Rural Development Minister Abd Latiff Ahmad finally cleared the air about who should fill the position of Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) director-general that fell vacant after Prof Juli Edo retired last month.
The clarification emerged in response to an allegation that a non-Orang Asli would instead be considered for the appointment.
Latiff assured the public that the ministry was in the process of scouting for an eligible Orang Asli candidate, adding that it has been the ministry’s priority to nominate an Orang Asli candidate for the position, in accordance with Article 8(5)(C) of the Federal Constitution.
The top position in Jakoa, an agency entrusted to oversee Orang Asli affairs, has been held by an Orang Asli since 2017.
Earlier, Cameron Highlands MP Ramli Mohd Nor alleged that certain ministry officials were pushing for a candidate who is not an Orang Asli.
Such a proposition is likely to upset the Orang Asli communities who would rather have someone from their collective who could understand and appreciate their rights and concerns to lead the government agency.
In other words, not only should the candidate be an Orang Asli but also someone cut out for the job who recognises that the indigenous communities have deep spiritual, cultural, social and economic ties with their lands, territories and resources. This is vital to their identity and existence.
It is an important government position, especially seen in a wider social context where the rights, culture and customary or ancestral lands of the Orang Asli have been increasingly violated in recent years.
Conflicts arise because the indigenous communities’ tradition of collective rights to their lands and resources often clash with dominant notions of individual ownership, privatisation and development.
State actors and entrepreneurs forget, ignore or do not appreciate that promoting the indigenous peoples’ collective rights to lands, territories and resources contributes to their wellbeing and the greater good of the planet, as it addresses such critical problems as climate change and biodiversity loss. They are custodians of the environment.
To be sure, indigenous peoples in other parts of the world are also facing similar challenges often brought about by encroachers seeking material gains.
Given the nagging problems the indigenous communities are facing, there appears a need not only for Jakoa to be led by an Orang Asli, its officers are also expected to be sensitive to the communities’ needs, rights and aspirations. Having Orang Asli in their ranks would also help.
A recent example of a land grab was the one that reportedly occurred at Kampung Paya Berangan near Bera, Pahang. In video footage, a Semelai Orang Asli woman spoke of how the house belonging to her late grandfather was burnt down along with other smaller buildings and fruit trees. It was believed that the destruction was aimed at forcing people out of a 67.7ha disputed patch.
Displacement of the Orang Asli, particularly during the current pandemic, is nothing less than cruelty. Malaysians should be disturbed by the many cases of the Orang Asli communities in the peninsula being pushed out of their ancestral lands for so-called development.
Whoever fills the vacant position at Jakoa has a heavy responsibility towards the Orang Asli and the physical environment. – The Malaysian Insight