Hornbill Unleashed

October 4, 2012

Masing’s statement insulting to Penans, say groups

Dukau Papau

Orang Ulu leaders and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are reacting strongly to the statement made by Land Development Minister James Masing alleging that the Penans are ignorant of the benefits of the Murum dam, resulting in them being unhappy.

Masing had said that there was a need for better communication between the implementers of the project and the people at the grassroots.

“I have made a recommendation to the steering committee to include Culture and Heritage Assistant Minister Liwan Lagang to be part of the team which oversees the implementation of the project.

james masing

“Liwan has vast experience working with the Penans in Murum even before he joined politics.

“My recommendation to the steering committee is that we need to have a better communication system so that any change that we make must be for the better.

“The Penans in Murum are not against the project per se, but they are unhappy with some of the things which are implemented without them being properly informed,” Masing had said.

Reacting to Masing’s remark, Abun Sui Anyit, who is a potential candidate for Pakatan Rakyat in Hulu Rajang, described Masing’s statement as insulting to the Penans, as if they did not know how to value their vast area of land.

azlan“It is an admission by Masing or the government that the government has never communicated the importance of the construction of the dam to the Penans properly.

“The construction of the dam is forced on them without their consent. It is not for the Penans to value the benefits of the dam but the Penan shall know the value and the importance of native rights land,” he said.

The national coordinator of Sarawak Conservation Alliance for Natural Environment (SCANE), Raymond Abin, said that since the beginning Penans have been neglected by the government.

“The government has taken the Penans for granted. They think that all decisions made by the government will be accepted by the Penans, but this is not the case.

“Consultation with Penans must be transparent and any decision made by Penans must be respected,” Abin said.

He said that he had received reports from the ground that out of the eight Penan villages affected, only one village (Long Wat) had received some compensation for their lands, but the villagers had rejected the cheques because the amount was far below what was initially promised.

“I was informed by the Penans themselves that there was a total lack of consultation, and lack of information from the government about their land seizure to build Murum dam. They are especially worried about plans to resettle them early next as no houses have been built yet,” he said.

‘Admission comes too late for Penans and Kenyah’

Meanwhile, SAVE Rivers Network (SAVE Rivers) commended Masing on his admission that there is a “need for better communication between the implementers of the project and the people at the grassroots”.

“However, it is with regret that Masing’s admission for better communication, comes much too late for the Penan and Kenyah communities affected by the Murum dam as the construction started in mid-2008. The target for completion of the project is by the end of 2013,” said SAVE Rivers chairperson Peter Kallang.

He said, “This is why we have been emphasising  on the need to abide by the United Nations Declarations of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that Malaysia has signed, whenever the government does any major project involving the rural communities.

“According to UNDRIP, the communities have the right to demand for free, prior, informed consent. This is necessary particularly on large-scale development projects that would affect their livelihoods.

“Free, prior and informed consent in particular, needs to be obtained from the communities before commencement of development projects.

“This was obviously not done for the Penan communities affected by the Murum dam, as admitted by Masing,” Peter said.

SAVE Rivers is extending an invitation to Masing and other high-level government leaders to explain the principles of UNDRIP.

“It is unfortunate that many high-level government leaders do not understand the international UN declaration that Malaysia has signed, and is quick to accuse us of ‘instigating’.


“We therefore would like an opportunity to explain to them the rights of indigenous peoples under the laws of this country,” he said.

Another non-governmental organisation, Borneo Resources Institute (BRIMAS), accused Masing  of insulting the Penans for calling them “ignorant”.

“Their recent actions of mounting a blockade are in fact an indication that the Penan communities in the Kapit division are well-aware of their rights according to the Malaysian constitution, land code and UNDRIP.

“The Penans and Kenyahs there do not want the dam,” said BRIMAS director Mark Bujang.

Mark said that according to the Resettlement Action Plan for these communities, compensation is below the poverty level in Sarawak and assistance is only for four years, therefore, is it a surprise that the Penans are very unhappy and are therefore mounting the blockade, asked Mark.

Meanwhile, the Penans from the eight villages have continued their blockade for the seventh day running. The blockade is to stop workers from the Sarawak Energy Berhad and other companies involved in the construction from going to the dam site.

