Berawans' Struggle in Mulu Paradise Continues
By Willie Kajan
2008-04-10 | Fighting an increasingly difficult battle, the Berawan struggle on in defense of native customary rights to their ancestral land that has now been alienated for development of the tourism industry. For the past few years, the community leaders have been trying to address the issue with the authority but nothing has come into effect.
In year 1993, the Sarawak Government intensified its publicity campaign against this group of indigenous people. The state ministers and their deputies openly criticized the Berawan as greedy people and refused to meet them. They claimed that the development of the tourism industry in Mulu is for the benefit of the people and the state.
The Chief Minister of Sarawak Abdul Taib Mahmud was quoted by the newspapers as saying that the state government will not hold any meeting with the Berawan. He stated that the Berawan do not have any proof of their Native Customary Right claim to the land in Mulu and the government is not going to entertain these greedy people.
Judging from the official statistics, it could not be disputed that tourism sector has fast becoming a main foreign revenue earner to the country. However, we have doubts with the real gains considering that in this case of the Royal Mulu Resort, the indigenous communities are victimized and exploited.
The Superintendent of Land and Survey approached the landowner Tama Lian Mallang, who has ancestral land rights, in 1975. The Superintendent told him that the government wanted to acquire his land for the building of the Mulu National Park Headquarters. When his land was surveyed, it was 19.9 acres. The Superintendent informed him that the value per acre was RM80.00 and the authority took 3 years to award the compensation to the landowner.
Instead of building the Mulu National Park headquarters, the authority alienated this pieces of land to private company to build the Royal Mulu Resort costing RM60 million in 1991. The Royal Mulu Resort started operating at the beginning of year 1993.
Our investigations further revealed that it is the Chief Minister of Sarawak Abdul Taib Mahmud’s family that will benefit more from this tourist resort project.
This company was given a provisional land lease on May 13th 1993 to an area measuring approximately 243 acres for the proposed second phrase of the Royal Mulu Resort and other property development purposes by the state Land and Survey Department. The name of the company is Borsarmulu Resort Sendirian Berhad (Sdn. Bhd. means Private Limited Company).
The company was given only a provisional lease because of the Native Customary Right land claims submitted by 21 families to that parcel of land and 79 other families claiming the large portion of the Melinau River. If it is established that the Berawan have no NCR land claim over this land ( the Sarawak Land Code needs urgently to be reviewed to provide adequate protection for Native Customary Right land) then the company will be given a final land title and will then be able to make a fortune out of it.
We believe that the company has been granted more land for the proposed tourist resort. That could only be established when more local indigenous Berawan communities submit their NCR land claims to protect their ancestral land.
Borsarmulu Resort Sdn Bhd, is a company established on 25th February, 1991. Its principal nature of business is started as general trading, property development and investment holding.
The shareholders of this company Borsarmulu Resort SDN BHD Company number: 213014 -M with a paid up capital are as follows:-
(1)RSP ARCHITECTS PLANNERS and ENGINEERING ( PTE ) LTD, RM 5,667,322
(2)PERBADAN PEMBANGUNAN EKONOMI SARAWAK (Sarawak Economic Development Corporation), RM 5,667,322
(3)238313–V KENYALANG CERGAS SDN.BHD, RM 5,890,000
(4)120985-K PLIERAN SDN BHD, RM 5.729.010
(5)WIDERVALE ASSETS LIMITED, RM 4.563.686
(6)17568–D SARAWAK LAND SDN. BHD, RM 2.833.660
Names of the Directors / Officers of this company Borsarmulu Resort SDN BHD - Company number 213014
(1)Raziah @ Rodiah Binti Mahmud, Datuk Hajjah ( Director ) Sarawakian
(2)Robert Geneid ( Director ) Australian
(3)Wan Lizozman Bin Wan Omar ( Director ) Sarawakian
(4)Chua Hong Chin ( Secretary ) Sarawakian
(5)Albert Hong Hin Kay ( Director ) Singaporean
(6)Chiew Chee Chong ( Director ) Singaporean
Raziah @ Rodiah Binti Mahmud is sister of the Sarawak Chief Minister of Sarawak Abdul Taib Mahmud and Robert Geneid is the husband of Raziah @ Rodiah Binti Mahmud are the directors of this company. This shows clearly that it is the Sarawak Chief Minister of Sarawak Abdul Taib Mahmud’s family that will benefit directly from the tourist resort and the Mulu World Heritage site development in Mulu.
