I joked candidly that M. Kula, the Ipoh Barat Member of Parliament must have been an Orang Asli in his past life because of his concern and support for my work with the indigenous people of this country. He revved his 4WD on a precariously winding road in the secondary forest that was once ravished and ravaged by the greed of men and narrowly missed the ravine that would have taken all those in the vehicle into the river below.
“You need not be an Orang Asli headman in your past life”, M. Kula was quick with a reply without even looking at me. An instantaneous and poignant response expected of a man who confronts an assortment of rotting issues that emanates unwelcome stench in our midst.
I knew what he was trying to tell me.
The journey beyond that was a humourless exchange of thoughts about the promises and betrayal of Orang Asli for the last 52 years. Though living with physical independence but sadly chained and shackled with a mind of perpetual dependence.
There are no grand tales of the Orang Asli to tell, only the marginalization of this minority group of people. Walk the path of misery and the truth is scattered in all the lonely and desolate journeys into a forgotten world only known to the Orang Asli.
Our destination was a remote village, south of Perak. The inhabitants’ complaints were predictable. Their surrounding ancestral land and all their sources of livelihood are slowly but surely being removed from them, leaving behind a life of agony and uncertainty that promises skinned mother earth and its dust to bite.
A day after my visit to the remote village with Kula, I was forced by necessity and urgent appeal to be in another remote Orang Asli village, this time in Ulu Kampar.
One year after promises of road repairs and construction of a safer bridge that would make crossing the river leading to the Orang Asli village safe for children and women, all that remains now is a badly damaged bridge and a road leading to the village that invites danger and possibly death for any of its unlucky users.
The Orang Asli villagers’ complaint was that the loggers had moved in without a care and they now live in danger of land slides and dangerous earth movements which will put unnecessary fear during their foraging activities in the forests.
Why in a nutshell of our visit on the 1st Sunday of June 2009 and a day after? The answer lies 12 months before.
When the Pakatan Rakyat government was formed in 2008, one of the first things on the agenda was the formation of the Orang Asli Taskforce on Land Rights comprising, the majority of its members being the Orang Asli themselves.
Primarily the function and role of this taskforce was to move as quickly as possible to first identify Orang Asli ancestral lands and take all necessary steps to recognize, respect and protect these lands as Orang Asli ancestral lands. Any forms of dealings, be it developments or otherwise, in these ancestral lands would necessitate a free, prior and informed consent from the inhabitants of the particular parcel of lands according to established international standards namely the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People adopted by Malaysia in June 2006.
Ngeh Koo Ham, the then senior executive councillor and chairman of the taskforce went on to inform the Orang Asli members of the taskforce that they are always welcome and free to use the conference halls at the State Secretariat Building anytime they needed to do so. This warm gesture led to meetings being conducted by the Orang Asli in one of the many conference halls from time to time.
It was a good feeling, watching the Orang Asli conducting meetings after meetings with many proposals and counter proposals on how best their ancestral lands ought to be protected and preserved.
It was also a great feeling to silently appreciate an undeniable fact that the Pakatan Rakyat government under Ir. Nizar Jamaluddin was prepared to open up more decision-making space for the Orang Asli thus promoting independent thinking and action, and giving hope for the Orang Asli to be partners in managing and sharing the riches of the state.
It was a near fairy tale beginning, one thought that would perpetuate to a “happily ever after story”. But all has come to an end by greed and betrayal of trust by some who are obsessed with their personal well-being and interest, and in the process corrupting their very thoughts and promises of service to the nation.
They conveniently forgot the urgent and apparent needs of those who are voiceless and dispossessed. The plight of the Orang Asli is only one of them.
It is most disheartening to note that since the beginning of the constitutional crisis in Perak, the members of taskforce established by the Pakatan Rakyat government have not been invited to meet and discuss the problems plaguing the Orang Asli.
And the irony of it is the fact that, the Selangor government has formed its taskforce modelled after the Perak taskforce.
The non-functioning of the Perak taskforce has created questions of confidence in the state government in its administration which ought to ensure the needed promotion of the well-being of all, especially the minority, marginalized and dispossessed groups that require urgent attention.
The fundamental principle of good governance that requires a duty to consult as its integral and important component is being ignored and this has created serious questions as to the present government’s ability to administer the state for the good of all.
The Supreme Court of Canada in the case of Haida Nation v British Columbia (Minister of Forests)  3 S.C.R. 511, 2004 SCC 73 explains elaborately and sufficiently when the need for a duty to consult is triggered and why the need for such consultation process to happen in the first place.
The government’s duty to consult with Aboriginal peoples and accommodate their interests is grounded in the principle of the honour of the Crown, which must be understood generously. While the asserted but unproven Aboriginal rights and title are insufficiently specific for the honour of the Crown to mandate that the Crown act as a fiduciary, the Crown, acting honourably, cannot cavalierly run roughshod over Aboriginal interests where claims affecting these interests are being seriously pursued in the process of treaty negotiation and proof. The duty to consult and accommodate is part of a process of fair dealing and reconciliation that begins with the assertion of sovereignty and continues beyond formal claims resolution. The foundation of the duty in the Crown’s honour and the goal of reconciliation suggest that the duty arises when the Crown has knowledge, real or constructive, of the potential existence of the Aboriginal right or title and contemplates conduct that might adversely affect it. Consultation and accommodation before final claims resolution preserve the Aboriginal interest and are an essential corollary to the honourable process of reconciliation that s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, demands.
And why honour?
Perhaps it will not be necessary for all our politicians to embark on the understanding of honour by slurping the succulent pages of the Bushido Code namely the 6th Bushido Code:
The sense of honour, a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth, characterized the samurai. He was born and bred to value the duties and privileges of his profession. Fear of disgrace hung like a sword over the head of every samurai... (Nitobe Inazo)
A Code of Honour?
Well, that will be too much to ask for from many of our local politicians consumed by pettiness and greed.
Augustine currently co-chairs BC HRC’s SOAR (Securing Orang Asli Rights Working Group) with Dara Waheda Rufin. The Malaysian Bar on 14 March 2009 unanimously passed a strong resolution reiterating the call, among others, to promote and protect the rights of our indigenous.