“Saya bukan Melayu, saya Orang Asli”

by Gan Pei Ling / 2 May 2011 © The Nut Graph

(All pics below courtesy of Tijah Yok Chopil)

ONCE, when she attended a job interview in the Klang Valley, Tijah Yok Chopil’s Malaysian employer did not get it when she told him she was an Orang Asli.

“Dia ingat saya orang Indonesia atau Melayu … Saya beritahunya [selalu kita cakap] Melayu, Cina, India dan lain-lain, saya [sebahagian daripada] dan lain-lain … Apabila saya beritahunya ada 18 suku kaum Orang Asli di Semenanjung, dia lagi pening,” Tijah recalled.

The activist said it goes to show how ignorant some Malaysians could be about the indigenous people in Malaysia.

Tijah started her activism by founding her own women’s group in her kampung in Bidor, Perak called Kumpulan Ibu-Ibu Kampung Chang. From there, the group evolved into Sinui Pai, Nanek Sengik (New Life, One Heart) in 1995. They ran programmes to empower the community with economic skills and knowledge about their rights.

Over the years, the model spread to other villages in Perak and other states, eventually resulting in the formation of Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia (JKOAS). The grassroots network has been highlighting Orang Asli issues and campaigning for the government’s recognition of their land and indigenous rights.

Tijah, who is now JKOAS secretary, shares her humble beginnings and some Orang Asli folk tales with The Nut Graph in an interview on 23 Oct 2010 in Petaling Jaya.

TNG: Bila dan di mana Tijah dilahirkan?

Saya berasal dari Kampung Chang Lama Sungai Gepai di Bidor, Perak dan dilahirkan pada 17 March 1968 – sama tarikh dengan demonstrasi Orang Asli tahun lepas di Putrajaya.

Boleh kongsi asal-usul keturunan Tijah?

Saya tulen berketurunan Semai.

Mengikut kepercayaan nenek moyang saya, komuniti Semai sudah wujud di sini semenjak batu-batu masih lembut. Buktinya tapak-tapak kaki yang masih kekal di atas batu dekat kawasan air terjun kami.

Footsteps made by her ancestors when the rocks were still young, according to Tijah’s village folk tales

Ceritanya, [pada masa dahulu], ada dua orang adik perempuan yang dikejar hantu rusa. Kami memanggil dua orang gadis itu ubai baleh dalam bahasa Semai. Rusa itu sepatutnya dimakan tetapi tertangguh-tangguh selama tujuh hari sehingga terjemar menjadi hantu dan mengejar dua budak perempuan itu semasa ibu bapa mereka pergi ke hutan. Tapak kaki dua orang adik-beradik dan hantu rusa masih ada di kawasan air terjun sampai sekarang.

Ramai orang pernah tanya saya sejak bila Orang Asli wujud di tanah Semenanjung, kami tidak pasti jangka masa [yang tepat], tetapi kami tahu kami memang orang asal tanah ini, tidak ada keturunan dari negara-negara lain macam orang lain.

Selain daripada cerita tadi, apa cerita Orang Asli lain yang sering diberitahu orang tua yang Tijah gemar?

Ada banyak cerita. Menurut kepercayaan kampung saya, pada sesuatu ketika, tanah Semenanjung ini berada dalam keadaan yang gelap sebab bulan telah terjatuh ke bumi. Saya pernah mendengar cerita yang sama di kampung-kampung lain, mungkin keadaan ini berlaku sedunia.

Maka salah seorang nenek moyang kami yang halak (mempunyai ilmu spiritual yang tinggi) telah mengadakan sewang bubun gelap selama 14 malam, 14 siang untuk memujuk semangat bulan kembali ke langit. Ini kerana mereka mempercayai semakin lama [bulan] tinggal di bumi, dia akan makan manusia.

Nenek moyang yang halak itu kami memanggilnya Tok Churoq. Dia telah berjaya menghantar bulan balik ke langit. Maka bulan pun ingin membalas budinya dan memanggilnya untuk menyediakan tujuh lapis tikar krawoq, sejenis tikar mengkuang dengan anyaman khas yang sangat cantik.

Namun Tok Churoq tidak sempat menyiapkan tikar itu dan tuhaad (hadiah mengenang budi) itu terus menembusi bumi. Bulan memberitahunya batu itu sebenarnya batu umur, sesiapa yang uzur bersandar dekat batu itu akan menjadi muda lagi. Tetapi sekarang batu itu sudah jatuh ke dasar bumi, maka ditakdirkan umat manusia di dunia ini akan mati di atas bumi dan dihidupkan kembali apabila dikebumikan. Kepercayaan ini masih dikekal di kalangan kami.

