Sarawak government agency refuses to meet NGOs
By Tony Thien, Malaysiakini
A Sarawak government agency involved in the development of native customary rights (NCR) land for oil palm cultivation today refused to meet an international group of NGO representatives on a fact-finding mission.
The meeting scheduled at 10am had been arranged by the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (Sadia) a forth night ago and confirmed by the agency's corporate manager Anthony Nogis in subsequent official correspondence and phone calls.
But when the fact-finding mission members turned up at the Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Salcra)office in Kota Padawan, about 16 km from Kuching, and shown to the conference room, the corporate manager was 'surprised' to see so many people, including representatives of NGOs from outside Sarawak.
The NGOs include the People's Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS), Pesticide Action Network Asia-Pacific (PAN AP),Sustainable Development Foundation (SDF) from Thailand, Tegananita and a NGO from India, besides Sadia.
Sadia secretary-general Nicholas Mujah, who is the group's che de mission, was requested to meet privately with Salcra general manager Vasco Sibat Singkang who told the former that the understanding was that he would be meeting only representatives of Sadia to talk about the subject of Roudntable on Sustainable Palm Oin (RSPO).
Salcra is a party to RSPO which is to ensure that palm oil contributes to a better world by way of advancing the production procurement and use of sustainable oil palm products through the development, implementation and verification of credible global standards and the engagement of stakeholders along the supply chain.
More pressure to be applied
Mujah told Malaysiakini that Vasco had allegedly told him that if he were to go ahead and meet with the foreign NGO representatives and to respond to their questions, he could find himself without a job at the end of the day.
He went back to the group waiting at the conference room and told them the meeting had been called off.
The NGO group, accompanied by their local counterparts from Sadia, have travelled to different parts of Sarawak, to areas where there have been reported NCR land disputes between the native landowners and companies and state authorities regarding encroachment of NCR land and violations of human rights.
About 2.8 million hectares of NCR land are subject to NCR claims but many provisional leases issued by the state government headed by Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud cover overlapping areas, hence giving rise to conflicts and disputes on the grounds.
According to Sadia, there are presently more than 170 NCR land cases brought to court by native landowners, mainly against oil palm growers and mills.
Malaysiakini understands that upon the completion of their fact-finding mission to Sarawak there is a strong possibility that more pressure is to be applied on state authorities as well as oil palm companies to comply with court decisions on NCR and to respect the rights of the natives to their established NCR lands, among other things.
The visiting NGOs will issue a press statement before flying off to Kuala Lumpur on their way back to their respective destinations.
(22 April 2008)