KUALA LUMPUR, June 28 — Sarawak federal lawmaker Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri today defended government agencies accused of failing to uplift the country’s vulnerable indigenous communities, insisting it was not for lack of effort.
The Batang Sadong MP told a forum organised by the Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) that members of the nomadic Penan tribe in Sarawak have repeatedly rejected government aid even when the Barisan Nasional (BN) was in power.
“I was the parliamentary caucus women’s chairman in 2008 on the Penan girls being raped. I’d like to suggest rather than criticise, I suggest you stay there quite a while and see if they respond to you. We’ve done our best, there is a lot of funding for them.
“But they are much on their own, they don’t want people like us to encroach on their private lives,” Nancy said.
The former de facto law minister was replying to Cynthia Gabriel, chief of human rights group C4, who had earlier in the forum criticised the current Pakatan Harapan and previous BN government for allegedly lacking political will in addressing the needs and rights of minorities and the indigenous peoples of Malaysia.
Cynthia had insisted that the federal government provide guarantees to ensure the Orang Asli in the peninsula and Orang Asal of Sabah and Sarawak can continue living their lives the way they want while their legal rights, particularly native customary land rights, are protected.
“There’s serious neglect, even in basic healthcare. This shows what kind of priority was given to them. This has to change. The current government policies on rural development has to change and it is up for debate on how their rights should be legislated,” Cynthia claimed.
Nancy pointed out that if anyone manages to assist the Penan community, it would be a great “favour” to the Sarawak government.
“People there don’t like us to encroach into their private lives. If you can do that, you will be doing us a big favour. We have been trying to do that for a long time.”
She said the Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu-led Sarawak government is continuing efforts to reach out to the Penans, but the tribespeople flee at the sight of the authorities.
“It’s not that politicians don’t want to go there... but when they go, but the Penans run away because they are nomads. If you can criticise us then go and do it yourself. Tell us the changes you have made. You are doing us a big favour,” she repeated.