Saya tahu cerita ini macam cerita dongeng, tetapi kami mempercayai dan menurunkan cerita-cerita ini dengan jelas kepada anak-anak kami.

Ada lagi cerita tentang asal-usul kejadian pokok, ikan, binatang dan sebagainya, saya suka mengambil cerita-cerita ini tetapi tidak ada masa untuk mencatat dalam buku betul-betul.

Apakah kenangan Tijah yang paling kuat semasa membesar?

Ibu bapa saya sangat baik hati, kami bukan orang senang, memang orang susah, tetapi mereka akan berkongsi apa yang ada dengan orang kampung. Kami tidak pernah makan bersendirian, mesti ada tetamu. Kadang-kadang kami berasa sedih kerana kami sendiri pun tak cukup makan.

With 100 other Orang Asli representatives attending a convention in Kuala Lumpur in December 2010

Bapa saya meninggal dunia ketika saya 12 tahun, keadaan menjadi lebih susah, emak saya terpaksa pergi menoreh getah, memancing ikan dan mencari ubi keledek, ubi keladi atau ubi kayu walaupun sakit tulang. Emak masih akan berkongsi makanan kami dengan orang lain pada ketika itu kerana dia memang tidak sampai hati orang lain melihat sewaktu kami makan.

Walaupun hanya 12 tahun, saya macam sudah dewasa kerana terpaksa membantu emak dan kakak, bersama-sama pergi menoreh getah kami seluas dua ekar. Pokoknya tidak banyak kerana sudah tua dan mati dimakan anai-anai.  Saya dan kakak juga bekerja di kebun sayur orang Cina, kami berjalan kaki sejauh tiga hingga empat batu tiap-tiap hari.  Kami tidak bermain-main seperti kanak-kanak lain, bekerja itu menjadi sejenis permainan bagi kami.

Sungguhpun saya seorang perempuan, saya pernah membuat pelbagai kerja macam anak lelaki – membacu simen, membuat pagar, memotong kayu sepanjang lapan kaki, sebesar ibu jari kaki dan diikat sebanyak 25 kelamin, selepas itu mengangkutnya ke suatu tempat yang diperlukan dengan memikul dibahu. Kerja ini kami lakukan sebelah petang selepas kembali dari kerja di kebun-kebun sayur Cina.

Adik-adik saya sangat berdikari kerana kami kerap meninggalkan mereka di rumah semasa kami pergi cari makan. Dari usia lima atau enam tahun mereka kena menjaga sendiri.

Tijah ada beberapa orang adik-beradik?

Semuanya ada 10 tetapi seorang telah meninggal dunia. Pada masa itu, dua kakak dan satu abang saya sudah berkahwin dan duduk di kampung lain, anak kelapan pula dipelihara mak cik saya. Maka tinggal kakak, saya, dua orang adik perempuan dan satu adik lelaki di Kampung Chang Lama.

Saya anak keenam. Kakak saya tidak mampu menghantar kami semua ke sekolah, hanya saya dan adik ketujuh yang bersekolah. Kami tidak tahu macam mana memohon bantuan daripada Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (sekarang ditukar nama kepada Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli) walaupun ia wujud. Semua orang di kampung kami membeli buku dan baju sekolah sendiri.

Selepas itu, kakak saya jatuh sakit dan emak pun tidak boleh bekerja kerana kena menjaganya. Dua orang adik terkecil pun mengikut emak dan kakak pergi tinggal di Kampung Langkap. Saya pula menumpang dengan satu keluarga Katholik di Tapah untuk menduduki SPM, tinggal adik saya yang menduduki SRP tinggal bersendirian di rumah.

Sebenarnya saya tidak merancang untuk mengambil SPM, saya sudah berhenti belajar semasa Tingkatan 4 dan keluar bekerja kerana kakak tidak mampu membeli buku untuk saya dan sudah kelihatan kurang sihat.

Tetapi seorang paderi datang mencari saya dan memujuk saya untuk menyambung pelajaran walaupun pada masa itu sudah bulan lima dan tinggal beberapa bulan sahaja sebelum SPM. Dia menyuruh saya untuk mencuba sahaja.

Speaking at an Orang Asli convention in December 2009 in Kuala Lumpur. This was when the idea to organise a march to Putrajaya in March 2010 to protest against a controversial land policy first emerged

Maka Tijah ada habiskan SPM?

Saya tidak mendapat apa-apa gred tetapi lulus beberapa subjek dan mendapat sijil am. Selepas itu saya tidak menyambung pelajaran lagi dan bekerja sekejap sebagai guru tadika di sekolah St Mary dan pernah bekerja di kilang juga.

