I congratulated the Minister for Rural and Regional Development, Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib for getting the nomination for the contest for Umno Deputy President though I remarked that his integrity was questioned by none other than his former boss and former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.
(This was what Mahathir said on November 12, 2008 on Mohammad’s successful nomination for the Umno Deputy President contest: “I think there is a lot of hanky panky going on. When you know that someone has a bad history is still getting support, I think that bad history has relevance to his support.”)
This was my preface when seeking clarifications during Muhammad’s winding-up of his Ministry during the 2009 Budget committee stage debate.
Muhammd put up a stoic front and refused to be drawn into responding to Mahathir’s remarks although there was the usual raucous yelling and protests by the UMNO parliamentary jeer-leaders.
I went on to ask Muhammad why the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (JHEOA) had failed in its mandate to develop the Orang Asli community for over half a century. The people who had really benefited from the JHOEA in the past 50 years were the JHOEA bureaucrats rather than the Orang Asli people.
I remarked that the real test of the success of the JHEOA would be when it could be dissolved, marking the success in the upliftment of the Orang Asli community in the country.
Instead, the Orang Asli community continues to be marginalized and left behind by the currents of development.
I told Parliament of my visit to Pos Legap in Lintang, Sungei Siput on Oct. 25 where I met Orang Asli from the surrounding Orang Asli settlements.
There were about 1,200 Orang Asli but only two per cent of the 800 adults were gainfully employed as Risda, which operates the 400 hectares of oil palm holdings in the locality, employed Indonesian and not Orang Asli workers.
Before 2005, there were clinics at Pos Legap, Pos Yom, Pos Kuala Mu, Pos Perwor, Pos Poi and Pos Piah, but they have all been closed down and now a mobile clinic comes once a month to provide basic services to women and children.
There is a national primary school in Pos Legap with over 200 students in seven classes. There is not a single Orang Asli among the eight teachers in the school.
I went to Pos Legap from Jalong and the road into the Orang Asli settlement is so broken down and totally lacked maintenance that it is a big shame and disgrace to Malaysia’s claim as a developed nation.
I asked Muhammad whether he could give personal attention to the complaints of Pos Legap to ensure that the Orang Asli adults could find gainful employment, that at least 50 per cent or four of the teachers in the Pos Legap primary school are Orang Asli and to get the road properly maintained.
I also asked Muhammad what is being done to ensure that there is a strong Orang Asli representation among the JHOEA personnel, and why no Orang Asli has yet been appointed to be Director-General of JHOEA and State Directors.
In his reply, Muhammad said that an Orang Asli is the Deputy Director-General of JHOEA.
On my various requests, Muihammad pointed out that the JHOEA representatives were in Parliament and they were nodding, signifying that they would attend to my suggestions.
I will visit the JHOEA Director and Deputy Director-General to find out why there cannot be a major breakthrough in the upliftment of the Orang Asli community to be on par with the other Malaysian citizens after over half-a-century of effort.