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New govt land policy shortchanges Orang Asli

KUALA LUMPUR, 19 Nov 2008: The new plan by the government to give land titles to heads of Orang Asli households will not benefit the community of indigenous peoples.

“The land policy will actually deprive the Orang Asli of their land,” said Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) co-ordinator Dr Colin Nicholas. He was referring to the land policy announced by Rural and Regional Development Minister Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib yesterday.

Dr Colin Nicholas
Dr Colin Nicholas
Nicholas demonstrated that the plan, under which around 20,000 recipients would receive about 2.9 ha for commercial agriculture and housing, would result in a net decrease of acreage for the Orang Asli. Under this policy, the Orang Asli would receive 58,000 ha in total.

According to current Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (JHEOA) figures, 19,222.15 ha are gazetted as Orang Asli land, 28,760.86 ha have been approved for gazetting, and 79,715.53 ha are pending approval, for a total figure of 127,698.54 ha.

“We are taking these figures to mean the amount of land the government recognises as belonging to Orang Asli,” Nicholas explained. The enacting of the new plan would mean a 69,698 ha shortfall for the indigenous peoples of the Peninsula.

Nicholas presented these figures as part of a roundtable discussion on the rights of ethnic minorities and marginalised communities, organised by Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) today.

The new land policy, to which cabinet has agreed to in principle, was planned without the consultation or the consent of the communities that it would affect, he said.

“The Orang Asli have a different way of looking at land,” Nicholas said. “In urban areas, three hectares is a lot, but in the rural areas it is nothing. And what about nomadic communities like the Negrito?”

“This really shows that the government doesn’t know the Orang Asli,” he added.

According to Muhammad Taib, the new policy covers two categories of land: the Orang Asli Reserves under Section 7 of the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954, and land approved by state authorities but yet to be gazetted as Orang Asli Reserves under the Act.

Land for farming would be developed by a government agency, private company or cooperative, before the titles were issued to recipients.

When queried on better models of action on the issue of Orang Asli land rights, Nicholas pointed to the Perak state government’s Orang Asli Task-Force Committee.

This task force, headed by Perak Senior State executive councillor Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham, largely comprises representatives from Orang Asli communities. It is designed to get as many Orang Asli territories issued with permanent titles or to secure their tenure in a manner recommended by the task force. 

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