Namun saya rasa tidak puas hati dan pekerjaan-pekerjaan ini rasanya bukan panggilan saya. Maka saya berhenti kerja, balik ke kampung dan bekerja di ladang sambil membuka kelas untuk mengajar budak-budak.

Saya juga cuba berbincang dengan orang kampung – apa yang terjadi dengan Orang Asli? Kenapa keadaan kita macam ini? Adakah kita suka keadaan sekarang?…Saya berfikir Orang Asli tidak akan menjadi orang terpinggir jika wujudnya satu sistem yang baik untuk [melindungi hak-hak] Orang Asli. Tetapi daripada menyalahkan orang lain, lebih baik saya memulakan sesuatu dan menguji adakah cara saya lebih berkesan untuk menjadikan Orang Asli lebih berkeyakinan diri.

Dan pendapat saya memang tepat, keadaan berubah selepas saya memulakan program untukempower komuniti. Daripada Orang Asli malu dan takut bercakap, mereka menjadi lebih berani untuk berkongsi pendapat mereka. Memang Orang Asli bercita-cita untuk memperbaiki status mereka supaya setaraf dengan orang lain, cuma selama ini mereka salah dianggap orang bodoh dengan otak kosong.

Orang lain yang sentiasa memutuskan dan berfikir bagi pihak Orang Asli apa yang bagus untuk mereka. Maka, semakin lama mereka bukan semakin terbuka, malah, kebijaksanaan dan keyakinan diri semakin terhapus.

Selepas saya yakin cara saya adalah betul, saya terus mengadakan aktiviti dan diskusi dengan orang kampung. Hasil usaha itu kami boleh lihat … Orang akar umbi yang tidak pernah bersekolah dan mendapat apa-apa pendedahan lebih baik daripada Orang Asli yang berpendidikan atau status tinggi, yang takut sangat nama atau gaji mereka terancam.

Sebaliknya, orang kampung tidak terikat dengan apa-apa, dia bercakap ikhlas apa [masalah] yang dihadapinya [di kampung], berdasarkan kebenaran. Kebangkitan dan kesedaran [golongan ini] lah yang menjadi isu Orang Asli lebih hangat timbul, masyarakat Malaysia juga lebih mengambil perhatian terhadap isu kami.

Jika tidak, selama ini Orang Asli dianggap anak emas kerajaan – Orang Asli minta apa-apa sahaja dan kerajaan akan beri! Itu tanggapan negatif yang salah. Sekarang ramai orang masyarakat sudah sedar apa yang benar-benar sedang berlaku dengan Orang Asli.

Bagaimana pula Tijah mengaitkan pengalaman-pengalaman ini dengan identiti sebagai warganegara Malaysia?

Sebenarnya Orang Asli sangat jelas dengan identiti kita. Kita bukan orang Melayu atau Cina, kita Orang Asli, orang lain yang confuse.

Tijah (right) in Kampung Chang in August 2008 to celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People

Orang Asli tidak macam komuniti lain, kita komuniti yang sangat terikat dengan alam semulajadi dan tanah kita. Kita punya budaya, kepercayaan, kesenian, falsafah kehidupan, cerita mitos … semua berkait kuat dengan tanah di mana kita berasal. Oleh sebab itu, apabila Orang Asli tiba-tiba diusir ke kawasan baru, mereka akan hilang identiti mereka. Berbanding dengan Orang Asli yang masih tinggal di tanah adatnya, Orang Asli yang dipindah ke kawasan baru, jiwa mereka tidak tenang dan adat resam mereka mudah hilang.

Kalau mengikut perlembagaan, kita bukan bumiputera. Kami memang anak jati sini yang tidak berketurunan dari negara lain, kami peribumi tanah ini. Orang Asli memahaminya, tetapi [selepas 53 tahun sejak kemerdekaan Malaya] pemerintah masih belum [sanggup] meletakkan Orang Asli di kedudukan yang tepat.

Setakat ini kami dikenali sebagai Orang Asal bumi Semenanjung tetapi jika secara rasminya masih dikategorikan sebagai “Dan Lain-lain” tanpa maksud yang jelas.

Malah kita sering dimasukkan sebagai orang Melayu, walaupun kita melihat orang Melayu sangat berbeza dengan Orang Asli. Nama Orang Asli pun digalakkan menggunakan “bin” dan “binti” walaupun sebelum ini kita biasa memakai “a/l” dan “a/p”. Ada juga ahli Umno yang menyogok Orang Asli menyertai Umno sedangkan parti itu tidak ada kena-mengena dengan Orang Asli. Jika Orang Asli boleh masuk Umno, maka kita sepatutnya boleh masuk MCA dan MIC juga.

