Orang Asli must head the department of native affairs (JHEOA)
Orang Asli(aboriginal people) the natives of this country from Peninsular Malaysia have long been under the direct supervision and surveillance of department of natives’ affair, Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (JHEOA) which is within the Ministry of Rural and Territorial Development. Apart from the establishment of the Department of Orang Asli Affairs (JHEOA), the Orang Asli are protected under the Aboriginal Peoples Act of 1954. Orang asli are the only ethnic community in Malaysia protected and catered for by a department and legislation. These are the British legacy left behind being still followed by the Malaysian government.
JHEOA was set up in 1953/54 to protect the orang asli way of live from development and exploitation and provide educational facilities for natives (orang asli) children and cultivate agricultural and other opportunities that are sustainable for them. With a population of 148000 natives (orang asli) they live with a poverty rate of 76.9% while the national poverty rate is 6.5%. Still with high level of illiteracy, poor health care and high dependency on government, what have changed for the natives (orang asli) for all these years under department of native affairs (JHEOA).
On the 24th February a group of 30 from the orang asli community assembled outside the natives (orang asli) hospital in Gombak and carried placards demanding more natives be given senior post in Department of native affairs (JHEOA). They claimed that they are not consulted and decisions made are not in the interest of natives. They claimed that they are denied the rights to their ancestral lands and they don’t have any guarantee for their future generations as they are given leasehold lands for 60 years. The orang asli community fears that a proposed amendment to an act on land ownership by orang asli risk losing 70% of the land they are occupying. The amendments do not recognise their rights to ancestral lands. They were not accorded land for burial grounds.
JHEOA keeps the Orang Asli distinct and unique and disadvantaged community in Malaysian society. The Malaysian government did not accord any binding special privileges to the orang asli community that are provided in the Constitution to the other indigenous people—the Malays, and the native peoples of Sabah and Sarawak despite being an indigenous people. After 55 years under the watchful eyes of JHEOA, the Orang Asli community remains impoverished and deprived of basic rights as Malaysian citizen. JHEOA’s close surveillance of the movement of orang asli community is stifling the integration and interaction of orang asli community with the other races. JHEOA wants the orang asli community to remain isolated and assimilated into Malay society. JHEOA has clearly failed to upgrade and uplift the orang asli community. JHEOA has no political will to recognise the orang asli community as an ethnic minority with special Bumiputra privileges. The table below shows their current employment status in the department of native affairs (JHEOA).
Breakdown of orang asli working in JHEOA since December 2009
|Management and professional(grade 41-54)||49||34||15||2||4.1%|
|Support staff group 1||815||749||66||117||14.3%|
|Support staff group 11||513||456||57||182||35.4|
The above table clearly shows that the JHEOA has no plans to hand over the affairs of orang asli to the community itself. JHEOA has no non Malay staffs at senior level which implies that they do not want non Malays to interfere in orang asli affairs. After 55 years no tangible achievement to show for orang asli community, the government should set up a royal commission to evaluate and recommend ways to transform JHEOA into an effective organisation. JHEOA leadership must be handed over to orang asli community or abolish JHEOA all together in the interest and welfare of orang asli.
The orang asli community has a distinct culture, belief and way of life that are handed over through generations after generations that are sacrosanct and held closely to their hearts. JHEOA’s islamization of orang asli community is a misplaced priority in view of the high poverty, poor health care, high illiteracy and low economic status of orang asli community. JHEOA must transform itself into a consultative and participative department for orang asli affairs. Orang asli have minimal influence over projects intended for them.
The transfer of a doctor out of the orang asli hospital for highlighting the woes of health care service in orang asli hospitals is a setback for orang asli health welfare. JHEOA must redress the concerns raised by the good doctor. The educational achievement of orang asli is far below other Malaysian communities. To improve orang asli education remarkably, the ministry of education will have to develop an educational program moulded to the special needs of orang asli, starting with hiring teachers who are well versed and respect their culture. Active NGOs like the peninsular Malaysia orang asli association (POASM) and the center for orang asli concerns must be included in the negotiations and consultation. Orang asli land rights must be respected and protected.
The setting up of royal commission to study the effectiveness of JHEOA in achieving its goals and its way forward will put all orang asli programs in the right track. The director general of JHEOA who should be an expert on orang asli affairs should report to a commission comprising of orang asli representatives, experts on orang asli affairs and government officials. The orang asli deserves to live in dignity and self respect as any other Malaysians and the government must accord them affirmative policies and programs to uplift and empower them to live like any other citizen of this country.