MIRI: SAVE Rivers slams Telang Usan assemblyman Dennis Ngau for alleging that some activists are preying on the Penans.
Referring to an article ‘Some activists are preying on the Penans, says state rep’ in Free Malaysia Today (FMT), SAVE Rivers chairman Peter Kallang, in a statement received here yesterday, said activists and civil society organisations (CSOs) fight for environmental, economic, infrastructure and social justice of the indigenous people, who were either neglected or abused by some parties concerned.
The CSOs in Sarawak are mostly engaged in advocacy and minor rural projects on issues related to land, rivers and indigenous rights, and most are either volunteers (no salary) or are paid nominal amount of living allowance.
This factor is the reason for the acute scarcity of dedicated and competent youths in Sarawak willing to serve in the CSOs, which spend time consulting, discussing and working with the Penans and other indigenous communities in the villages and rural settlements, he said.
Claiming that CSOs fight for the rights of the people when the government fails in this regard, he said “these activists are ‘walking the talk’ in actual sense of the word. To say that the CSOs are taking advantage of the Penans for their own benefit shows that Dennis does not know what is happening on the ground.”
Peter also alleged that rural Sarawak was the most underdeveloped areas in Malaysia, despite Sarawak being rich in natural resources and human capital.
Harrison Ngau, a prominent lands right lawyer and activist since the 1980s, meanwhile said apart from the Penans, the Malays, Melanaus and Dayaks have also lost their rights to customary right land, continued to suffer the highest rate of poverty and environmental destruction as a result of policies and laws of the Sarawak government.
Mark Bujang, a geologist by training and an indigenous right activist for more than 20 years, said Dennis should not be making sweeping statements, but name the CSO whom he claimed to be taking advantage of the Penans.
Thomas Jalong, the secretary general of Jaringan Orang AsalSeMalaysia (JOAS), stressed that as an NGO, they were usually involved in raising funds for capacity building programmes to empower the marginalised communities and help in advocacy work.
SAVE Rivers quoted a Penan leader, Komeok Joe, as questioning Dennis for failing to fulfil his promise made several years ago to build and repair a suspension bridge at Long Sait.
“Why blame CSOs for helping the Penan who have waited for so many years for him (Dennis) to fulfil his promise? It was the CSOs and members of the public who finally helped to build a new suspension bridge.”
SAVE Rivers said it was the responsibility of the government of the day to build infrastructure and public amenities since it imposed tax on the people, and set up government departments to handle the various sectors of the public service.
The government, MPs and assemblymen are the ones who should decide where and when the infrastructure and facilities should be built, it said.