(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): It was reported yesterday that the 92,000 Orang Asli, who make up 0.5% of the population in the peninsula, are following the lead of Australia's aborigines and New Zealand's Maoris in seeking definitive land rights.
A proposed law which seeks to secure their interests in the land they occupy, as well as giving a clearer definition of land that can be gazetted as Orang Asli reserves, is to be submitted to the government within the next few months.
The proposed law, in the final stages of drafting, is the result of four years' work by various organisations such as the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC), Peninsular Malaysia Orang Asli Association (POASM), legal experts and the Orang Asli community.
The group's spokesman Colin Nicholas told the Sun that the proposed law does not seek to repeal or amend existing provisions of the Orang Asli Act 1954 but to supplement it with clearer provisions with regard to orang asli privileges.
DAP supports a proposed law to give the Orang Asli more definitive land rights as the granting of titles to Orang Asli is a matter of grave urgency with only about 15% of all 776 Orang Asli settlements gazetted as Orang Asli reserves.
Records show that during the period 1990-1996, a net total of 2,079 hectares of Orang Asli reserves have been degazetted. The Orang Asli Affairs Department (JHEOA) has also revealed that only 0.2 per cent of Orang Asli have title to their lands.
It is most disappointing that an Orang Ali has not been appointed to head the Orang Asli Affairs Department when the former Director-General, Ikram Jamaluddin, was promoted and transferred out at the end of last year, which is a sad reflection of the failure of the Department of Orang Asli Affairs to implement proper measures to benefit the community despite 44 years of work since its establishment in 1954.
If the Orang Asli Affairs Department has been as successful as MARA for instance, then an Orang Asli would have been appointed to the post of director-general of the Orang Asli Affairs long ago, and not be a still-unfulfilled aspiration of the Orang Asli.
It is most shocking that after more than four decades of its existence, only 30 per cent of the 1,300-strong staff of the JHEOA are Orang Asli, when it should have been at least more than double that percentage.
This is very surprising as in 1993, it was revealed in Parliament that Orang Asli held 58.9 per cent of the positions in the JHEOA. What is the reason for the drop instead of an increase in Orang Asli positions in the JHEOA.
In the next meeting of Parliament starting on March 23, DAP MPs will demand a full government report of what it has done to uplift the socio-economic, educational and political advancement of the Orang Asli community, and in particular on the staffing of Orang Asli in the JHEOA, the highest post ever held and currently being held by Orang Asli, the highest percentage of Orang Asli staffing in JHEOA in its 44-year history, when an Orang Asli would be appointed Director-General of JHEOA and when an Orang Asli would be appointed Deputy Minister in Malaysia.