Scores of trucks and lorries are forced to stop at the blockade site.

About 20 police personnel have been dispatched to the blockade site. So far no one has been arrested.


  1. This Dayak Minister has never done enough to support the Dayaks when they are treated badly like this Penans who are being pushed around like they do not matter at all. If Masing know that they are ignorant about whats going on then why did he just keep quite until now? Or was he himself the one being igorant about the Penans plights up until now? Now the secrects are out in the open so who kena? Its too late for damage control lah Masing. Liwan’s vast experience as you say, won’t help you. Perhaps you are better at looking after CMS and your Master taib?

    Comment by brian — October 5, 2012 @ 11:24 AM | Reply

  2. Not a single Penan or Dayak vote must be wasted on BN in GE13. Kick out UMNO led BN for good. MACC shall never investigate the thief minister because the anti corruption law is weak against state leaders or is it that Putrajaya is weak? So we must vote out all BN candidates to rectify the weakness in the anti corruption law to investigate Najib Tun Razak, Taib Mahmud, Musa Aman, Ghani Othman, Ali Rustam, Muhyiddin, Hishamuddin, Rahman Yacub and Mahathir Mohamad. The power to call for investigation and arrest against these crooks are in the hands of all voters.

    Comment by Effendi Nawawi — October 4, 2012 @ 4:44 PM | Reply

  3. Wonder who is real Story Teller here? James Masing or the Penans?

    S’wak minister draws flak over Penan rape
    Masing: Penan are very good storytellers
    By Keruah Usit, Malaysia Kini, 9 Dec 2009

    Sarawak Land Minister James Masing has come under fire for his scornful dismissal of claims that Penan girls and women have been sexually abused by employees of logging companies.

    In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme, broadcast on Dec 7, Masing said: “I think this is where we get confused. I think… the Penan are a most interesting group of people and they operate on different social etiquette as us… a lot this sex by consensual sex.”

    BBC correspondent Angus Stickler then quoted Mary, a young Penan teenager, as saying that she had been dragged from her room, beaten unconscious and raped, after she had hitched a ride to school on a logging truck.

    A federal government task force had confirmed in a report on Sept 9 that girls as young as 10 had been raped by loggers. Like Mary, some have borne children as a result of rape.

    Masing, however, told the BBC: “They change their stories, and when they feel like it. That’s why I say Penan are very good storytellers.”

    His remark is typical of the Sarawak government response. The official line has been to deny the rape of Penan girls and women by loggers, and to smear the Penan as primitive and promiscuous liars, while declaring that logging is a form of development.

    The Sarawak government has asserted that logging brings roads, even if they are poorly maintained, to remote native Dayak communities.

    However, the same roads have led to numerous reports of sexual assault on local Dayak, including Penan, girls, by logging company drivers and employees.

    Masing’s slur of “changing stories” may be a reference to the police report lodged by a Penan rape survivor, ‘Bibi’, who withdraw her allegation.

    But the Penan Support Group (PSG), a civil society coalition, pointed out her alleged rapist, Ah Heng (called ‘Johnny’ in the task force report) had escorted her to make the retraction. It said Ah Heng threatened and intimidated her into changing her story.

    The PSG have criticised the police for closing their investigation into the sexual abuse, although the police had a representative in the task force.

    The Bruno Manser Foundation (BMF), a NGO based in Switzerland that works for the Penan in Sarawak, has called on Masing to issue an apology.

    The BMF had highlighted the sexual abuse of Penan by loggers last year. This sparked ocal media coverage and led eventually to the high-level task force investigation.

    Masing’s changing story

    Masing is unlikely to comply with any request to apologise. He is a leader of the Dayak-based Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), a splinter group from the Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS).

    The PBDS nearly took over the Sarawak government in 1987 from Abdul Taib Mahmud, the most tenacious chief minister in the history of Malaysia.

    Masing was PBDS vice-president and a stalwart of the opposition against Taib’s leadership of the state Barisan Nasional (BN) at the time. With a doctorate in anthropology, Masing was one of the most articulate political voices expressing the anger of the majority Dayaks, over the loss of their land to logging and plantation companies.

