The article, “Some activists are preying on the Penans, says state rep” as reported in Free Malaysia Today (FMT) is far from the truth. Activist and Civil Society Organisations (CSO) fulfill needs in environmental, economic, infrastructure and social justice which are either neglected or abused by parties concerned.

The responsibility for the construction of infrastructure and providing public amenities lies with the government. For that reason, the government imposes tax on the public and establishes government departments that handle the various sectors of the public services. The elected representatives of the state legislative (DUN) and parliament or the government of the day are the ones who decide where and when the infrastructure should be built. There is no denying that rural Sarawak is the most underdeveloped areas in the whole Malaysia, despite the fact that Sarawak is rich with natural resources and human capital. The failure of bringing infrastructure and development lies with the government. The CSOs in Sarawak are mostly engaged in advocacy and minor rural projects generally on issues related to land, rivers and indigenous rights. Commenting on the situation, Penan leader Komeok Joe said “Why blame CSOs for helping the Penan? …Dennis Ngau promised to Long Sait that he would repair the hanging bridge. The Penan were waiting for a few years for Dennis to fulfill his promise but he failed to do so. So the public and CSOs help build Long Sait a new bridge.” 

The majority of activists working for CSO are either volunteers (no salary) or are paid nominal amount of living allowance. This is why there is an acute scarcity of dedicated and competent youth in Sarawak willing to serve in the CSOs. A lot of them spend time consulting, discussing and working with the Penans and other indigenous communities in the villages and rural settlements. These activists are “walking the talk” in actual sense. In saying that the CSOs are taking advantage of the Penans for their own benefit shows that YB Dennis Ngau does not know what is happening on the ground.

CSOs fight for the rights of the people when the government fails in this regard. Harrison Ngau, a prominent lands right lawyer and activist since the 1980s in commenting said, “Not only the Penans but other Bumiputras like the Malays, Melanaus and Dayaks have also lost their rights to customary right land, continued to suffer highest rate of poverty and environmental destructions as a result of policies and laws of the Sarawak government.”

Mark Bujang, who is a qualified geologist by training and an indigenous right activist for more than 20 years, said, “(YB) Dennis should not be making sweeping statements but name the CSO whom he claims to be taking advantage of the Penans”Thomas Jalong a the Secretary General of Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS) said “NGOs that we are involved in usually raise funds for capacity building programs to empower the marginalised communities and help in advocacy work for them.” END OF RELEASE 

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