KUCHING: Local Penans have been appointed agents to deliver the monthly RM600 worth of food promised by the government to the Penan community affected by the building of the Murum Dam.
This was one of the solutions agreed between the affected community and the state government to solve this latest issue faced by the Penans there.
“From now onwards, the District Office will oversee the delivery of the monthly ration (RM600 worth of food per household) to the Penans. The Penan transporters will be the one sending the food rations to their own community,” said Belaga assemblyman Liwan Lagang.
As many as 353 Penan households from seven villages in upper Murum River had been relocated to Metalun and Tegulang to give way for the Murum Dam. Among other arrangements, the state and the affected Penan community had agreed that a monthly allowance of RM850 would be given to each household — RM250 in cash and the remaining RM600 in kind which Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) had agreed to help procure and deliver.
However, four Penan leaders had recently lodged a police report against SEB, claiming that the power supply company had short-changed them in terms of the value of food items.
They claimed that there were times when the value of the food brought to them did not even come up to RM600, and thus asked their monthly allowance of RM850 to be fully paid in cash.
With the new arrangement where every affected Penan longhouse has its own people appointed to bring the foodstuff to them, Liwan believes that the issue has been resolved.
The Culture and Heritage Assistant Minister explained that the unfortunate misunderstanding occurred when there was miscommunication between the Penans and SEB which had agreed to help the District Office deliver the monthly promised food to the Penans.
“The whole misunderstanding started since February and carried on for three months. Within those three months, only partial amount of food was sent to them. This was due to the bad condition of the access road to the Penan settlements caused by heavy rain.
“It was also due to the fact that some appointed agents were not familiar with the logging roads leading to the settlements. That is the reason we now made new arrangement to use local Penans.
“Another problem faced by the agents is the expensive fee to pay for the ‘tongkang’ service to cross Sg Melurang where every four-wheeled drive (4WD) vehicle is charged RM150 per trip. As the Penans are exempted, there would not be an extra cost incurred in transporting the foodstuff,” Liwan told The Borneo Post.
He assured that SEB which had agreed to help transport the food before did not short-change the Penan community, pointing out in many areas it even went the extra mile to ensure the wellbeing of the community.
“There was never any intention to try to take advantage of the Penans. The food just did not reach the Penan community due to difficulties in transporting it to them.”
On the issue highlighted by Suhakam (Human Rights Commission) that the access roads in the area were in bad condition, making it difficult for Penan parents to send their children to school even on 4WD vehicles, Liwan said reports had been submitted to the state secretary, Murum Resettlement Committee as well as the State Planning Unit.
“The Education Department had also approved to give food aid to all the Penan students. The problem now is that there is no dormitory or dining hall in the schools’ compound. For the needs, on one hand, we are now asking SEB to help build these structures for us; on the other, I have also written to the education minister, asking for funds for the building of the two building structures,” said Liwan.
There are presently 164 students in SK Metalun and 116 students in SK Tegulang.