the East Malaysian population has not abated.
East Malaysians are eager for a quick resolution to state tax revenues and oil royalty but in realty, they know it will not happen any time soon.
Whatever the outcome, Putrajaya’s suit against Kelantan will be one of the most carefully watched cases in Malaysia especially for Sabah and Sarawak, where the majority of the indigenous people reside.
The outcome of this case could turn into a landmark decision challenging the long-held view that the government can override the rights of indigenous people.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT