NGOs and experts on the Orang Asli are deeply disappointed in the government reneging on its previous budgetary pledges to improve the lives of this community.
PETALING JAYA: The Budget 2012, due for unveiling this Friday, is being touted as the best barometer yet in forecasting the next general election date.
Already dubbed an “election budget”, it’s expected to unload a generous array of grants, subsidies and handouts onto the people’s laps. But one community has lost faith in what it now deems as nothing more than lip service.
The Orang Asli are too familiar with the string of broken promises made to them under the previous budget – and even during the Sarawak state election and Batu Sapi by-election – to believe that this next batch of pledges will be fulfilled.
The recently formed Dayak Consultative Council (DCC) summed up the previous budget’s contribution in two blunt words: absolutely nothing.
Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, when announcing the budget last October, stressed the importance of enhancing the socio-economic status of the Orang Asli and Pribumi to accelerate the nation’s journey towards a high-income economy.
But DCC chairman, John Brian Anthony, believes that Budget 2012 must embrace bolder initiatives with a specific focus on education, business participation and land ownership if his community is to be included in the nation’s future.
The Dayak, especially those in rural areas, are straggling behind in many aspects and are dangerously close to being edged out of an impending high-income economy.
“There is an urgency to bridge the gap between urban and rural developments,” Anthony said. “For a start, mininum wage laws need to be extended to Sarawak as the laws here differ from those in the Peninsula and haven’t been revised since its enactment.”
“The minimum wage must be equivalent to an amount above the poverty level of RM830 per month if poverty is to be eradicated in Sarawak. Such a policy will attract locals to work in plantations and minimise foreign labour which is a threat to the Dayak.”
‘Pledges not fulfilled again and again’
Anthony also called for the budget to incorporate a higher intake of Dayak into state and federal positions including gradually replacing teachers from the Peninsula with Sarawakians in order to stem the high unemployment rate there.
“We’d like to see 15 percent of Budget 2012 being allocated to Sarawak,” he added. “Half of that amount should be channelled into rural areas for scholarships, for equipping schools with technology, for business grants and loans and to survey native customary rights (NCR) land and issue titles.”
The Borneo Resources Institute (Brimas) also said the abundance of promises, especially those made during the Sarawak state election, have not made a difference to the Orang Asli.
“There are either no roads or the road conditions are bad and many longhouses are still deprived of electricity and water supply,” said Brimas executive director, Mark Bujang.
“So we hope that Budget 2012 can address these basic infrastructural needs. We’ve been waiting a long time for change but time and time again the pledges have not been fulfilled.”
This is particularly startling considering that last year’s budget allocated RM2.1 billion to build and upgrade rural roads, and RM2.7 billion to provide electricity and water supply in Sabah and Sarawak.
‘Be sensitive to ethnic minorities’
Professor of Politics and Government in Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), Jayum anak Jawan, attributed this to the government’s handout of a piecemeal plan instead of a comprehensive one in the overall development of the Orang Asli.
He said that a balance had to be struck between encouraging this community to retain its tradition and including it in the national mainstream development.
“If the ruling party doesn’t know how to go about this, then it should consult the many experts on Orang Asli in the country,” Jawan said.
“State governments in which the Orang Asli reside must be sensitive and exhibit grace and compassion for these small, weak and displaced ethnic minorities.”
Jawan also supported Anthony’s call for the government to incorporate the Orang Asli in its human capital development efforts by granting their children scholarhsips and preference for entry into colleges and universities.
“Since most of Orang Asli children are from schools that are less equipped with modern infrastructure, they have less opportunities to excel in education and cannot compete on a level playing field,” he pointed out. “It is the moral and civic duty of the ruling government to change that.”