Nampaknya pemerintah sendirilah yang confuse.

Saya pun tidak pasti sama ada mereka benar-benar confuse atau sengaja hendak mengelirukan orang lain.

Iktiraflah kedudukan Orang Asli di dalam perlembagaan. Kita bukan hendak mencabar atau mengambil alih kedudukan orang Melayu. Kita memahami mereka adalah bumiputera, tetapi macam Orang Asal di Sabah dan Sarawak, kita peribumi tanah ini dan sepatutnya hak-hak kita sebagai peribumi dipertahankan. Sekarang [pemerintah] yang memutuskan segala-galanya, ambil tanah Orang Asli dan menentukan siapa yang boleh digelar Orang Asli [sesuka hatinya]. Identiti kita macam sesuatu yang dipermain-mainkan.

Apakah perubahan yang Tijah ingin lihat di Malaysia pada masa depan?

Saya mahu Malaysia yang menghormati semua kaum. Kalau saya boleh mendapat sesuatu, kamu juga boleh dapat. Saya rasa itu lebih adil.

Saya tidak mahu Malaysia yang dikuasai oleh satu kaum sahaja dan kaum lain terpaksa menunduk kepada satu kaum. Itu tidak baik kerana siapa yang menentukan satu kaum lebih mulia daripada orang lain? Tuhan mewujudkan dunia ini dengan pelbagai kaum.

Saya hendak melihat rakyat Malaysia yang menyayangi satu sama lain, bekerjasama berjuang untuk kedamaian semua orang.


The book Found in Malaysia, featuring 50 of our best interviews plus four previously unpublished ones with Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir and Ramli Ibrahim, is now available at all good bookstores for RM45.

Going solar and renewable

by Gan Pei Ling / 18 April 2011 © The Nut Graph

Have you ever wanted to install solar panels at your home, but couldn’t afford the capital cost? Once the Renewable Energy Act comes into force, this dream could become a reality.

Passed by the Dewan Rakyat on 4 April 2011, the Act will allow individuals to sell electricity produced from renewable sources like solar photovoltaic at a higher rate than traditional power producers to Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB).

This incentive is expected to boost renewable energy industries and its current electricity generation share in the country from under one percent to 11% by 2020. But how will this work? Where will the funds come from? And will home-owning Malaysians be willing to be part of the new system?

Feed-in-tariff

Following the footsteps of pioneering country Germany and our neighbours Thailand and the Philippines, Malaysia will be implementing the feed-in-tariff (FIT) system.

Solar panels (© Raebo | Wiki Commons)

Electricity produced from four types of sources — solar panels, small hydro, biogas and biomass — will benefit from the FIT mechanism under the Renewable Energy Act.

Among these four, residential homes would benefit most from solar photovoltaic as a renewable energy source.

The other three sources — small hydro, biogas and biomass, would be more suitable for implementation by businesses as the capital expenditure could amount to millions. The table below demonstrates the different costs involved in setting up the different sources.

Solar PV Small Hydro Biomass Biogas
Installed capacity 6kW 10MW 10MW 4MW
Expenditure RM90,000 RM90mil RM90mil RM40mil

Source: Adopted from Malaysia Building Integrated Photovoltaic Technology Application Project leader Ahmad Hadri Haris’s March 2011 presentation

 

Going solar at home

Breaking down the numbers: How your 4kW system will pay for itself in around 15 years.

A normal household would usually need about 4kW capacity worth of solar panels, which would cost around RM72,000 to install. That’s about the price of a brand new Toyota Vios.

Too expensive to go green? Think again. Your Toyota Vios’s commercial value will be depreciating at a rate of about 10% a year, but not the income that you would be receiving from installing solar panels on your roof.

Under the FIT system, TNB will sign a 21-year agreement with households and pay at least RM1.49 per kWh electricity generated. Assuming production of 400kWh per month, this would amount to a payout of RM596 per month.

If a household’s electricity bill is RM200 a month, there would still be a steady monthly income of RM396 for the next 21 years, which could be used to repay the loan taken to install the solar panels. The 4kW system would pay for itself and start turning a profit within 15 years.

It is also worth highlighting that one will get paid more under the FIT mechanism if locally-manufactured or assembly solar inverters or photovoltaic modules are used, and/or used as part of building materials.

Granted, the scheme doesn’t bring about huge profits all at once, but I think most middle-class families would now be able to afford to install solar panels should they wish to.

However, it should also be noted that there will be an annual degression rate of 8% for the solar photovoltaic system. In other words, the later one joins the FIT scheme, the lower the FIT rate one will receive. This is based on the assumption that the cost of solar panels would go down once more people adopt it.

