Desperate plea from Penans
By Tony Thien (www.malaysiakini.com)
The Sarawak Penan Association (SPA) has made a desperate plea to the state authorities for help, saying that the community is facing a living crisis because of continuing threat to their lands by commercial logging and plantation activities.
A group of Penans, led by the association's chief Ajang Kiew and his deputy Juwin Lehan (both longhouse headmen) have travelled all the way by road from Miri to Kuching, the state capital, to try and meet certain state ministers and officials to highlight the various issues and problems they are facing.
Accompanied by Miri-based leading NGO Borneo Research Institute Malaysia (Brimas) programe co-ordinator Raymond Abin and official Mark Bujang, the Penans are being accommodated at the premises of the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia) in Kuching.
Sadia secretary-general Nicholas Munjah told Malaysiakini today that Sadia has been working closely with Brimas on the Penan issue for some time and are trying to press home with the state authorities that something must be done quickly before the situation becomes more difficult for the Baram tribe, once largely nomadic.
Among those they had hoped to meet but failed was Deputy Chief Minister and Minister of Rural Development Alfred Jabu as he was overseas.
They are also trying to get an appointment to see Housing Minister Abang Johari Tun Openg, who was appointed chairperson of the state Cabinet on Penan affairs many years ago, to find out about the use of the funds that had been allocated to the committee to help the Penans.
Yesterday, the Penan group managed to meet with Forest Department and Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) officials and raised various issues during the dialogue.
A Brimas official said the officials appeared defensive of what the authorities are doing and even suggested that the Penan, being small in number, might not have the right to claim over a large area of NCR land.
Issues of concern
In an open statement addressed to the SFC general manager and state forestry director, Ajang raised at least nine issues of concern to them.
He said the logging permits issued by the authorities to various companies were the source of many of the problems and difficulties faced by the Penans.
Among other things, these companies have encroached into their NCR land without getting permission from them.
“Our rights to the use of the forest area and to collect materials for our own needs from the forests have regretfully not been respected by the private investors,” he added.
Consequently, the community's quality of life has been seriously affected as it is now difficult for them to go into the forests in search of food, building materials and natural medicine.
The logging and plantation activities have also caused water pollution, affecting their source of drinking water, and that it is common for flash floods to occur every time it rains.
The gravity-feed water supply to the Penans is affected by such commercial activities in water catchment areas, Ajang said.
Ajang said he regretted that the state authorities have so far refused to approve their application for communal forests to be set aside for their own use.
The authorities have no right to simply protected forests area affecting NCR lands without consulting the Penans, he added.
The association appealed to the authorities to recognise and respect the rights of the Penan to their ancestral lands and to adopt a responsible attitude to look after their rights and interests.
They also want the authorities to stop issuing logging licences that would affect NCR rights and at the same time to withdraw any licences if they affect such rights.
The association said the state authorities should also act on complaints made by the community against the illegal activities of logging and plantation companies.
Any new forestry laws being formulated must take into consideration the rights and interests of the Penan community, they added.
(12 July 2007)