Activists call for talks with stakeholders on amendments to Orang Asli act

Noel Achariam

Center for Orang Asli Concerns coordinator Colin Nicholas urges the government to looking into the Orang Asli customary land rights, education, welfare and infrastructure when making amendments to the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 7, 2023.

THE government must do research before amending the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954 (Act 134) with focus on customary land rights, education and welfare, Orang Asli activists said.

They asked if the stakeholders and those involved in the affairs of the Orang Asli were consulted on the amendments.

Center for Orang Asli Concerns coordinator Colin Nicholas asked what real changes would be made to to assist the Orang Asli.

“This (amendments) should have been done a long time ago. We want to see what real reforms they are going to present (amendments) in the act and the recognition of Orang Asli and rights to their customary land.

“Everything has remained the same as with the previous administration. There is nothing groundbreaking yet from the unity government,” Nicholas told The Malaysian Insight.

On February 23, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Act 134 would be amended by improving the legal aspects on land ownership, registration of marriages and the birth of Orang Asli children.

The rural and regional development minister said the amendments would be tabled in the Dewan Rakyat soon.

“Discussions and workshops were held with the aim of gathering input and suggestions from all the stakeholders, including village chiefs, to improve the act,” he said.

Nicholas said the amendments were long overdue as the act was gazetted in 1954.

“There were not many amendments made (over the years). We are still looking at traditional laws,” he said.

“So now the questions are on customary land rights, education, welfare and infrastructure such as proper roads and electricity supply.”

He said there was a need to focus on two areas to be included in the act.

“The first is the recognition of Orang Asli land and securing their customary land. This is the biggest issue that concerns the Orang Asli that needs to be addressed,” he said.

“There are several land rights cases in the courts in Perak, Johor, Pahang, Kelantan and other areas. Their land issues have been there since 1990.

“The second should be on the social aspects such as education, health, documentation and community leadership.”

As for the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa), Nicholas said it was no different under any government.

“It (Jakoa) has been tasked with a number of things, but doesn’t have the capacity to fulfil what the Orang Asli need such as basic infrastructure and electricity supply,” he said.

“Another issue is rights to customary lands, which are not surveyed. Therefore, the Orang Asli can’t apply to get it gazetted as reserve land, as Jakoa doesn’t have the personnel or surveyors to carry out the process.”

Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia chairman Tijah Yok Chopil says logging or encroachment on Orang Asli land must stop. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 7, 2023.

Engage Orang Asli experts

Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia chairman Tijah Yok Chopil said the ministry should consult the right people when making amendments to Act 134.

“If they (government) want to do it (amendments), they must consult the Orang Asli, civil society groups who are assisting the Orang Asli and lawyers who are currently engaged in customary land battles for the Orang Asli,” she said.

“So far, we haven’t heard who they had engaged to make the amendments.”

She said the act must be amended for the well-being of the Orang Asli community.

“We don’t want to see the act giving power to people who will monopolise the Orang Asli,” she said.

Tijah said currently, there are slightly more than 200,000 Orang Asli in the country.

She said on August 26, they had handed a memorandum on their plight to Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad.

“During a dialogue with Nik Nazmi, we raised the issue of wildlife encroaching on the villages where crops are destroyed and villagers scared to come out of their homes. It’s the responsibility of the state government to protect the Orang Asli,” she said.

“We also told him that the previous and current governments were not serious in recognising the Orang Asli land rights.

“We don’t want to see any more logging or encroachment on Orang Asli land.”

Among the issues they highlighted in the memorandum were they wanted the state and federal governments to comply with Orang Asli land rights decided by the courts that acknowledge the existence of their territories.

They also wanted a moratorium on their customary land and Orang Asli resources that are not encroached upon, transferred or allocated until a decision is reached on their land status.

“Both the state and federal governments should not move the Orang Asli from their villages as this will cause emotional stress, loss of origin and self identity,” said Tijah. – September 7, 2023.

Sign up or sign in here to comment.