The degression rate will be reviewed every three years by the soon-to-be-established Sustainable Energy Development Authority to ensure the rates remain reasonable.

Making renewable energy commercially-viable

Residential homes aside, commercial renewable energy producers are the ones who are set to benefit the most from the FIT mechanism and who seem most excited about the new scheme.

Prior to the Act, TNB paid the same rate of RM0.21per kWh for energy whether or not it was produced from environmentally-friendly resources or from fossil fuel.

Under the FIT scheme, biogas and biomass electricity producers will finally be rewarded for their pioneering efforts and get paid at least 28% more than fossil fuel producers, as shown in the table below.

Biogas Basic FIT rate (RM) Biomass Basic FIT rate (RM)
Up to 4MW 0.32 Up to 10MW 0.31
Up to 10MW 0.30 Up to 20MW 0.29
Up to 30MW 0.28 Up to 30MW 0.27

Source: Renewable Energy Bill

They will be signing a 16-year contract with TNB and enjoy the same competitive rates throughout the period.

In addition, those who use locally-manufactured or assembled gas engine or gastification technology will enjoy a bonus of one sen on top of their basic FIT rate.

Biogas electricity producers who use landfill or sewage gas as a fuel source will further enjoy a bonus of eight sen. Biomass players will enjoy an additional 10 sen for using municipal solid waste as their fuel source.

Already, a 26ha renewable energy park is being built on a remediated landfill in Pajam, Nilai, which would consist of a 2MW biogas plant and 8MW solar power facility, and is expected to generate RM12mil gross national income in 2020.

Meanwhile, small hydro producers enjoy less incentive at RM0.23 to RM0.24 per kWh but their contract with TNB will last for 21 years under the FIT mechanism.

Renewable Energy Fund

The government or TNB will not be forking out its own money to pay the higher FIT rates. The funds will come from consumers. There will be a one percent hike in the current electricity tariff, expected in 2012, the revenue of which will be used to finance the Renewable Energy Fund needed to finance the FIT scheme.

In other words, if your electricity bill is RM200, you will be paying an additional RM2 and that amount will go into the Renewable Energy Fund.

However, the FIT mechanism is not meant to last forever.

It is expected that the cost of producing renewable energy will eventually be cheaper than electricity currently produced by fossil fuel producers. This is also given the fact that current energy prices do not reflect the true cost of production due to subsidies for natural gas and the government-controlled electricity tariff.  Once the cost of renewable energy drops below fossil fuel energy, the Renewable Energy Fund will cease to exist.

At that point, TNB would be able to directly purchase power from renewable energy producers as it would be cheaper than electricity produced from fossil fuel like gas and coal.

(© Indymedia | Wiki Commons)

In the meantime, for the FIT mechanism to be implemented successfully, the government will need to widely publicise the new scheme to home owners and commercial producers and for many to participate in it. Only then will Malaysia be able to increase its renewable energy production to meet and hopefully, surpass its target of 11% by 2020. If Malaysia can push its renewable energy industries forward and make them cost-effective, not only would we be reducing our reliance on fossil fuel and carbon emission, we could even drop the idea of going nuclear, too.


Gan Pei Ling is looking forward to installing solar panels in her own home.

Greater transparency with Selangor’s sunshine law

by Gan Pei Ling / 15 April 2011 © Selangor Times

Selangor made history when it became the first state in Malaysia to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) Enactment at its state assembly on April 1.

The state now joins more than 90 countries, including our neighbours Thailand and Indonesia, with an FOI law that recognises citizens’ right to information.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) has hailed the passing of this law as a “breakthrough” amid an entrenched culture of secrecy among our government bodies backed by the Official Secrets Act (OSA).

Compared to its original draft tabled last July that was heavily criticised by civil societies, the FOI Enactment passed last Friday has seen several improvements.

Greater transparency and accountability

Firstly, civil servants can now be fined up to RM50,000 or sentenced to five years’ jail, or both, if they are convicted of intentionally giving false or misleading information.

It is also considered an offence if civil servants intentionally restrict or deny public access to information, unless that information is specifically exempted under the law. Civil servants were not liable to such a penalty in the original draft of the FOI Bill.

Secondly, the FOI Enactment now covers not only state departments, but local councils and all state-owned or state-controlled bodies as well.

Thirdly, the Appeals Board has been replaced by a more independent State Information Board to review appeals from applicants whose requests for information have been rejected.

Under the law, the State Information Board must be led by former legal practitioners and independent members not holding any political office or position in any political party.

CIJ also pointed out other improvements in the law, such as a narrower list of exemptions and a 20-year time limit for keeping exempted information confidential.

