Putting profit before people in Perak

The impact of indiscriminate logging has serious consequences on the environment and on the Orang Asli, who live in the interior.

Last month, the Temiar people of Kampung Cunex in Perak Ulu, found that a blockade they set up to stop logging companies from removing felled trees had been breached. Violence ensued and some Orang Asli were kicked and assaulted by workers of the timber tycoon.

The Orang Asli say a police report was made, but the police denied receiving one.

A fortnight later, a second convoy of lorries arrived to collect more logs; this time they came with the police, as instructed by the Perak menteri besar. The police dismantled the barricade and the Orang Asli could only watch helplessly.

This was a classic case of bullying, with the resources and might of the state against the small man.

The Orang Asli have always maintained their rights over ancestral lands and say they did not give their permission for logging to take place. They are the guardians of the forest. They disapprove of logging and were not informed that the Perak menteri besar had given the logging companies the green light to resume logging after a brief lull.

The menteri besar, Ahmad Faizal Azumu, seems to have no clue about Orang Asli rights. He appears to have forgotten that the slopes of inner Kelantan have been laid bare, contributing to many environmental problems: surface run-off has turned rivers muddy and caused landslides and flooding.

Faizal seems to lack vision if he believes in the quick way to make money for the state by allowing logging. Perhaps, he just wants to cash in while there are still trees to fell.

He claimed that logging is critical to the Perak economy, but has failed to explain. The timber companies make millions, but the environment is destroyed. More importantly, the ancestral Orang Asli heartland is desecrated and their way of life destroyed.

There are less destructive ways to make money from the forest: eco-tourism could probably make far more money for Perak’s taxpayers than logging.

It is unclear if Faizal’s team has the wisdom to bring jobs and investment so that Perak could prosper and progress in the long-run, instead of resorting to short-term, desperate measures.

The Kampung Cunex story is a tragedy common to the forests of both east and west Malaysia. The original inhabitants of the land are slowly being hounded by those who should be protecting them: the state government.

Faizal has said he did not feel pressured by the demands of the Orang Asli that the state government approve customary rights over 12,456 hectares of forest. That land is part of the Air Chepam Forest Reserve in Hulu Perak, the Piah Forest Reserve (Kuala Kangsar) and government land in Mukim Kenering, Hulu Perak District.

The menteri besar claimed that the state government had been very lenient towards the Orang Asli, whom he accused of illegally occupying the land.

He said, without realising the irony of his words, “This is not a cowboy country, we have laws. So if there are people freely encroaching on government land without regard to law provisions, we need to take appropriate action. The government must be fair to everyone. Regardless who they are (sic), we have to take action (against those illegally encroaching on the land) but we will not demolish the Orang Asli houses immediately.”

But the Perak state government does not appear to recognise Orang Asli customary land rights.

The original Orang Asli village was well-established with a helicopter landing pad and clinic. The villagers were evacuated during the Second Emergency, but in 2011, the Temiar returned to their former village, as the promises of better conditions in their resettled area did not come to fruition.

What does Faizal mean by “cowboy country”? A lawless place?

Perhaps he should be told that Malaysia has signed the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and that the Pakatan Harapan government of which Faizal is a member, has said it will enforce this declaration.

Here is a reminder for the Perak government: the Kelantan state government was sued by the federal government for ignoring the rights of the Orang Asli.

So please do not ignore their rights.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.