JOHOR BAHRU – The Orang Asli community in Johor state is being exploited by outsiders, and steps need to be taken to address this situation, said Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar.
The Johor ruler said that some of the Orang Asli, or indigenous people, have been carrying out illegal clearing of land to plant oil palms, chop down sandalwood trees and trap wildlife.
“We even have poachers all the way from Thailand working with them in Johor to trap endangered species.
“This clearly shows that they have been exploited by outsiders and middlemen,” the Sultan said in an exclusive interview on his birthday on Thursday.
Sultan Ibrahim said the Orang Asli community in Johor was well taken care of as the government has built roads, houses, schools and surau (prayer halls) for the community. Some of these places even have Internet facilities.
“However, some of them have even cut down up to 300 acres (121.4ha) of land for timber or to plant rubber trees or oil palm.
“Where do they get the money to carry out such activities?” he said.
The Sultan added that even his own estates, covering more than 40.5ha, had been encroached on.
“They claim it is tanah rayau (an ancestral burial ground). I do not chase them out.
“I have allowed them to harvest their crops and then leave. In the meantime, they do not need to pay rent to me,” he said.
Sultan Ibrahim said that as the custodian of the Orang Asli in the state, he suggested that their land be made sultanate land, similar to national parks, which can prevent exploitation.
“Sultanate land also has its own enactment, and the land cannot be encroached upon or exploited by others,” he said, adding that it was time the Orang Asli also adhered to the law.
Citing an example of exploitation, Sultan Ibrahim said an Orang Asli was paid merely 10 sen (three Singapore cents) for a piece of rattan that was made into rattan products and sold for as much as US$15 (S$20) in Singapore.
The Sultan added that his Kembara Mahkota (royal expedition) event in 2023 would encompass visits to rural areas, including Orang Asli settlements.
“Let me see for myself their cleanliness and hygiene,” he said, adding that during the recent floods in the state, his boats were used to help affected Orang Asli.
The Sultan also said that a group of lawyers who had previously taken the government to court in Johor’s Bekok village were involved in similar cases in other parts of Johor, such as Kuala Masai and Kampung Peta.
This group, he added, was going around such settlements to get people to sue the government.
“They are exploiting and making money out of the Orang Asli,” he said.
Sultan Ibrahim said he was aware of the locations of the Orang Asli’s settlements statewide, as it was his great-great-grandfather, Sultan Abu Bakar, who had settled them at these places.
“I will no longer compromise on this issue. These people are the guides for hunters. Some hunters even bury their rifles near Orang Asli settlements and dig them up when they go into the jungle,” Sultan Ibrahim said. THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK