Parliament should begin its 25-day budget session on Monday with a minute of silence in memory of the five of the seven Orang Asli children of SK Tohoi in Gua Musang who perished after missing from the school hostel 54 days ago on August 23.
The nation and government failed the Orang Asli children when they should be cared and nurtured to be future leaders of the nation, and the least Parliament can do is to start its new parliamentary meeting with a minute of silence for Members of Parliament, the government and the nation to remember the wasted lives of the five children ranging from seven to eleven years because of government failure, negligence and incompetence.
It is scandalous that the Ministers and ministries concerned for the socio-economic and educational upliftment of the Orang Asli community to bring them into the mainstream of national development are not taking the SK Tohoi scandal and tragedy in sufficient seriousness – as up to now, the Education Minister Datuk Mahdzir Khalid has still to visit SK Tohoi or even to utter a single word of concern!
Would Madhzir be so indifferent, irresponsible and even callous if the five kids who perished and the two kids who were found as “bags of bones” were Malay kids?
Malaysia wants an Education Minister who would show equal care, concern and compassion for all school children, regardless of their race, religion or region.
Clearly, the degree of government and ministerial concern would have been very different if those who died and suffered had been Malay, Chinese, Indian or even Kadazan or Iban kids.
Why should Orang Asli kids be any different and denied of equal concern and attention from the Education Minister?
Malaysians, regardless of race, religion, region, gender, age or politics, must be thoroughly ashamed that the UMNO/BN Government has still to take the plight of the Orang Asli community seriously.
Nobody in Malaysia has any high expectations for the internal investigation which the Ministry of Education has set up.
What is urgently needed is a high-powered Commission of Inquiry into the scandal and tragedy of SK Tohoi, and if the government is not prepared to set up such a high-powered inquiry, then Parliament should set up an all-party Parliamentary Committee into the SK Tohoi scandal/tragedy, with the Parliamentary Committee holding the inquiry not in Parliament but in Gua Musang to facilitate the affected parents and Orang Asli representatives to give evidence to the Parliamentary Commtitee in an on-site investigation.
Such an impartial high-powered investigation is urgently needed as after some eight weeks after the first disappearance of the seven Orang Asli kids, there is still conflicting versions as to what actually happened, why the seven kids went missing, and the failure to locate and rescue all of the seven Orang Asli kids.
For instance, did the seven run away because they were afraid of being punished for bathing in nearby river?
There is conflicting version.
For instance, the Kelantan Police Chief Mazlan Lazim had briefed Rosmah Mansor, the Prime Minister’s wife, yesterday that the fear of being punished for bathing in a nearby river without permission was the causes of the disappearance of the seven Orang Asli children, which conflicts with the version that it was not the seven children but their siblings who had swam in the river, and that the seven were heading home after mistakenly believing that their older siblings had gone home to escape punishment.
Colin Nicholas, co-ordinator of the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC), blamed the strong undercurrents of prejudice and discrimination in the attitudes of the authorities towards the Orang Asli community, resulting in a lack of trust between police and the Orang Asli community, as the major factor which hampered the search for the seven schoolchildren missing for seven weeks from SK Tohoi.
The police and parents were not working together, as the police believed that the parents were hiding the missing children.
As a result, the search process was not transparent or inclusive, excluding the parents, resulting in the failure fo the search operation.
COAC, on its Facebook post, said the seven children were actually the younger siblings of three girls who were “beaten with a stick” earlier for swimming without permission.
“When they found that their elder siblings were missing from school, they had assumed they had gone home, as they had apparently planned in the interim two days, and they too wanted to follow them.
“But the older ones later returned to the school on their own accord or were brought back in the afternoon.
“Only much later that day did the school authorities realise that the seven were missing,” said COAC.
The questions posed by a University of Malaya lecturer, Kamal Solhaimi Fadzil, should be among the terms of reference of a high-powered inquiry into the SK Tohoi tragedy, such as:
*What happened that drove seven kids to run away and die from starvation just three kilometres away from their school?
*Why didn’t the seven kids simply return back to school?
*What could have scared the seven Orang Asli kids at Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Pos Tohoi so much that they prefer to hide away, even watching as one by one of their friends died?
*What sort of environment existed in the schools and how were the teachers and headmaster running it?
Members of Parliament must demand answers to these harrowing questions.