By Mariam Mokhtar
Actions speak louder than words; so, when Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Umno-Baru president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi nominated Cameron Highlands’ Orang Asli (OA) MP Ramli Mohd Nor as deputy speaker of the Dewan Rakyat, many felt that they had made the wrong move.
The Dewan Rakyat and Malaysians, in general, deserve better. We want a more able and qualified person as deputy speaker.
Both the post of MP and deputy speaker are filled with responsibility. Both need someone who is not afraid to speak out on behalf of the rakyat, not just of their party or their own community.
With the role of deputy speaker, there is the added responsibility of the person being just and fair. He must be impartial. He must be strict in disciplining his fellow MPs. He cannot be seen to favor his own party members.
As far as most people are concerned, Ramli is an MP who has done very little to uplift the lives of the OA community.
Moreover, he is a staunch Umno-Baru supporter. His nomination as deputy speaker has sparked debate in certain circles.
Many claim that there are others who are better equipped and qualified to fulfill the role.
Sometimes people forget the real reasons for nominating a person for the job.
Umno-Baru secretary general Ahmad Maslan said Ramli’s nomination will make history because he will be the first OA to be nominated.
A seasoned politician like Ahmad Maslan should realize that creating history should be the least of his concerns.
The 63-year-old Ramli was a former police officer who retired with the rank of assistant commissioner. He became an MP in a by-election in January 2019. Thus far, many OA allege that he has done very little for his community.
Ramli has ignored many of the injustices meted out to the OA and the discrimination against them has not been fully addressed.
In 1997, around 80% of the OA lived below the official poverty line (the national average was 8.5%). By 2010, 77% of the OA were still living below the poverty line.
Using data from the Department of Statistics, only 47.5 % of OA had access to tap water and 56% had proper toilets (the national average was 97%).
It is also alleged that 53% of the OA are illiterate, 39% of them are educated up to primary school level, 62% drop out of school, whilst 94% leave school after Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM).
Suhakam (the human rights NGO) alleged that the government stopped the provision of primary schools in OA villages because they were not economically viable.
Providing adequate healthcare for the OA is a major issue. Malnutrition is endemic and infant mortality rates are at least three times the national average.
Common diseases are TB, malaria, cholera and typhoid. The life span of OA men (52 years) and women (54 years) is lower than the national average (73 years).
Few people will recall that in 2010, a doctor attached to the Department of Orang Asli Development (JAKOA) made serious allegations about malpractice, misappropriation of resources and other serious abuses in the JAKOA hospital in Gombak.
It was alleged that milk powder meant for OA babies was subdivided so that mothers were not getting the full entitlement, thus contributing to the malnourishment of the community.
Another serious matter is land ownership. Despite government recognition of OA land, few land titles have allegedly been issued.
Companies are allowed by the state to mine or log in the forest reserve causing pollution of rivers and soil, in some cases. However, the OA are denied their rights to earn a living in their ancestral land.
OA families are regularly evicted from forest reserves, made homeless and relocated to areas convenient for the government to monitor.
The forest is their source of income but resettlement camps are located miles away. Often, the new homes are built on land which is infertile and far from rivers.
Despite the Constitution granting freedom of religion for all its citizens, some OA parents have complained that their children are surreptitiously being converted in school hostels.
In 2006, the state of Kelantan offered RM10,000 to each Muslim preacher who marries an Orang Asli woman and converts her.
The preacher would also be entitled to free accommodation, a four-wheel-drive vehicle and a fixed monthly allowance of RM1,000.
This practice is wrong.
We are aware that the OA are treated with utter disregard and contempt. They receive few benefits under the New Economic Policy (NEP), their rights are continually being denied, but the only thing that appears to be successfully implemented is the creeping Islamization of their community. This is a terrible irony for the true bumiputera of the nation.
So, if Ramli cannot help his own community, why should he suddenly be expected to perform admirably and serve the rakyat as deputy speaker?
1. Malaysiakini: PM and Zahid to nominate Ramli for deputy speaker
2. The Nut Graph: Whistleblower gets show-cause letter
3.Wikipedia: Orang Asli
4. Malaysiakini: Suhakam: Stop violating Orang Asli right to education
5 The Star: Incentives for marrying and converting orang asli
(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)