In addition, information officers and civil servants who disclose information in good faith are protected from prosecution, sanctions and suits.

Impact on general public

When asked by Selangor Times how the FOI Enactment would benefit the people, CIJ executive officer Masjaliza Hamzah said the law had far-reaching impacts in very practical ways.

“If there’s a landslide and the state sets up a committee to inquire into it, under the FOI Enactment, one could argue that the public should have access to reports about the proceedings, including statements recorded from those who testify.

“In other words, we don’t have to wait for the Menteri Besar to declassify it,” said Masjaliza.

“If the playground near your house is in a bad state, you can ask the local council for the amount spent on maintenance and find out who built it.

“Of course, all these are just scenarios; the law will need to be tested,” she said.

FOI select committee chairperson Saari Sungib (Hulu Kelang) had told Selangor Times previously that the state expects tremendous requests for information at local councils and land offices once the law is enforced.

One can anticipate concerned residents requesting information on the state and local councils’ expenditure, tenders awarded and land transactions, to name just a few.

Despite that, it should be noted that filing an application and pursuing it would still take time and energy.

Limitations of the FOI Enactment

Nevertheless, Selangor’s FOI Enactment has certain limitations.

Information classified as official secrets under the OSA is beyond the state law’s jurisdiction.

Individuals’ private information or trade secrets obtained by the state in confidence, as well as information that would “severely jeopardise” the state’s policy implementation or development, can also be kept confidential.

However, such information can be disclosed if there is an overriding public interest or if it is for the investigation of an offence or misconduct.

Besides that, a good FOI law should keep the application fees low, but this was not stated in the enactment.

“Costs should be kept low. Otherwise, it can become an administrative obstacle that denies the public affordable access to information,” CIJ pointed out in its April 1 statement.

CIJ also highlighted that the enactment did not specify the appointment process of the State Information Board.

“This must be an open and transparent process where the public can nominate candidates and the shortlist is published. This will strengthen the independence of the board,” CIJ added.

The law also does not mandate the periodic publication of information to make information more accessible to the public.

“Routine publication will help to reduce the administrative burden on information officers and increase transparency across all public bodies,” said CIJ in response to the shortcomings in the law.

The state’s FOI taskforce chief, Elizabeth Wong, said the FOI Enactment is a “dynamic, living legislation” and the legislature can improve the enactment from time to time.

“This is only the beginning of our journey to introduce a culture of openness and transparency in public administration,” said Wong.

Related post: Freedom of Information FAQ

Freedom of Information FAQ

Compiled by Gan Pei Ling / 15 April 2011 © Selangor Times

What is Freedom of Information (FOI) and why do we need laws to ensure it?

As tax- and ratepayers, the public has a right to know how governments use and manage public funds. FOI laws empower the public with access to information, and allow inspection of files and scrutiny of government administration.

In other words, a good FOI law helps promote transparency, accountability and reduce graft.

Does Malaysia has a FOI law?

We do not have a FOI law at the national level, but Selangor passed the FOI Enactment in its state assembly on April 1. It is the first state to do so.

Following Selangor’s footsteps, Penang also tabled its FOI bill in November 2010, but the draft has came under fire from civil societies as lacking in substance.

The Selangor FOI bill also came under severe criticism when it was first tabled in July 2010. However, the legislature appointed a select committee to consult civil societies and civil servants to improve the bill.

An amended version was tabled on March 28 and passed without objection on April 1.

When will Selangor’s FOI Enactment come into force?

Elizabeth Wong, who is leading the Selangor’s FOI taskforce, said it would take around six months for the state to enforce the law.

She said they would need to appoint and train information officers in all relevant bodies to handle information applications, draft the application forms, and set up a fee structure.

Selangor also needs to set up the State Information Board, which would review appeals from applicants whose request for information has been rejected.

Wong, who is also the executive councillor on tourism, consumer affairs and environment, estimated that Selangor would need to allocate RM1 million to enforce the FOI law.

Who will give me information? Is there a fee?

An information officer will be trained and appointed in each department to handle public requests for information. The information officer is required to respond in writing to your application within 30 days from the date of acknowledgement of the application.

Illiterate or people with disabilities may make a verbal request to the information officer, who will then make a written application on behalf of the applicant and provide a copy of it to the applicant.

The fee structure has yet to be ironed out by the state.

What is covered under Selangor’s FOI Enactment?

Once the FOI law comes into force, you can request for information from any state department, local council, or any entity owned or fully controlled by the Selangor government. For example, you can request for information on the state and local councils’ expenditure, tenders awarded, and land transactions.

However, information classified under the federal Official Secrets Act, individuals’ private information, and trade secrets obtained by the state in confidence are exempted under the FOI enactment.

