by Tony Thien, 03 Feb 2009
The Dayak community wants the Sarawak government and its chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud to end “injustices” against them.
A day-long symposium held in Sibu over the weekend saw attention being refocused on long-held grievances, particularly in the state’s land policies.
About 150 Dayak professionals from the Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu communities agreed that state policies “by design or otherwise will result in Dayaks gradually and eventually to be dispossessed” of native customary rights (NCR) lands.
In particular, they referred to the policy to freeze the survey of NCR land and issuance of native titles, as well as amendment of the Sarawak Land Code to place the burden of proving customary rights on landowners.
Organised by an independent group led by a former judge Augustine Liom, the symposium concluded that the extinguishment of NCR lands without adequate and proper notice is “unfair and unjust”.
Two of the resolutions chided the state government for:
not giving recognition and respect to Dayak customs and traditions relating to land rights and land use; and
increasing the issuance of leases involving large tracts of state land and NCR lands to “relatives, nominees and cronies of or companies belonging to Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders”.
The latter practice – allegedly done “without due regard to customary rights over these lands and without regard to the consequences to the NCR landowners” – was described as “a breach of fiduciary duty as a government and tantamount to corruption”.
Participants also called for the word ‘Dayak’ to be reinstated in the definition of ‘natives’ and that the Dayaks be identified by their respective ethnic groups, instead of being classified as ‘lain-lain’ in official forms and documents.
The Dayaks, being a minority bumiputera group, they said, should be allocated special quotas in scholarships and study loans, placement in colleges, and appointments and promotions in the civil service, police and army.
In the delineation of state electoral constituencies, the number of constituencies should be proportionate to the size of the community where the Dayaks form the majority.
‘Bigger change needed’
Iban politician Daniel Tajem and Gabriel Adi, the PKR state assemblyperson for Ngemah were among those at the symposium, which was closed by PKR national vice-president Jeffrey Kitingan.
Jeffrey, who also heads PKR Sabah, said changing the state BN government would not be good enough as a solution.
“We must strive hard to change the federal government too,” he said, reminding participants to be mindful of experience in Sabah.
He was referring to the change of government from the BN-Berajaya to Parti Sabah (PBS) in the 1990s.
“The federal government sent the (Anti-Corruption Agency) and (used the Internal Security Act) to undermine the PBS government,” Jeffrey added.
“They created a federal department through which federal money was to be channeled; they deprived the state of financial assistance and they even bought over PBS elected representatives to defect so that the government would collapse.”
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