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Ulu Sugut a perilous example on how the NCR is desecrated by developmentalist agenda” - Atama Katama

62% of the population of indigenous peoples in Sabah East Malaysia are generally not involved or consulted in planning processes and lack the resources and capacity to defend their land rights which has resulted in the further marginalization of the indigenous peoples by ‘development’ of which corporations and the wealthy elite are the main beneficiaries.

As a nation State that relies heavily on the exploitation of its natural resources for the development of its economy there is a clear tension between the rights of the indigenous to their ancestral lands and the government’s desire to utilize the natural resources.

Atama Katama, Raptivist who is currently in New York for cultural socializing poses at Moma P1 Hall of Grafitti.
“The Sabah Development Corridor 2008-2025 plan (SDC) is an example of this. The plan outlines the federal government’s strategy for the development of Sabah, the goal of which is to ‘make sure that Sabah’s God-given bounty can be harnessed to bring wealth and prosperity to every corner of Sabah. The plan is ‘aimed at enhancing the quality of life of the people by accelerating the growth of Sabah’s economy, promoting regional balance and bridging the rural–urban divide while ensuring the sustainable management of the state’s resources.” said Atama Katama, Raptivist from Kota Kinabalu.

In addition to the introduction of the SDC, a reform was made to section 76 of the Sabah Land Ordinance 1930 (SLO) in 2009, which significantly increased the government’s power to alienate traditionally indigenous land for the purpose of development. Most indigenous lands have already been alienated and developed- to the detriment of the indigenous peoples of Sabah, and the SLO and the Sabah Forest enactment 1968 ‘continue to be used today in ways that suit different developmentalist agendas’.   

Atama continued as saying “In the 2014 budget, the Government allocated RM1.6bil for development in the five regional corridors. Among the main projects to be implemented include the agropolitan project and oil palm-based industries in the Sabah Development Corridor. However now that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had just announced the 2015 budget, we are concerned that further marginalization and land grabbing will continue in the name of development and progress.”

The ongoing land issue in Kg Malinsou, Kg Wayan and Kg Sinurai in Ulu Sugut land which had been applied for by former Beluran Assemblyman, Ajad Oyong including an area covering three villlages in Ulu Sugut in early 1970s which the land was later inherited by his son, who then sold it to a company registered in Peninsular Malaysia. The land applied for was about 2,000 acres, but only 1,200 acres was approved after exempting the areas that are already cultivated by the villagers, is an example of a ‘FASTRACK’ system triggered by the ETP or Economic Transformation Program.

“This (the Ulu Sugut issue) is a perilous example on how the NCR is violated by the developmentalist agenda. Indigenous communities of Ulu Sugut and other communities confronting land issues are at the brink of losing everything unless this system is retracted. It has been reported in one study that many indigenous peoples signed up to the FastTrack scheme because they feared their lands would not be secure otherwise. The very fear of lands being labeled idle prompts smallholders into action to avoid interventions in the name of development or poverty alleviation. ” said Atama Katama who is also the United Nations Indigenous Youth Focal Point for Asia.

Sabah Land Ordinance 1930 (SLO) is the main source for the recognition of NCR in Sabah and provides a mechanism for both communal and individual land tenure by the indigenous but amendments to the SLO brought in the ‘FASTRACK’ system for claiming NCR which was the government’s policy to hasten the process, which involved the surrendering of the indigenous peoples rights to the land to state agents who issue a communal title (CT) subject to conditions for land use. Whilst the purpose of the amendment was alleged to have been aimed at poverty eradication, some critics have argued that ‘it has become clear that the purpose of this move was to assign these lands to large-scale agricultural development projects through joint-venture agreements involving communities and government or private sector agencies.

“When there is no systematic mechanism for the inclusion of indigenous communities in institutional planning and the administrative framework of the state especially regarding 2015 Budget, it is the failure of the State to recognize the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous Peoples. United Nations Member States again reaffirmed this in Article 3 of the Outcome Document during the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in New York on 22-23rd September  ” continued Atama Katama.

The WCIP 2014 or World Conference of Indigenous People was a historical high-level plenary meeting in the United Nations with an ultimate goal to produce an outcome document, agreed upon by Member States. Indigenous Peoples had no “official” say in the drafting process other than their input during the preparation process. This culminated in the Alta Outcome Document in 2013, and a consultative role through two informal interactive hearings, convened in July and August 18-19th of this year which Atama was part of a 4-member Global Youth delegate to negotiate with UN member state for youth priorities.

“It was a difficult position for global indigenous youths in the WCIP process but we managed to negotiation well with UN member states for their commitment to a youth priority article. ” he said.  

While Sabah State Delegates Tuaran MP Datuk Wilfred Madius Tangau and Datuk Osman Jamal the Director of Sabah Lands and Surveys Department also present at WCIP 2014, Atama felt that they could have done more to affirm the State’s commitment to indigenous peoples. 

“At WCIP2014, I observed the participation of Sabah’s Delegates as significant in high level international advocacy, however, they still have a long way to go as the Sabah State have zero presence in all Indigenous Peoples mechanisms in United Nations. Even in the WCIP2014, they did not contribute to Post 2015 Sustainable Development or the Land, Territories and Resources for the Roundtable Discussions. We felt that the WCIP2014 was a good opportunity for the State to share good practices instead of travelling to New York only to be sightseeing at the expense of the Sabah taxpayers.” said the Raptivist who is currently in New York for cultural socializing.

Indigenous peoples lands, territories and resources will continue to be exploited for the development projects such as mega-dams, mega palm oil plantations, mega-aquaculture projects, without the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples in the concluding 10th Malaysia Plan right through the April 2015 commencing of 11th Malaysia Plan (2016 – 2020).

Indigenous Peoples are not against development. Indigenous Peoples are opposed to the continued disregard of their self-determination in decision-making processes over their lands, territories and natural resources. Even though much of the remaining natural resources are on their lands, they are not considered rights holders or development partners.

The autonomous State Government of Sabah is obliged to move forward vis-à-vis the Outcome document of the high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly, known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 22nd September to develop and implement action plan stated in the Outcome Document Resolutions. Now that the 20 Points pre-constitutional safeguards had awaken the sleeping communities, it is the accountability of the State to honor Point 12 of the 20 Point Agreement - “The special right of indigenous races”.

* A Raptivist is a artist that highlights the ways in which culture can actively contribute to universal efforts for freedom and justice by challenging apathy withy awareness, ignorance with intelligence and oppression with expression.

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