Secrets from states or international organisations may also be kept confidential if its disclosure would affect Selangor’s relations with other states or international organisations.

The information officer may also refuse to disclose information that is likely to severely affect Selangor’s development.

Despite that, information must be provided if there is an overriding public interest that outweighs the risks stated above.

The information officer may also allow access to exempted information if it is required for the investigation of an offence or misconduct.

However, all exemptions lapse after 20 years.

What if my application is rejected, or if I’m not satisfied with the information provided?

You can appeal to the State Information Board, made up of former legal practitioners and independent members, within 21 days after you receive the notice from the information officer.

Sources:
FOI Enactment (Selangor)
www.cijmalaysia.org
www.righttoinformation.org

Related post: Greater transparency with Selangor sunshine law

Taking on the MRT

by Gan Pei Ling / 21 March 2011 © The Nut Graph

Click image to view larger version (source:kvmrt.com.my)

Touted as the new “backbone” of public transport in Klang Valley, the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) has been the talk of the town since its first line of its overall scheme was revealed on 13 Feb 2011.

An estimated 51km long, the Sungai Buloh-Kajang line will have 35 proposed stations. Total construction cost will only be known in May, Parliament was told on 15 March. But Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) CEO Nur Ismail Kamal has said it could reach RM50bil.

While most people have expressed support for the MRT, those whose lands would be acquired for the rail line are understandably worried and upset. Just as disturbing is the lack of information about the total MRT master plan. Without this, can the public really make an informed assessment about the project, especially for those who stand to lose their properties to make way for the rail line?

Troublemakers or legitimate victims?

“Jika saya tak kena, saya [akan] support [project ini] juga,” a civil servant whose home in Cheras would have to make way for the Sungai Buloh-Kajang line, told me during a MRT briefing in Kajang on 10 March.

Part of his land has already been taken for the Cheras-Kajang Expressway. This time, his entire family will be displaced by the rail line once the alignment is confirmed. The 55 year-old government servant did not want to openly oppose a government project and so declined to be named.

“Put yourself in their shoes. Those who aren’t [directly] affected are of course happy to support the project, but we can’t be that selfish,” Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) residents’ association Hatim Abdullah said in a phone interview.

TTDI, Taman Suntex and Kampung Batu 10 Cheras are some of the “critical areas” that would be affected by land acquisition, according to the detailed environmental impact assessment released on 14 Feb.

But residents from Kampung Sungai Balak, Kajang are probably the most unlucky. The shrinking Malay reserve land is going to be affected by land acquisition for the third time in a little over a decade.

Silk highway (© diablo | Wiki Commons)

They have had to give up some of their land for the Cheras-Kajang Expressway in 2000, the Silk highway six years later, and now for the 25ha MRT depot.

It is uncertain yet how many people in total would be displaced by the Sungai Buloh-Kajang line as the railway’s alignment has yet to be finalised.

Nevertheless, it should also be noted that the planners are trying to minimise land acquisition and cost by building the MRT line mostly along roads and highways utilising existing road reserve lands.

It is also commendable that the government agency supervising the MRT project, SPAD, has been organising dialogues with residents to brief them about the project and to collect feedback.

Lack of information

Despite that, there are still complaints from members of the public that they lack access to information.

As public display of the project plan at the local councils is only available during office hours, those working have to take time off to view it. In addition, the information officers in charge of the public displays are generally not available during lunch time, when most working people would choose to visit.

There are also niggling doubts among those to be affected by land acquisition of their properties, that the government would listen to their feedback and adopt their suggestions for alternative routes.

This is because while the railway’s alignment has yet to be fixed, it has been announced that open tender is expected to be called in April. Land acquisition is scheduled to take place in May and June, and construction starting in July.

Since the public consultation period only ends on May 14, isn’t it too soon to call for open tender in April, acquire land by June, and start construction in July? All this smacks of a rushed job and begs an explanation.

The rush to begin the Sungai Buloh-Kajang line is puzzling to say the least, more so when the 20-year master plan for Greater Kuala Lumpur / Klang Valley public transportation system is only expected to be ready by this September. Why can’t the entire plan be revealed for public feedback before rushing to begin just one rail line?

Holistic planning needed

With declining public transportation usage from 34% in 1985 to a low 18% in 2009, I understand the urgent need to revamp our public transportation system. Indeed, as a “greenie”, nothing is more exciting that seeing a comprehensive transportation plan that would drastically reduce the number of cars on the road.

An LRT station (© two hundred percent | Wiki Commons)

However, we all know that the MRT itself is insufficient to boost public transportation system in the Klang Valley. It needs to be integrated with buses, taxis, the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and KTM commuter system.