    Following a crushing PBDS defeat in state elections in 1991, the party was broken and returned to the state BN. Masing was instrumental in dismantling the PBDS. He set up the PRS in 2003, claiming to represent Dayak people in the state BN.

    Since then, he has been vilified by the Dayak communities fighting for their customary land rights all over Sarawak. The Penan, numbering some 15,000, are one of the ethnic groups included under the Dayak umbrella.

    Masing is a highly qualified anthropologist. He understands the false dichotomy between ‘them’ and ‘us’. He has been trained in the cultural sensitivity required of all ethnographers and, as such, should serve as a Dayak spokesman for the Sarawak government.

    Instead, he has become a vociferous defender of the Sarawak government’s abysmal record of deprivation of the Dayaks’ native customary rights (NCR) to land. He has transformed into the nemesis of his previous identity as a proponent of Dayak rights.

    Sarawak’s political rivalries have thrown up public announcements and graphic descriptions of how its ministers allocate timber licences to family members and friends. They in turn lease the licences to loggers to extract timber. The logging companies – and their benefactors – have grown fabulously rich from their concessions.

    Under the Sarawak Land Code 1958, natives are entitled to claim land they have used under customary law or adat. The Federal Court has affirmed the natives’ customary claims in celebrated landmark decisions such as Nor Nyawai vs Borneo Pulp Plantation Sdn Bhd, and Madeli Salleh vs the Government of Sarawak.

    Regardless of court decisions, the logging companies, oil palm plantations and hydro-electric dam construction corporations have bulldozed these NCR claims aside. The state government claims all land without title is state land, even if NCR claims are pending.

    Frustrated by the failure of the law to protect their communal farms and forests – and with landmark court cases ignored by the executive – Dayak communities have set up many blockades against the logging and oil palm companies.

    Yet Masing continues to deny the widespread hardship among rural Dayak. He was disparaging about the Dayaks who fought for their land rights.

    “You’re looking at state land. That land belongs to the government,” he told the BBC.

    “But you cannot condone people who are squatters who are in areas where they should not be. If it is indeed their land, the law of the land will take care of that.”

    Masing pleads ‘not guilty’ over indigenous displacement
    Masing: There was no “crony capitalism” going on in Sarawak…
    Malaysia Kini, 21 March 2009

    Sarawak Land Development Minister James Masing told a tv news channel that he has absolutely no guilt over the displacement of indigenous people caused by the construction of hydro-electric dams in the state.

    “I don’t feel guilty. I feel that is the correct way of doing it. I don’t have any guilt feeling for trying to help my people,” said Masing on the Al-Jazeera’s 101 East programme Thursday night. [Watch 10-min video]

    Host Fauziah Ibrahim had asked Masing if he felt guilty, as a person of indigenous descent, over indigenous people being displaced to make way for economic development.

    During the programme, Masing defended the construction of dams, such as the massive Bakun hydroelectric dam and the proposal to build 12 new ones, because the state government was preparing for the future.

    “Sarawak has enough energy as it is today. But we must look 20 years down the road. By that time we may not have enough energy. You know very well the cost of fuel (is escalating),” he said.

    Masing defends CM

    Masing also defended the involvement of Cahaya Mata Sarawak (CMS), a company owned by family members of Chief Minister Taib Mahmud in the construction of the dams.

    “The dam constructions are done to legal tenders. The lowest tender gets it. It doesn’t matter if CMS or somebody else. It must be done on tender basis.

    “That is very transparent. The international community can take a look at it… it is an open book for everyone to look,” he said.

    When Fuziah pointed out that there are numerous cases in which projects were given to companies linked to Taib without open tenders, Masing said: “I was not aware of it”.

    Fuziah replied by that the Similajau aluminum smelting plant was given to CMS while the construction of several bridges were awarded to Titanium Management Sdn Bhd, which Taib’s eldest son Mahmud Abu Bekir holds substantial interest in.

    ‘Everything was transparent’

    Even with evidence presented before him, Masing maintained that these awards were given fairly and in accordance with the law.

