Oct 6, 2008 By CHRISTINA KOH
THE orang asli of Perak are being given a chance to voice their views on projects affecting them.
The Perak government has invited several orang asli organisations to an inaugural meeting in Bidor to discuss projects and events affecting their land.
Senior executive councillor Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham will chair the meeting at the State Secretariat tomorrow which will also involve heads of key departments such as forestry and environment.
Perak Network of Orang Asli Villages founder-adviser and secretary Tijah Yok Chopil hailed the move as a good sign for the community.
”We’re excited. This is the first time that we can sit at the discussion table and be part of the decision making process. This has never happened before.
“Of course we expect hurdles while we seek to defend our rights. But this is better than being left out,” she said.
State executive councillor A. Sivanesan said among the agenda was a proposal for a cluster oil palm farming scheme for the 3ha of land to be set aside for each orang asli family.
“They could earn RM3,000 from each harvest and we don’t want a third party to come in and suck their blood. The programme will go on if the orang asli are willing to venture into it.
“The decision is theirs. The ball is in their court,” he told reporters yesterday after meeting the orang asli at Kampung Chang Sungai Gepai in Bidor, about 70km from Ipoh.
Sivanesan added that the meeting was to address the main complaint of the orang asli that they were never consulted about up-coming projects.
However, Sivanesan hoped there would not be a repeat of the incident when some 100 orang asli staged a walkout out of frustration during a dialogue to thrash out problems about logging in Gopeng.
“The state government will always be ready to hear your problems. The doors of our offices, even the Mentri Besar’s, are always open to you,” he told them.
On a related matter, Sivanesan said the state had recently rejected a proposal by a company to extract mineral water on the 196ha site in Bidor previously earmarked for the National Arboretum project.
He said the company had made the application after the Fede- ral Government had scrapped the project due to financial constraints.
”But we strongly opposed the idea and the orang asli’s land will remain untouched,” he assu-red.
Last year, the botanical garden project caused a storm of pro-tests from orang asli who claimed that it would encroach into their land.