I FEEL compelled to write this piece after spending almost a week at Sg Asap resettlement scheme and the Jelatongs in the Bakun dam.
The recent visit was not my first to the resettlement scheme as I have been there several times before.
But this time, I was tasked to look at issues still besetting the people at Sg. Asap after they left their ancestral homes 14 years ago.
Though there are supposedly some 10,000 people resettled there, only about a quarter are actually staying put while the rest have left for elsewhere for greener pasture.
According to Luhat Tugau, a budding entrepreneur from Umar Belor, Sg Asap, most of the people have left to major towns and cities in the state and elsewhere because there are limited job opportunities for them at Asap.
The jobs available are in the plantations but the wages are very low – well below the recommended wage of RM800 a month.
Those who are very lucky would be able to secure jobs in the Bakun HEP management and in the public sector especially based in Sg Asap new township.
Luhat added that each family was allocated only three acres of land when they moved to Sg Asap and many families have complained that the land was not enough for their extended family members.
And there are many who were allocated with infertile land and end up leaving them fallow.
Also there are no rivers in Asap like those in Bakun where they could fish and jungle nearby where they could hunt.So deprived of their hunting and fishing ground and proper place to farm in Asap many residents have moved back to Bakun and build jelatongs or floating houses on the lake to live in.
However, the good news now according to the Minister of Land Development Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing is that the state government is in the process of giving additional three acres of land per family. He said a suitable land near Belaga had been identified for the purpose.
This latest development augurs for all the resettlers as they may need the land for agriculture purposes.
The option is now up to the resettlers to decide whether to use the land for commercial farming where everyone will have a share in it or divide the land equally among themselves. Either way, let’s hope that the resettlers will make full use of the land allocated to them.
But what is most urgent for the government to implement now is to either to set up a new ministry or an agency to look after the welfare of the people in Sg Asap.
In the words of Masing, the resettlers are like ‘nobody’s children’ as there is no specific ministry or agency tasked to look after their welfare.
The setting up of such an authority is very logical indeed to assist the resettlers to get over with the culture shock they have experienced after moving out of their longhouses where everything were almost free.
Most of the older generation found it difficult to adjust themselves to the harsh new environment where they have to pay for everything.
And if Sg Asap were to be used as a role model for the resettlement of people affected by mega projects such as the building of dams, then there is all the urgency to set up a new ministry or an agency, failing which it would be very difficult to convince others of the success of Sg Asap.
And now that the government is serious in implementing the Baram HEP dam which when implemented will affect some 20,000 indigenous people, is the time not opportune enough to set up such as body?
Though admittedly no government in the world would be able to give everything the people demanded for, at least it should make their lives less miserable by not just providing the basic facilities but to be there when they need assistance and help to get them moving forward without much hiccups.
As for the younger generation, the resettlement scheme is actually good for them as they are now provided with all the basic amenities especially schools and other internet connection.However, their future and destiny is now in their hands as they must struggle with the challenges of life especially in the job market, where they must be ready to compete with other races. But on the part of the government, it must be serious in tackling the current absence of a coordinating body to look after the welfare of the resettled people.
And from that point of view, it is apt that policy makers must be guided in their conscience to take care of those who have sacrificed so much for the betterment of the state with the golden and universal rule of life, “You must treat others as you would like others to treat you”.