    “We have rules and laws… If there is a decision made by people who have vested interest, there are laws which does not allow it. It is illegal for people in authority to give authority with vested interest.

    “All these things have been done through open tenders. They are transparent,” he said.

    “In the case of the aluminum smelter, there were a few companies that were asked to bid for it. I know. And the best company gets it.

    “Unfortunately, it was given to a company where the authority has some interest. But it is done legally,” he added.

    ‘I’m a friend of the chief minister’

    Meanwhile, Fuziah also scrutinised Masing over his links to Taib. Masing admitted that he was an “ally” to Taib, but gave a less outright answer when asked if he was Taib’s “crony”.

    “I don’t think (so). Crony means friends. I am a friend of the chief minister,” he said.

    On whether there was “crony capitalism” going on in Sarawak, Masing replied in the negative because no one has been brought to book over such matters.

    “I don’t think so. If there is, those who deal in it would be dealt by the law. Until today, there is nothing. One must assume there is no cronyism as such,” he said.

    On who would keep the chief minister and his family accountable, Masing said the electorate would.

    “I believe the voters in Sarawak are a very intelligent group of people,” he added.

    Fauziah Ibrahim (FI):
    It’s been a lot controversy of the environmental fallout of the Bakun dam which currently it has not been finished yet and yet there are plans to build 12 more new dams. Are these extra dams necessary?

    James Jemut Masing (JJM):
    For Sarawak it is necessary. Sarawak will require clean and cheap electricity that is renewable and for Sarawak it will not be…it is only wise for us to utilise the rainfall that we have and the rivers that we have…dams need to be built to provide cheap and renewable energy.

    FI – There are experts though say that Sarawak has enough energy and there is no need 12 new dams.

    JJM – Sarawak has enough energy as it is today but we must look down toward 20 years down the road and by that time we may not have enough energy. You know very well the cost of fuel (is escalating).

    FI – Are you expecting the same sort of environmental fallout that we say from the Bakun dam?

    JJM – I don’t think there is such thing as environmental fallout. I don’t believe that is correct.

    FI – Ten thousand people displaced.

    JJM – That is not environmental fallout..that is..

    FI – Virgin forest being cut down.

    JJM – Virgin forest are half of the area, half of the area has been felled, shelved by shifted cultivators so basically what is in that dictated exactly are felled forest…secondary forest…

    FI – And what about the indigenous people that lived there? They lost their livelihoods, they lost their homes…

    JJM – Well, not quite lose their home…they are resettled and have them moved to new areas which has have trend toward modern development and that’s what we’re trying to do.

    FI – Were they consulted though? Many of them are unhappy that they have been moved. They had no say about this move and they lost their traditional way of life.

    JJM – That is not quite correct. I was one of the social scientist that did the survey prior to the Bakun dam and I spend a few years with consultants from oversea try to work out make sure that they’re resettled in areas which they have the say in it and they have consulted and the fact that the longhouses that we built in Bakun are in fact are joint venture effort between the government and the people who were resettled and that is why they are still staying in the longhouses with the difference.

    FI – But what about the 12 new dams? What preparation has been made for these indigenous tribes?

    JJM – The proposal of the 12 new dams is just a proposal for the next maybe 20, 25 years down the road. I think government…any responsible government must be responsible for what happen in the future. You cannot assume today we have enough therefore no need to prepare for the future. If you that, to me that is irresponsible government.

    FI – That is understandable that the future that you’re talking about, the economic future of Sarawak. But what about the future of these indigenous tribe?

    JJM – They have been allocated for their future and that is why we have the consultant with them all the time. To accuse us that we don’t consult them is wrong.

    FI – How much is the construction of these new dams link to boosting the family business for the chief minister’s family?

    JJM – I don’t think there is…(Smiling)

    FI – Well the family business is Cahya Mata Sarawak, CMS and they will be providing the construction materials for the dams.

    JJM – Not for the next 12 dams…

    FI – Not for the next 12 dams? Where would be…is CMS in any way link to the dams?

    JJM – (Pause)..Not that I’m not aware of…That dam structure are done to legal tenders and the lowest tender gets it. It doesn’t matter whether if CMS or somebody else. It must be done on tender basis.

    FI – Right.

