Monday, September 24, 2007

Education in classrooms, not at blockades: Jabu

Posted By rajlira On 24th September 2007 @ 00:02 In Local

LONG BANGA: The government wants to see the Penans attain high education comparable to that achieved by the other members of the Orang Ulu community, Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu said.

In stating this recently, Jabu hoped the five Penan students who were now in Form Four and Form Five at SMK Marudi would work hard and enter university one day.

Jabu said education was the key for a better future and success as underscored by the Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud during his recent visit to Marudi.

The five Penan students, according to Jabu, had told him during the Chief Minister’s visit that they were aiming for 7As in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination.

And he said the Chief Minister had responded that he would make sure that they were accepted into universities if they attained their goals.

Showing photographs of the forwardlooking Penan students when opening the dining hall of SK Long Banga, here, Jabu said: ‘Education of the Penan children is in the classrooms and not at blockades instigated by NGOs who exploit them.”

Long Banga is about eight hours drive through logging road from Miri. The deputy chief minister said the government was determined to see the Penans in the mainstream of development and progress.

Jabu said the small group of Penans manning blockades at Long Benalih would cause them to lose out while creating hardship to others whose accessibility was cut off by their blockades.

Jabu urged the Penan students at SK Long Banga to study hard and be obedient to the teachers and headmasters who were helping them.

“Study hard and go all the way to university as the five Penan girls in SMK Marudi are trying to do,” he said.

Acknowledging that Long Banga, a Kenyah-Sabah settlement, which lies in the interior of the Baram near the border with Indonesia had its drawbacks which need to be improved, he said efforts were made to address the problem.

Jabu, who is Rural Development Minister, said both the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister saw the need to focus on rural development and this was underlined in the huge allocations under the Ninth Malaysia Plan to bridge the gap between the urban and rural areas.

Earlier in his speech, the headmaster of the school, Liang Bang said the school which had 128 students needed improvements, and these included infrastructure like teachers’ quarters.

He said the school faced a shortage of academic staff as two of the nine teachers posted to the school failed to report themselves.

“There is also a teacher who is on leave to pursue higher education,” he said. At the function, Jabu approved three computers for the school apart from a grant of RM20,000 from his Minor Rural Project (MRP) fund.

The computers and money are to be channelled through Baram Member of Parliament Datuk Jacob Dungau Sagan and Telang Usan assemblyman Lihan Jok.

Another RM 200,000 has also been approved by Jabu for a bailey bridge across the river linking the village and school in place of the suspension bridge.

Meanwhile, on behalf of the National Registration Department, Jabu also handed over birth certificates to a Penan family of five at the function.

Also present at the function were Jacob, Lihan, Kemena assemblyman Dr Stephen Rundi, Ba Kelalan assemblyman Nelson Balang Rining, political secretaries Robert Laing, Watson Bangau and Isik Anak Utau, Miri Resident Ose Murang, Temengong Pahing Ding, successful Penan businessman Datuk Hasan Sui and other community leaders.

Penan blockades to save the 'last frontier'
By Tony Thien

2007-08-28 Malaysiakini

Penans in two areas in Baram in Sarawak’s northern region are still manning timber blockades to stop logging from moving into communal forest reserves.

One area is in Long Belok and Long Sayan in the Apoh region of middle Baram where a road blockade was re-erected on June 2 by some 50 Penans.

This was done to prevent Rimbunan Hijau, a Sarawak-based timber giant, from entering and extracting timber within communal forest reserves in the upper reaches of the Belok River.

The police visited the blockade site in mid-June and early July but have not taken any action against the protestors, according to Marudi-based Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) field officer Jok Jau in a statement.

The natives in the Apoh and Tutuh areas have conveyed their ‘grave concern’ to SAM through their representatives in that native rights to the land have been ignored.

Another new blockade was erected by the Penans in Long Nen, Sungai Layun, together with the nomadic Penans from Sungai Marong in upper Tutoh on Aug 1 to stop logging activities on their land by Samling, a Miri-based timber conglomerate, and their sub-contractor Jumbo Green.

Raja Jemali, head of the nomadic Penan group, said the two groups decided to join forces because they cannot handle the pressure from the company on their own.

Last frontier
A protest is still on-going against what SAM described as controversial road-building by Samling in upper Baram.

Blockades by Penans in the upper reaches of Baram have been set up at different sites in the area for the last 14 years.

“This area is regarded to be one of the last remaining primary forests in Sarawak and the last frontier to be exploited by the logging companies since the 1960s,” Jok Jau said.

The upper Baram blockades, often associated with the Long Benalih villagers, had been dismantled by the authorities on numerous occasions.

SAM learned that on July 4, the authorities destroyed the barricades again but the villagers re-erected it shortly after.

“The continuous dismantling and rebuilding of the blockades have received much attention in recent years, particularly after the concession’s inclusion into the controversial Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC) scheme whose legal and sustainable claims have been questioned by national and international civil society groups,” SAM said.

In the past, SAM added, the Long Benalih village had to bear to the brunt of being insinuated as the sole village protesting against logging in the area, at the expense of other villages.

