PETALING JAYA: Orang Asli groups and members of the community want the government to push ahead with revisions to the Aboriginal Peoples Act immediately and not wait for a study on the amendments to the Act to be carried out.

They said the Orang Asli community, now numbering over 170,000, was in urgent need of measures to protect their livelihood and resolve issues pertaining to logging, land occupancy and tenure.

The Act has not been amended since it was first passed in 1974, except for a minor revision.

It was reported that the Department of Orang Asli Development (Jakoa) is expected to begin a study on amendments to the Act this year to provide better protection for the community.

The studies are expected to be completed by 2025.

Centre for Orang Asli Concerns coordinator and founder Colin Nicholas said things should be moving forward now as the proposals had been submitted in 2001 and 2010.

“The government should also look at the previous proposals as a benchmark for the upcoming study instead of starting from scratch,” he said.

“It’s been a 20-year wait and we should move forward.”

Nicholas suggested that instead of amending the existing Act alone, the government should consider developing several legislation in relation to the Orang Asli.

“Something similar has been done for forests, whereby there is no one unified Act but multiple ones working on the same piece of land, such as the Wildlife Conservation Act, the various laws governing the environment, national parks and biodiversity, apart from the Forestry Act itself.

“The same can be done for the Orang Asli where it can create a clearer definition towards their various rights to culture, social development, identity and lands,” he said.

He added that it was also necessary for amendments to clearly stipulate the role of Jakoa as an agency that serves the community instead of being a representative.

Nicholas noted that although the Orang Asli generally know what changes they wanted, they had yet to submit their recommendations that could be presented in Parliament in the form of a Bill.

“These will comprise the various aspects of which Acts and regulations need to be amended, added or deleted to ensure that the laws accurately reflect their interests and rights.

“Sometimes, they may also refer to a draft law on Orang Asli land that was submitted to the government when in reality, the draft Bill was done by us and a lawyer, Lim Heng Seng,” he said.

Nicholas added that this previously occurred when the draft law was done in the late 1990s before being resubmitted in 2009 to the Selangor government.

An earlier version was submitted in 2001 to the Federal Government through the then finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin.

Orang Asli Development Cooperative founder Ramesh Arumugam Chettiar said there was no need for another study on the Act, adding that immediate amendments should be implemented.

He said the government should begin taking action given that there were already a number of studies done by organisations, such as the United Nations and Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), that could be referred to.

“The pressing issue now is that some of the provisions in the Act are contradicting the other laws pertaining to forestry and animal conservation.

“When a state government keeps issuing logging licences, although it’s fine as long as it is sustainable, it affects the livelihood of the Orang Asli,” he said.

Ramesh added that the logging industry had affected the Orang Asli’s source of food and water in some areas.

“The Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) regulations now include a provision that some animals are deemed illegal to be hunted.

“What would the Orang Asli, who are dependent on forest resources, have to do then to survive?” he asked.

Ramesh suggested that the government gazette more land for the community to protect their livelihood.

According to Jakoa, as of April last year, there were 178,197 Orang Asli comprising 18 sub-ethnic groups such as Temuan, Jakun, Semelai, Temiar, Semai, Mahmeri, Kensiu, Kintak, Jahai and Bateq.

Former senator Bob Manolan Mohamad, an Orang Asli, said there should not be any delays to the amendments.

He also urged Rural Development Minister Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid to carry out the studies immediately and present them to Parliament by next year.

“Why is there a need to wait another four years when the Act was supposed to have been brought to Parliament in 2001 and 2010?

“Draft proposals to the amendments have similarly been carried out in cooperation between the Orang Asli community, Bar Council and various Orang Asli NGOs as well,” he added.

On Friday, Mahdzir said the study on the existing Act by Jakoa this year was needed to ensure there were appropriate sections in the legislation to address current issues affecting the community.