Really, until that 20-year master plan is unveiled, the public would not be able to scrutinise the Sungai Buloh-Kajang line effectively. Especially since the Sungai Buloh-Kajang line is only the first MRT line, and the public has little idea about how the second and third line would look like and where it would run.

Meanwhile, the least we could do is to make sure that the voices of those affected by land acquisitions are heard and their concerns taken into account.

And when the final alignment of the Sungai Buloh-Kajang line is revealed in May or June, hold the government accountable to see if they have included the workable alternative routes suggested by these communities.


Gan Pei Ling would support any public transportation plan, with the conditions that they are planned properly and executed with care to ensure minimal disruption to the people’s lives during and after construction.

Forests in Selangor under threat

by Gan Pei Ling / 21 February 2011 © The Nut Graph

THERE was much cause for celebration when Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman announced on 16 Feb 2011 that the plan to build a 30 megawatt coal plant in the state’s pristine east coast had been scrapped.

Instead, the government is now considering gas and other cleaner energy options like biomass. Activists, particularly those from environmental coalition Green Surf, ought to be commended for their tireless campaign, since 2007, against the proposed coal plant.

Postcard protesting the coal plant (© Postcards to PM)

I wish the same were happening for the forests in Selangor. The state has been delaying its decision on a proposal to convert the Kuala Langat South peat swamp forest to an oil palm plantation. Additionally, the federal government has been turning a deaf ear to civil societies’ opposition against the Kuala Lumpur Outer Ring Road.

Indecisive Selangor

It was in late 2010 that the Selangor Agriculture Development Corporation proposed to develop the 7,000ha Kuala Langat South forest reserve into oil palm estate. The clearing of the forest could potentially generate RM1bil in timber revenue.

Map of Selangor State Park, with permission from Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES).

It is troubling that the Pakatan Rakyat-led state did not reject the proposal immediately. After all, it announced that it would impose a 25-year moratorium on logging when it came into power in 2008.

To the Selangor government’s credit, however, it did commission an audit in December 2010 to assess the forest’s biodiversity value. In addition, it has engaged environmental non-governmental organisations as well as government agencies in its biodiversity audit.

The audit report was expected to be presented to the state in January 2011 but it was postponed to early February. To date, the Selangor government has yet to make an official announcement on the matter.

When asked by reporters recently if a decision was made at the Selangor Economic Action Council’s meeting, executive councillor Elizabeth Wong, who is in charge of the environment portfolio, skirted the issue.

Granted, commissioning an audit to assess a forest’s biodiversity value before clearing it for plantation or other development purposes would be unimaginable under previous state administrations. But the state’s current indecision on the Kuala Langat South forest reserve also seriously raises doubt about whether the state might revoke the status of other forest reserves when there is further pressure for development.

It should be noted that the Kuala Langat South forest reserve can be deemed as the most important peat swamp left in southern Selangor as almost all others have been lost to development.

Putrajaya’s silence

Another lingering threat to Selangor’s forest reserves is the KL Outer Ring Road which would cut through the ecologically-fragile Selangor State Park.

A federal government project, the highway is being proposed to ease traffic congestion on the Middle Ring Road Two. Construction near the Kanching Forest Reserve has already begun but the road alignment that would slice through the Selangor State Park has yet to be confirmed.

Photo of Klang Gates Dam at dawn in 2010 (by Gan Pei Ling)

Gazetted in 2005, the 108,300ha park is an important water catchment area for the Klang Gates Dam and Ampang Intake. Ironically, Putrajaya and Selangor have been wrestling over the construction of the Langat 2 plant to source water from Pahang to avoid potential “water shortage” in the state. Yet, little attention has been given to the highway’s potential impact on Selangor’s water supply.

To date, the federal government has yet to respond to civil societies’ objections against the KL Outer Ring Road.  The Selangor government has said it is not within its power to scrap the highway.

An election issue?

Compared to the proposed coal plant in Sabah, which has been going on for a few years and also attracted international attention, the threats to the Kuala Langat South forest reserve and the Selangor State Park have received much less media attention.

However, if there are some lessons to be learnt from the anti-coal activists, it’s that with persistence and a persuasive campaign strategy, governments may be compelled to listen to civil society after all.

In the end, the people are the boss in a democracy and if the government-of-the-day wants to be re-elected, it had better learn to listen to the people — not just wealthy developers, but environmental groups and concerned citizens, too.


Growing up in the Klang Valley, Gan Pei Ling didn’t know until recently that around 30% of land in Selangor is still forest reserves. She hopes most, if not all, of these reserves will still be around in 2050. Would that be too much to ask?