Orang Asli remind Pakatan of promise to end dam project

Noel Achariam

A Semai youth taking a bath at Sg Geruntum in Gopeng, Perak. The Orang Asli want to preserve their lifestyle. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Hasnoor Hussain, February 7, 2020.

THE Orang Asli of Ulu Geruntum, Gopeng, who voted for Pakatan Harapan in the 14th general election in 2018, have had their hopes for change dashed after their pleas for a stop to a mini-hydro project encroaching on their ancestral land went unheeded. 

They feel there is no difference between PH and the Barisan Nasional (BN) regime it ousted, as PH has failed to stop the project that involves 31 mini dams. Some of the dams will affect their ancestral land. 

They filed a suit to stop the project before the 2018 election, when BN still ruled the state, but they now accuse the current Perak government, under PH, of failing them. 

Still, they hope that with Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the helm, he will be able to intervene. 

Ulu Geruntum pro tem action committee deputy chairman Pak Busu Bamin, 52 said they don’t want to see their land destroyed. 

“We asked both governments for help, but until now, there is nothing. We hope the federal government can help us,” he told The Malaysian Insight. 

The Orang Asli of Ulu Geruntum, who are from the Semai tribe, have protested the project since 2012, when 25 mini-hydro dams were announced initially. Another six were announced a year later, bringing the total cost of all 31 dams to RM2.92 billion. 

The villagers accused the concessionaire, Perak Hydro Renewable Energy Corporation, of destroying their crops to build a road during construction and encroaching on their land. 

Their suit against the project is to be heard at the Ipoh High Court next month.

A view of Kg Poh, one of several Semai settlements in Ulu Geruntum in Gopeng, Perak. The tribe claims the dams project will encroach on their ancestral land. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Hasnoor Hussain, February 7, 2020.

The Semai said they had hoped Perak under PH would be able to stop the project, as promised to voters in GE14. But the state has said it is contractually obliged to continue with it.

Pak Busu said the Semai are not anti-government but just want PH to fulfil their election promise to look after the welfare of the Orang Asli and to recognise ancestral land. 

Another villager, Bahsinggong, 76 said he hoped news about their opposition to the project will reach Dr Mahathir. 

“If Tun (Dr Mahathir) knows, then he might help us. I believe he takes care of the people. Under BN, they built roads and houses here. They also gave us BR1M. 

“We are still waiting for PH to turun padang (visit). We hope they will come here.”

Bhbel Hut, 59 said he was still hopeful PH would address their plight. 

“We have to have hope as this place is our only source of income and food. 

“If destroyed, where are we going to fish and grow food?”

Marisa Abdullah, 32, who works as a caretaker at the Orang Asli school nearby, said PH should remember its election promise to Perak voters, especially the Orang Asli. 

An elderly Orang Asli woman, Wahnoon Bahron, 60, blamed both PH and BN for failing indigenous people.

She remembered the time their ancestral graves were destroyed because of a road-building project, and counts it as proof of neglect and disrespect of the Orang Asli.

“They don’t respect our culture or customs. How can they desecrate our graves? 

“They made promises to shut down the hydro project, but no one has come (to tell us).

“Why do they treat us like illegals? We are upset that this place is being encroached on.” – February 7, 2020.

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