Environmental impacts
The natives have been carrying out what is described as the longest-serving non-violent protest against logging in Malaysian history.

They are also concerned with road construction which is getting deeper inland and is now only 2km from Benalih.

“However its adverse environmental impacts, in particular water pollution, are currently being impacted upon other neighbouring Penan villages as well, including Long Pengaran Iman and Long Pengaran Kerian,” said Jok Jau.

To ensure that the road construction is not impeded in any way, SAM said, it is being guarded by General Operations Force (GOF) personnel.

In mid July, the Benalih blockade was reportedly dismantled again by timber company workers, together with the GOF personnel. The people were warned that they would be arrested if they continued with the blockade.

SAM called on the government to respect the rights of the Penans, calling for cessation of their operations in the native territories.

Marginalised Penans fighting for survival
By Syed Jaymal Zahiid

Malaysiakini 2007-08-13

The Penan community of Ulu Belaga, Sarawak, no longer has any legal avenue to claim their rights over ancestral land.

The Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) unearthed this disturbing fact following investigations into complaints from the community.

First, findings showed that when the Sarawak Land Code was enacted, the voice and “historic custom (of the Penan community) of ownership and stewardship of land” were completely ignored.

Second, in the presence of Shin Yang Forestry Sdn Bhd, a logging company currently operating on land claimed by the indigenous as ancestrally theirs, the chances of fighting for it is further diminished as the amendments made on the Sarawak Land Code puts a full stop to the notion.

“Our investigation found that despite being an indigenous group of Sarawak, the Penan’s historic custom of ownership and stewardship of land is not considered in the 1958 Sarawak Land Code,” said Dr Mohammad Hirman Ritom, a member of the team of commissioners probing into this matter.

As a consequence, he said, logging licences were issued and plantation activities were carried out with little consideration to the Penan’s claim to land.

“Research found that through the Sarawak Land Code (amendment) Bill 2000 which was passed by the state assembly on May 9, 2007, Section 5(2) of which provided ‘any other lawful method’ of establishing claim to land had been deleted,” added Mohammad Hirman.

This provision was previously used constantly to argue the Penan’s claim to land.

“Despite practicing settled agriculture and slowly abandoning their nomadic lifestyle, a majority of them (Penan) heavily depends on the forest for their survival. If the forest is cleared, how then will they survive?” he asked

The plight of the Penan community does not stop here.

The community will “witness further destruction of their natural environment and livelihood following the company’s move to clear forest areas in September and October 2007 on land claimed by the Penan community”, said Suhakam in a report which was launched today.

The report - titled Penan in Ulu Belaga: Right to land and socio-economic development - was a result of complaints lodged by the community who feared logging and oil palm plantation in Ulu Belaga would threaten their livelihood.

Suhakam had responded to these complaints by conducting fact-finding field visits to the affected areas and holding dialogues withe the Penan community, government agencies as well as the Shin Yang Forestry.

EIA report questionable
The Suhakam report also found that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report which was conducted before the logging company was granted license was not accurate.

In the process of granting licenses to private companies for foresting operations, the state’s Natural Resources and Environmental Board (NREB) will be the authority approving the Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIA), a prerequisite for attaining a license.

A consultant or consultancy firm will be assigned to produce the EIA report.

The EIA report must include information on impacts and repercussions the affected communities will face when foresting activities are to take place.

In the case of the Penan community in Ulu Belaga, Sarawak, the findings of the EIA report produced by the consultant on the proposed Shin Yang forest plantation states that there was no evidence of human settlement within the proposed forest plantation.

However, Suhakam came to a different conclusion. Their investigation, through literature review, local and internationally, have led them to believe that there were “Penan settlements in Ulu Belaga at the time when the EIA report was prepared” corroborating with claims made by the Penans.

Data from the Ulu Belaga district office also confirmed this.

“This is a drawback to the EIA assessment. We urge the government to necessitate an urgent intervention on this matter before everything is lost,” said Dr Denison Jayasooria, another commissioner working on the case.

“We are concerned with the accuracy of the EIA report,” he added.

In the light of this contradictions of results coming from both sides, Suhakam recommended in their report that “the government takes necessary measures to ensure that only independent consultants are appointed to assess and prepare the EIA report.”

“This is to ensure greater objectivity and transparency and to negate all allegations of bias. It is also recommended that the government review the procedures of the preparation and verification of the EIA report”.

Abject poverty
Land issue was not the only matter raised by Suhakam. Poverty was a ghost constantly haunting the Penans there.

The Suhakam report indicated that the “Penans in Long Singu and Long Jaik are among the poorest groups in the country and live below poverty level.”

It also indicated that “they have inadequate access to nutritious food, healthcare, education, housing and clean potable water.”

“The prime minister said that he wants poverty to be eradicated by 2010. The Penans should be included in this,” said the Suhakam report.

The rights commission stressed the “government to ensure the availability of basic necessities for the Penans to ensure that they do not live in abject poverty.

“We strongly recommend that poverty eradication and income generations be implemented.”

“The continuous disregard of the Penan community will push them further into marginalisation,” concluded the 270-page report.

Suhakam said that the government was chiefly responsible to ensure the Penans’ right to life and an adequate standard of living

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