PETALING JAYA, Aug 26 — Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia chairman Tijah Yok Chopil today called out the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) for not backing impoverished members of their indigenous community who have gone to court to fight for their rights against developers.
Speaking at the 12th Orang Asli Land Conference held at Armada Hotel here that was attended by Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, Tijah claimed the government agency established to represent the peninsula natives would “always” appear for their opponents whenever there were land disputes that involved encroachment, theft, illegal logging and trespass.
“Jakoa is like the snake in the grass, whenever there are cases we take to court because big companies are encroaching, stealing, bullying us and conducting illegal logging activities, they always appear in court for the other side.
“When Orang Asli aren't happy with certain things, all the government agencies don't want to listen to us but listen to Jakoa. They say we're nobody and Jakoa are the official channels. This makes us feel insignificant and we feel this is wrong. They have so much power over us but we are helpless,” she said.
Tijah said her Orang Asli organisation is aware that Jakoa is not under the jurisdiction of Nik Nazmi’s ministry, but felt the need to highlight it at today’s forum because it has found it very difficult to meet with anyone from the government and have often been ignored or sidelined.
When asked why Jakoa were not on the Orang Asli's side in land issues, Tjah said she was clueless.
She said the reason given was that Jakoa has no authority nor power to do anything.
“We feel if that's the case and they can't do anything then why must people go to Jakoa for anything related to the community?” she asked.
“This is what makes us feel neglected or taken advantage of,” she added.
Yijah said her organisation is not planning to hold any demonstration for now, as it wants to give the government time to sort the issue out.
But she emphasised that every day that passes without any resolution is causing their forests to shrink.
She said the Orang Asli would lose their land reserves, would not have any way to earn a living as their land was taken over and the wildlife in the area were getting desperate as their homes were being destroyed.
“We hope after this forum something positive comes from it if not we may have to make noise. We'll see what happens in the future,” she added.
Tijah said most of the cases that went to court were because large companies were encroaching onto their land after getting permission from the state governments.
She also claimed that the state governments do not discuss matters with the Orang Asli beforehand, which enables the conglomerates to take advantage of the natives and clear their land without providing compensation.
She said the conglomerates were getting richer at the expense of the native community.
Nik Nazmi promised to give his personal attention and take their grouses to Parliament.
He added that he would ask the Finance Ministry for a bigger allocation in Budget 2024 to resolve the Orang Asli’s woes on forest matters.