Monday, September 24, 2007

No ‘merdeka’ for S’wak’s indigenous

By Wang Ik Ping

LETTERS TO EDITOR: Jobs, income, roads, clinics, schools, development and similar goodies have been used for decades by the pro logging federal and state governments (in collusion with corporations) as justification for the rampant logging in Sarawak.

When talking of Sarawak forests, we must see it from the indigenous people’s context. More specifically Native Customary Rights (NCR) land which they base their livelihood on. Of course, the income derived from timber exports bring much-needed income to the country and state.

But they also bring much income to big businesses, politicians and, of course, those in between who have much to gain from this multi billion ringgit industry. There are also some from ethnic based associations who are roped in whenever their ‘help’ is needed.

I forgot that the industries create jobs for Malaysians. Yes, but how many openings for Sarawakians? How much are they being paid? No takers? Great excuse to employ cheap Indonesian labour.

Malaysia has lost any credibility to still say that logging, deforestation and most critically, land-grabbing of NCR land in Sarawak are ‘benefitting’ the indigenous peoples.

Aside from non Muslim indigenous people, those whose land are divisively classified as Malay Reserve Land have also had to make way for development. Malays staying at Kuching’s waterfront had to sacrifice their land for the new state legislative assembly building (DUN) and for the beautification of the waterfront area.
These people were given compensation and they got low cost houses. It’s amazing how the ones offering these houses, though never ever having to stay in them, can ‘advise’ the people not to be choosy when ‘sacrificing’ for the country’s development.

Yes, there are indigenous peoples who have benefitted from the exploitation of Sarawak’s natural resources and other supposed development. But they are the local elites who happen to be indigenous peoples with key political patronage. So the saying ‘If we can’t beat them, let’s join them’ is alive and well indeed. In other words, let’s join in the exploitation of resources and people to enrich ourselves so that our own dear will be ensured of a good life (whatever that is).

Lacking a coherent and cohesive alternative in terms of government, some become ‘pragmatists’, understandably easy way out. What is troubling, however, is their exertion onto their communities who continue to hold onto their basic principle of protecting one's rights at all cost.
Some NGO personnel, together with some pseudo academians too have combined forces to pressure indigenous communities to negotiate and accept whatever that is given by the exploiters of the natural resources and the land grabbers. But these pragmatists forget that without being on an equal footing, how any negotiation be fair?
Are prisoners in any position to negotiate with their captors? Can hostages negotiate with their captors? Can one ‘negotiate’ when all the big guns and machinery are pointed at you?

Some specifics: Indigenous communities in Sungai Asap in the Belaga District are being pressured to accept three hectares of land per household in return for the thousands of hectares of native customary rights land claimed by the state government for the infamous Bakun Dam project. The Penan community, meanwhile is being pressured to accept the Malaysian Timber Certification scheme a market driven mechanism to try to redress the timber trade imbalance.

The development of their native customary rights land has yet to be proven. On the contrary, it can be argued that the opposite is happening, whereby instead of enriching the poor, their status remains the same at best while the corporate and other elites continue to enrich themselves.

But then again, it is better to get something than to lose all, so say the pragmatists. How nicely for such people to justify their own corrupt ideas.

One lesson to take from such scenario can be argued as when one only looks to the outside for one's ideological stance, the collapse of that outside pillar will throw everything into disarray. But when one's stance is base on protecting one's rights (legal, moral, political and or others) in communities, the struggle continues and there is no need to turn pragmatists or whatever terms many are using.

So at the end of it all, are the pragmatists genuine in their believe that the people will benefit or are their partying with the corporation in another way to ease their own conscience in a unipolar era?

The Barisan Nasional of Semenanjung Malaysia may consider 50 years old to be still young as a country but surely Malaysians are mature enough to see a corrupt exploiter and a human rights abuser. A principle base Malaysia of justice, equality and democracy awaits all as Malaysians rise against injustice, inequality, inhumanity and anti democratic ‘elders’ of all races of the two geographical regions that are the united Malaysia.

Together, the ghost of race bias created by the British and perfected by the ruling and corporate Malaysians elite shall be exorcised by the united Malaysians.

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