MIRI: Hundreds of affronted Penan native customary rights (NCR) landowners, who have been accused of stealing oil palm fresh fruit bunches (ffb) from four major government-linked oil palm plantations, have lodged a police report objecting to the allegation.The Penan community in Kampung Ugos, Jambatan Suai, in Baru Niah have taken offence to accusations levelled against them by State Land Development Minister James Masing.
Penan chief Ugos Sugon, who lodged the police report on behalf of his people at the Batu Niah police station on Aug 12, said Masing had no right to call them thieves.
“We are not thieves… we are not happy at being accused of stealing from our own land. We have been waiting for our dividends for a very long time.
“In February 2009, after waiting 13 years we received a cash cheque of RM500,000 to be divided among us.
“The 500 of us in Kampung Ugos are to share the RM500,000… after 13 years. It is not right,” he said.
Ugos and his people had, in 1999, agreed to jointly develop their NCR land with the Land Custody Development Authority (LCDA) and its band of private investors.
However, the “deal”, according to the villagers, was somewhat unfair to them.
Many claimed that they had not even seen the agreement.
The villagers believe the joint-venture (JV) project involving their NCR lands has made millions for LCDA and the private investors “in view of the very good oil palm price for many years”.
They feel the LCDA and its partners were shortchanging them.
The villagers were paid RM500 dividend every year. Many have expressed their unhappiness at the quantum.
Villager Jadam Ekem said they agreed to allow LCDA to develop their NCR land under a JV agreement because they hoped that their community would progress like other communities in the state.
He claimed that although the agency had paid them RM500,000, the payout was not documented properly and the purpose of the payment not noted.
They claimed allegations of stealing surfaced when they voiced out their unhappiness.
Since last year the plantation management has reportedly accused the Penans of stealing fruit bunches and selling them off on their own.
According to Masing, the situation had become worse since the recent state election on April 16.
Masing had reportedly said, last week, that illegal harvesting of oil palm fruits had cost LCD and its JV partners some RM33.6 million in losses.
Worst hit was the 1,855ha plantation belonging to SPB Penan Jambatan Suai Sdn Bhd in Suai, Miri, which has reported RM21.2 million in losses and the IOI Pelita Plantation Sdn Bhd plantation in Tinjar, Baram. The latter lost RM9.8 million.
Responding to the losses, Masing lashed out at the Penan community, saying: “Stealing is stealing, no matter how you (landowners) try to justify it. You don’t steal from your friend.”
During a press conference organised by Sarawak Natives Customary Rights Land Network (Tahabas), Ugos said the villagers were willing to meet with Masing over the issue and that he must apologise for calling them thieves.
Free Malaysia Today