Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Road to Nowhere leads to Ecological Ruin

If the "road upgrading" was genuinely for the benefit of the Orang Asli, why make it wide enough for tour buses and lorries? Most of the villagers access their durian orchards on motorbike. Wouldn't the simplest, most cost effective solution be to present them with a small lorry?

The Selangor State government issued contractor Tan a stop-work order via the Ulu Selangor District Council on September 9th - and he did stop work for several days. But, as I expected, work soon recommenced on the instruction of Wong Koon Mun, the MCA state assemblyman for Kuala Kubu Bharu. Wong's story was that the Batin of Kg Pertak, Bidar Chik, had approached him to upgrade the access road to the Orang Asli's durian orchards and rubber plantations.

I've known Batin Bidar Chik (right) for nearly 18 years and I can't imagine him doing such a thing. First of all, Bidar isn't really all that concerned about "improving the lot" of his anak buah (community) ; he's only interested in two things, alcohol and money. And secondly, Bidar Chik is a wily old fox and he gave up on the authorities a long time ago. His cynicism is perfectly justified as I have never once in the 18 years I've resided in the area observed the Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (Orang Asli Affairs Department) do anything positive for the community. They are only interested in two things: making a bit of money on the side from facilitating logging concessions, and converting as many Orang Asli as possible to Islam. In short, I seriously doubt that Bidar Chik would have had the initiative to approach Wong Koon Mun and ask that the road be upgraded. I'm told that Wong Koon Mun is trying to persuade Bidar Chik to appear at a press conference and claim that the road upgrading initiative was his idea. Contractor Tan has already handed Bidar a generous angpow (red packet stuffed with cash).

MCA Wong (pictured left) is apparently feeling a bit pressured. Various influential people have been calling the District Officer and asking about the illegal roadworks going on in Kg Pertak. No permit was applied for and no signboard was put up before the heavy equipment moved in. I am reliably informed - by the Special Branch, no less - that the person who lodged a police report against me was in fact Rapi - an Orang Asli from Kg Tun Abdul Razak (near Kuala Kubu Bharu). Rapi accuses me of conspiring with "foreigners" to block "development" for the Orang Asli. That's right, I'm channeling Bruno Manser - and that's a very serious crime in post-Mahathir Malaysia!

In fact, it was Rapi who first announced, about six months ago or more, that plans were afoot to widen the old logging trail that runs parallel to the Luit River. Rapi happens to be an Umno member and has been known to serve as middleman for many questionable schemes involving Orang Asli land. Rapi doesn't live in Kg Pertak. So why should he be so enthusiastic about "upgrading" the access road to the durian orchards? In any case, Wong Koon Mun's claim that Batin Bidar Chik of Kg Pertak requested his help to facilitate the roadworks must be taken with a very large pinch of salt.

Truth is, word has trickled to my ears that MCA Wong has been eyeing the area for some years. A local resident informed me that Wong had once attempted, unsuccessfully, to alienate several acres of forest reserve for himself. I haven't met Wong Koon Mun and have had no opportunity to ask him to his face if this rumor is indeed true - and even if I did, I'm quite sure he would vehemently deny it. After all, he's a Barisan Nasional stalwart - and everybody with even half a functioning brain cell knows that nobody joins the MCA except to enrich themselves at the public's expense. They are most definitely NOT in the MCA "to serve the Chinese community" - what more the Orang Asli!

Last week the entire village was abuzz with the maddening din of bushcutters. Some sort of massive gotong-royong (community project) had been initiated by the Orang Asli Affairs Department. It culminated with the erection of a bamboo arch near the village entrance. I asked my sister-in-law what the hubbub was in aid of, and she shyly told me that Najib was planning to visit Kg Pertak on October 14th.

What? The crime minister himself? What could possibly inspire him to make an official visit to my neck of the woods? Could he be a secret follower of my blog - and this "official visit" was merely an excuse to catch a glimpse of his hero?

I subsequently learnt that the bamboo arch wasn't intended to welcome Najib to Kg Pertak, after all. Some other bigwig - possibly Noh Omar, entrepreneur and cooperative development minister - was scheduled to make a grand tour of Ulu Selangor and ensure that the Orang Asli continue to vote BN.*

Whoever shows up, it's bad news for Mother Nature, especially if they're from Umno.

(Pertak pics courtesy of Ecowarriorz)

At 11:30AM, Friday, 2 October, Wong Koon Mun had planned a press conference in Kg Pertak to establish that the Orang Asli are in favor of the road upgrade (of course they are, since most people would like a smoother ride, but most people don't live in a densely forested catchment area!) The press would be present, and also T. Murugiah, minister in the PM's department in charge of the Public Complaints Bureau.

It is now 1:30PM. Reporters from
Nanyang Siang Pau and The Star did show up, along with a group of concerned citizens who cherish the beauty of this area. District councillor Chua Yee Ling also made an appearance to brief the journalists. She said that the stand of the Selangor state government remains very clear and simple: no matter who initiated and funded the roadworks, they must abide by council regulations and ensure that the standard procedures are adhered to. Unfortunately, T. Murugiah canceled out at the last minute and Wong Koon Mun decided to stay put in his KKB office. The Star is now interviewing Batin Bidar Chik. The saga continues with no definite resolution...

*As it turns out the bigwig in whose honor the bamboo arch was erected was not all that big - it was only Mohd Sani Mistam, director-general of the Orang Asli Affairs Department (JHEOA), who came to launch a 2-day "Rancangan Mesra Minda" which generated a kampong fun-fair atmosphere and a hideous amount of noise and rubbish in Kg Pertak.