KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 20 ― Plans to help struggling communities of Orang Asli could have derailed after the government agency in charge of the aboriginal people’s welfare was shifted into a different ministry, Umno lawmaker Datuk Seri Hasan Arifin suggested today.
The Rompin MP was responding to news reports of a group of Orang Asli in his Pahang constituency who have been deprived of basic amenities and were scavenging for recyclables at a landfill near Bandar Muadzam Shah for a living.
He connected their deplorable state to the lateral shift of the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) which had been parked under the Rural Development Ministry when Barisan Nasional was in power, to its current placement under the Department of National Unity and Integration, itself under the Prime Minister’s Department, saying such a transfer could have resulted in a budget cut, and reduced the funds to help the Orang Asli.
“The Orang Asli still need support, basic infrastructure, education and health. Therefore it is unsuitable for Jakoa to be placed under the Prime Minister’s Department,” he said in a statement here.
He said due to Jakoa’s transfer, many of the allocation meant for Orang Asli had been slashed between 2019 and 2020, and cited as example an end to the supply of school uniforms for the Orang Asli children.
“Such a programme is important to encourage Orang Asli children to attend school,” he added.
Hasan, who was a former chairman of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, said he had previously voiced his disagreement with Jakoa’s transfer in the Dewan Rakyat.
He argued that most of the agencies that dealt directly with Jakoa were still under the Rural Development Ministry and it would be easier for it to remain there for budgetary and planning coordination.
But he also said there were weaknesses in the existing government agencies in improving the quality of life for the Orang Asli, and acknowledged that many aboriginal communities in his constituency were still leading nomadic lives.
He called for the government to work together with the private sector to help the Orang Asli.
Last week, Malay Mail published a news report about an Orang Asli community of the Jakun tribe settling in Bandar Muadzam Shah without piped water and electricity for a long time even though those facilities were available a short walk away.
The article was also made possible with the support of the ECM Libra Foundation, which funds and undertakes charitable work, particularly in education, with indigenous communities, in both east Malaysia and the peninsula, in particular the Orang Asli.