Saturday, July 11

‘Jungle is our NCR land’ as Labang makes Murum Penan’s stand for relocation

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KUCHING: The compensation terms and conditions presented by the Murum Penans are quite reasonable when seen in light of the numerous socio-economic challenges they face as well as their desire to improve their way of life, stated a representative from the community yesterday.

At the start, the Penans who would be displaced by the Murum Dam did not want the dam to be built but later decided to give their consent to move upon the fulfilment of certain conditions, Murum Penan Development Committee chairman Labang Paneh, 36, told International Hydropower Association (IHA) World Congress delegates yesterday morning during a focus session on working with communities affected by hydroelectric projects (HEPs).

The Penans are asking for compensation per family of RM500,000 cash; free house, water and electricity; and 25 hectares of land, before they move to the resettlement scheme.

“For decades, we have never asked or begged anyone (for help), even though we were poor. But when we heard that this project was to eradicate poverty, we agreed. And from what we know, if it would help us progress and guarantee our livelihood, we would claim what is ours,” he said in fluent Bahasa Malaysia, with Pemanca Tony Kulleh by his side acting as translator on his behalf.

Labang pointed out that the Penans should not be compared to the Kayan or Kenyahs of Bakun as they had different ways of eking out a livelihood and were from different socio-economic circumstances.

“We understand that the government wants to do for the Penans, but we are not stupid to make excessive demands,” he said.

He highlighted the high rate of illiteracy and lack of education opportunities among Murum Penans which put them at a distinct disadvantage compared to other communities and was reflected in poor ratio of Penan representation in the civil service. He added that the compensation would enable them to address this issue as they could then afford to send their children to school.

Labang stressed that the compensation had to be sufficient for them to start a new life, meet costs of living and guarantee their future livelihood.

Earlier, he also spoke about how the Penan lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers, from hand-to-mouth for generations, and that according to the state government, the Penan do not have communal or NCR land as they do not have cultivated lands. Thus, they are not entitled to NCR compensation.

“The Kayan and Kenyah had land which they cultivate for their livelihood but Penan are not like them. Where there is sago, rotan and fruits, that is where we go to gather. The jungle is our NCR land.”

“If we are not sufficiently compensated, it will be of no use to us. So we humbly request the authorities to give this compensation to start our new life,” he said.

Labang highlighted how Murum dam’s developer Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) had helped the Penan community a lot in terms of providing food assistance and other facilities that have eased the problems of the people. He expressed his community’s hope that SEB would continue to help look after their welfare to build schools and set up an education trust fund, as well as provide assistance with other social problems they face.

Labang pointed out that so far, the Penans have not received any communication or feedback on the status of their compensation requests.

“We have waited for a long time. We would like to know ‘when’ and ‘how’ we will be paid. We also need to know ‘who’ will move first (to the resettlement area).”

“But if the compensation and schools are not forthcoming, and houses are not properly furnished, we will not move,” he said.

“We know that Murum dam will bring development, that’s why we accept it because we want development. But we ask that our requests be met.”

More than 200 people attended yesterday morning’s focus session, including at least two dozen representatives from the Penan and other Orang Ulu communities.

Labang was one of six panelists who took part in the session chaired by Tan Sri Rastam Mohd Isa, who is an advisor in the Chief Minister’s Department, Sarawak.