Latest update on the Penan Community
Meeting in Long Sayan, Baram, Miri, Sarawak 7 -9 June 2002.
Penan area representatives graded
the government F in Report Card exercise
Earlier this month, for the first
time ever, more than 700 representatives from more than 40 Penan
communities from all over Sarawak, including those from Mulu, Limbang
and Belaga zones and the nomadic groups, gathered for a historic
communal meeting organised by the Sarawak Penan Association in Long
Sayan, a Penan settlement near upper Sungai Apoh, a tributary of
the Baram River in Miri Division.
The three-day meeting, which among
others, sought to collect the reports on the plight of Penan groups
from different areas in Sarawak, was a fruitful session of experience
sharing and strengthening of solidarity for the community.
An important outcome of the meeting
is the Long
Sayan Declaration 2002,
which carries the signatures and thumbprints of more than 30 area
representatives of the various Penan communities present.
The Declaration clearly spells out
the suffering that the dispossessed community have been facing,
which among others, includes food shortages, frequent illnesses
and income loss &endash; brought about by logging operations that
encroach into their forest areas and the non-transparent manner
in which the State manages its decision making process with regard
to matters that affect the welfare of the community as a whole.
The people maintain that their survival
is severely threatened by the logging industry, which continues
to reap huge profits from the sales of timber resources extracted
from their ancestral land with ease and impunity.
The Declaration asserts that it is
impossible for the government to put an end to the people's predicament
and poverty with their many promises so far, if its decision making
process, which excludes the recognition the people's Native Customary
Rights to their ancestral land, continues to be the root cause of
all their troubles.
Thus the Declaration demands the authorities
- Halt all logging and other destructive
economic activities in their areas.
- Undertake a systematic process
to gazette for each Penan community a Communal Forest of its own,
as provided for by the Sarawak Forests Ordinance 1953.
- Ensure that compensation is paid
for the destruction already caused by logging activities on their
- Institutionalise a fair, transparent
and meaningful consultation process in matters related to the
management of their ancestral land and resources.
- Provide them with technical and
resource assistance in agriculture.
- Provide them with primary healthcare
education programmes and mobile and regular healthcare services.
- Provide the settled communities
with decent housing.
- Provide their schoolchildren with
financial and in-kind assistance.
Their demands on healthcare, education,
agricultural and housing assistance clearly show that the community's
wish for their forest to be protected is totally consistent with
their desire of having their living conditions be improved as a
It has long been highlighted that
apart from the destruction of their ancestral land, the poverty
and dire living conditions that the people are living under are
also strongly related to the authorities' failure in delivering
their promises to improve the quality of life of the community.
This fact becomes especially evident
after a communal Report Card session being conducted during the
meeting, which was carried out to allow the community to evaluate
the performance of the government in improving their welfare and
rate the quality of their present living conditions.
Part 1 of the communal Report Card
contains questions on the degree of the people's satisfaction with
the government's efforts in improving their living conditions. It
covers issues such as the protection of the people's communal forests,
recognition of native rights, income loss, the State's attempts
in improving various aspects of the people's lives and the outcome
of the government's many promises to the Penan community &endash;
which include pledges of an annual allocation of RM1 million for
the community and the establishment of biosphere reserves. The participants,
who convened into nine groups based on areas, were also questioned
on transparency and community participation issues.
Part 2 of the session enquired on
the people's perception of their present quality of life. The people
were asked basic questions pertaining to their food intake, farming
output, availability of forest and river resources, livelihood &endash;
including the ability of the women in bringing home income, health,
housing facilities, mobility and their children's education.
On a scale from A to F, the nine groups'
evaluation resulted in an average score of F for both parts.
The result of the Report Card session
speaks volume on the suffering that the people have had to endure
for more than two decades as a result of the encroachment of logging
activities onto their land. Now that the people have clearly quantified
the level of their distress and disappointment, further apathy to
their plight will certainly be a great act of injustice.
It is very clear indeed that the people's
demands are neither extravagant nor impossible to fulfil. If the
State is really serious in wanting to improve the welfare of the
community, then they must first initiate the incorporation of the
people's views into their decision-making process.
The Sarawak State Government can no
longer ignore the fact that an open, transparent and meaningful
consultation process with the people must be effectively and swiftly
institutionalised as a permanent feature of its decision-making
process. Meaningful and demonstrable improvements in the living
conditions of the people can never be attained if the State continues
to ignore the primary demands of the community.
The central issue here is the democratisation
of access to Sarawak's natural wealth &endash; indigenous communities
must be given the right to a free and continuous access to and utilisation
of the natural resources on their ancestral land. It has nothing
to do with wanting to preserve the people as museum pieces or the
agenda of foreign environmentalists. At stake is the cultural, social
and economic survival of an already marginalised people, which can
only be protected by granting the people self-determination and
a guaranteed access to and control of the resources within their
ancestral domain, all of which are the natural rights of every citizen.
Thus SAM urges both the State and
the Federal Governments to take the appropriate steps to settle
the people's grievances and fulfil their demands as spelt out in
the Long Sayan Declaration 2002.