    JJM – And that is very transparent tender and international community can have a look at that.

    FI – Alright Ok, but these dams have nothing to do with the chief minister?

    JJM – No, what happen is done is done on very transparent methods of tendering process and that can gives open book for people to have a look.

    FI – And so you are saying CMS will not be providing with building materials for these dams?

    JJM – If they are qualified and they found that they deemed to be qualified, why not? It is open tender process. The best will get it.

    FI – They has been though in the history of Sarawak that in the thirty years of the chief minister’s history with Sarawak there have been cases where there has not been open tender and this is flouting state’s legislation.

    JJM – I’m not aware of it…(Smiling)

    FI – Well right, I tell you that there is no open tender for the aluminium smelting project Rio Tinto, that was given to CMS family-owned business by the chief minister.

    JJM – (Looks guilty…)

    FI – There is no open tender for 2006 contract to repair or build bridges and that was awarded to Titanium Management of which the chief minister’s son is the major shareholders. Now both these two case that we’ve been able to come out with…there are others that people have told us. Now both these cases flout state legislation.

    JJM – What…(try to interject and smile)

    FI – Is it fair to say those state contracts are given to CMS and the chief minister’s family business.

    JJM – What we must understand that we do have rules and laws regarding people to decide. If the decision is made by people with vested interest there are laws that would not allow it.
    (Adjusting his neck-tie!) It is illegal, you know also very well, it is illegal for people have their authority to give the authority with vested interest. It is illegal…you cannot do it because there is no illegality in it. I won’t assume there is none but all these things are done through tender process which are transparent.

    FI – But these cases has been not given on open tender…

    JJM – There are…there are bidding for it…

    FI – Rio Tinto case…Titanium Management…

    JJM – There are few companies that has been ask to bid for it, I know, and the best company gets it…and fortunately…unfortunately…given to the company in which the authority has some interest but it is done legally.

    FI – Are you saying that there is no capital cronyism in Sarawak?

    JJM – I don’t think so…If there is, those who deal with that will be dealt by the law. Until today there is nothing, so one word must assume there is no cronyism as such.

    FI – The chief minister is also state finance, he is also planning minister. His family business includes the cement manufacturing, construction, road maintenance, property development…these same business that we found have been involved in lucrative infrastructure projects. You can understand how improper it may seem and you saying there is no capital cronyism in Sarawak?

    JJM – That is assumption…to me that is assumption…as I said it must be very important that there are laws in this land that prevent the happening of that nature. If laws that people find that there are people who breaking that law, then they must be put to task but until today there is none.

    FI – Who will hold the chief minister and his family accountable?

    JJM – The electorate. Every five years you go…to the electorate and they will decide whether you are guilty or not. And I believe that the voters in Sarawak are very intelligent voters and they will know if you done wrong. And if they cannot get through legal means, they can get through the political process. So far you can’t blame them we come clean with it .

    FI – In some ways though you also been considered an ally of the chief minister. You yourself…

    JJM – I am…

    FI – You admit you are an ally…

    JJM – I am an ally…

    FI – Crony of the chief minister..?

    JJM – I don’t think…crony means friends…I am a friend of…

    FI – A friend of the chief minister…

    JJM – Yes…(Eye blinking! Wink! Wink!)

    FI – You are of indigenous decend…

    JJM – I am…(wink! wink!)

    FI – You are also the state land development minister…

    JJM – Yes..I am…

    FI – And this is at a time when there is a lot of anger of the displacement of thousands of indigenous people because of huge dam that are as experts say economically unfeasible and useless.

    JJM – I…(Smile)

    FI – Do you feel guilty that as an indigenous person that these people have been displaced for economic reasons..?

    JJM – I feel that is the correct way of doing it. I don’t think because I think it is correct. I don’t have any guilt feeling and trying to defraud help my people, no I don’t have.

    FI – Minister, thank you for your time.

    JJM – Thank you .

    FI – We did invite the chief minister to appear on this programme but his office decline. And that’s all the time we have for 101 East, thank you very much for watching and see you again next week.

    Comment by Teddy Gumbang — October 4, 2012 @ 10:01 AM | Reply

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