What do the Penans really want?
September 24, 2009
By Sim Kwang Yang
The Sarawak Environmental advisor Dr. James Davos Mammit has parroted Alfred Jabu’s attack against NGOs, by blaming the Penan problem on the NGO, who he said manipulated them.
James has a PH D I think. He is also an old schoolmate from St. Joseph’s in Kuching. I think he was a few years my junior.
But too many years of politics in BN must have dulled his intellect. His attack against the NGOs is really a bad reflection of the standard of his political narrative. Surely, he can have something more original to say, like “I feel sorry for the Penans, and will seek way to get to the truth of the rape of Penan girls.”
But then, as the state environmental advisor, James would probably be fired by his boss the termite, if he shows any sign of support for the Penans.
I wrote an article entitled Will the Penans with cars and big house stand up and it was published on the Malaysian Mirror. It was on the comment made by Shahrizat, the Minister for Women, Family and Community Development. The next day, the ministry Director General replied to my article. I reproduce below both articles for your entertainment.
Will the Penans with cars and big houses stand up!
The Women, Family, and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil was clearly wrong to slam the 27 NGOs who demonstrated in front of the prime Minister’s Department Wednesday morning.
Her Ministry was a few months late in releasing the report of the task force set up to investigate police reports of logging workers raping the Penan girls lodged in October last year. She failed to release the report promptly, and did so only when the Keadilan Wanita Chief Hajjah Zuraidah Kamaruddin and her gang demonstrated in front of her office over the matter.
So far, no authority in both Putrajaya and Kuching has announced any plan to act on the task force report, as if they are in denial still even when the facts of the rape have been established.
In Kuching, the Deputy Chief Minister and the state Minister in Charge of Penan affairs Alfred Jabu was even more ludicrous when he suggested that the task force report might have been influenced by NGOs. He is obviously more interested in demonising the NGOs than in protecting and preventing Penan girls from being raped.
The 27 NGOs were just exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly when they demonstrated on the issue of the Penan girls. They were just doing their job in highlighting this burning issue to ensure the raped Penan girls will not be forgotten. They have shown themselves to be concerned engaged citizens and good civil society groups.
Whether the Minister Shahrizat was ready to meet them any time or not is totally beside the point. She should shed the negative ministerial attitude that every demonstration is an affront to the government and her ministry. Demonstrations like that one can actually give her leverage to use in pushing her programme through foot-dragging by other ministries and departments to help the Penans.
She should drive out to Putrajaya to the demonstration site and treated the protestors to tea and cake!
She also showed her mandarin facade when she questioned the presence of the Executive Director of Women’s Aid Organisation Ivy Josiah at the protest. She clearly does not understand Ivy can wear two hats, one as head of a special committee set by Shahrizat’s ministry, and the other as the head of an NGO.
Obviously, The Minister has yet to understand the fiercely independent stance of the best NGOs in our country. By mumbling about Ivy’s “hidden agenda”, she has betrayed her lack of understanding of our home-grown NGOs, and insulted Ivy in the process. The Minister owes Ivy an open apology.
Just because an NGO leader has been appointed to a committee to help any government to do any work does not mean the appointee has sold her entire soul to the government.
The following two paragraphs on the Bernama story quoting the Minister are mind-boggling:
“The Minister has rejected a claim by the NGOs that Penan women and children had been marginalised by the mainstream development as a lot of development programmes had been implemented
“’The claim is baseless as it only refers to those left behind. There are others who have big houses and cars with successful children, she said.”
There must be the odd ones I am sure out of their total population of about 12,000. But the Minister needs badly a lesson or two about the indigenous people of Sarawak for her to do her job well.
Perhaps the NGOs can take her on a trip to the 3000 Penans in Bakun in upper Rejang who need food relief from the outside world to stave off starvation. Then they can guide her through the forests of Upper Baram to search for those Penans with cars and big houses and successful children!
At least she has rapid transportation in a helicopter. The Penans have to walk for hours or days plus a long ride in a boat or a logging truck over punishing terrain to reach the nearest clinic!
Perhaps after such a trip, the Minister for Women, Family, and Community Development will make some allocation of money to buy special buses to help ferry the Penan girls to school, so that the girls will not be raped by logging worker who are worse than the worst of wild beasts.
Perhaps then, the Minister will allocate funds for general hospitals in Miri and Sibu to have a few helicopters to stand by, to fly those Penan and Orang Ulu patients who need urgent medical attention for prompt treatment.
Then, Shahrizat can be said to have worked for women, family, and community development for those remote rural communities in Sarawak!
Shahrizat didn’t say it: DG clarifies
This is the full statement from Dato’ Dr Noorul Ainur Mohd. Nur, Director General, Women Development Department, Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development
I wish to clarify on the article “Will the Penans with cars and big houses stand up!” by Sim Kwang Yang posted on the Malaysian Mirror on 18 September 2009.
I also wish to inform that I was heading and directly involved with the Penan Taskforce.
During the press conference which was held on 16 September 2009, I was with the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, YB Senator Dato’ Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil. During the interview session, YB Senator Dato’ Sri Shahrizat did not say the Penans have “big houses and cars with successful children.”
However, I personally made comments that there are some developments among the Penan community as reflected in the Penan Taskforce Report, but there must be more efforts geared towards assisting the Penans to benefit from development.
In this context, I have been invited by Pejabat Ketua Menteri Sarawak on 6 October 2009 to make a special presentation on the Penan Taskforce Report. The objective of the meeting is to establish an integrated approach with all government agencies and NGOs to strategise the holistic development of Penans.
With this explanation, I hope that this has clarified what actually was said by YB Senator Dato’ Sri Shahrizat during the said interview.
Thank you and Selamat Hari Raya to the management and staff of the Malaysian Mirror.