With his personal interests at stake, little do we wonder why his state cabinet refused to talk to the Berawan? Furthermore, the Dayak Politicians are silent over this very matter.
The Berawan struggle for their land rights for their basic livelihood, which depends on their ancestral land. The political elites want this land for their material gains.
Who would benefit from such development? Who is greedy?
“In Malaysia we have a Sarawakian Robin Hood, who commits day light land robbery from the poor indigenous people and gives it to the rich people”.
With little resources, the Berawan have intensified their campaign to defend their land rights a few years ago. They have received tremendous support from individuals and groups, locally and overseas. They have also been successful in lobbying the sympathy and support of visiting tourists in the initial stage.
However, with the government beefing up its local authorities, including the police force, the Berawan were harassed, arrested and have had to struggle under tremendous pressure.
With its control over the mass media and intensified official publicity, we have noted that the government is in its latest efforts, trying to cripple foreign support to the Berawan.
During the few days demonstration in the year 1993 at Mulu Airport and the Mulu Park Headquarters, the Berawan leaders informed the tourists that they were not stopping them going to the caves and pinnacles.
Their action was to inform tourists that the Berawan are on strike because the authorities have not taken heed of their demands on native customary rights land in Mulu, Sarawak. If they went to the Park, they would be promoting tourism development that deprives the natives of their rights over their ancestral land. If they did not go to the park, they would be showing their solidarity and respecting that the local Berawan have rights to their land. The Berawans distributed pamphlets to provide them with a more balanced view of the situation. However, notwithstanding the Berawans' tireless efforts their limited resources make it very difficult to match or counter the huge government machineries. The Berawans just want as much balanced views as possible to reach foreign tourists.
It was also learnt that a lot of government servants, the management, and their staff of the Mulu World Heritage site are stationed in Mulu, to campaign for their political master.
We cannot actually blame the tourists for accessing the site from the Royal Mulu Resort whose only source of information is these government servants' propaganda. However, there are those tourist friends who have managed to talk to the Berawan and other local indigenous people when they ventured outside the hotel on their own initiative. The latter, who appreciated a more balanced view of the situation, have had a better understanding of the problem and are sympathetic to and supportive of the struggle of the indigenous communities, of which the Berawan are the majority.
During the 22 days in year 1993 picketing at the Mulu airport and Mulu National Park, the Penan leaders and their people in Mulu came and supported the Berawans. The Penan leaders told them that certain government officials agitated against them. In their own support for the Berawans, the leaders acknowledged that their present settlement was on Berawan land, and the Berawan leaders have said to them that they have no objection to the Penans' settlement on their land. What the Berawans object to is the authority not consulting and asking for permission from them since they have inherited ancestral land rights over the area in Melinau @ Mulu.
On 13th August 1993, the Berawans filed a suit in the Borneo High Court Miri Sarawak to apply leaves for an order of Certiorari to quash the decision of the Respondents under Order 53 of the Rules of High Court, 1980 against the Director of Land and Survey, the Minister for Land and Resources and the State Government of Sarawak.
During the hearing on 25th August 1993, the counsel for the Berawan community stressed his points on the application for the leave the whole morning.The State Attorney General, Mr J.C. Fong argued that Borsarmulu Sdn Bhd was given a provisional lease of 243 acres that has yet to be surveyed. The SAG @ Mr J.C. Fong said the final survey might exclude land subject to claims. He further added that there were groups of Berawan were having discussion with the government that day in Kuching. The counsel withdrew the case then since native rights have not been extinguished under section 5(3) of the Sarawak Land Code.
There were about 40 Berawans attending the hearing and a dozen lawyers who were interested in the case. This is the first case in the Dayak history in which the state government was sued. The mass media, as usual, published a distorted report claiming that the Berawan case was struck out by the court.
The counsel briefed the Berawans about their first victory and step to be taken now - submitting their immediate claims, and at the same time, make boundaries with each other in the area of Melinau @ Mulu where their claim is valid. In the meantime, Borsarmulu Sdn Bhd cannot operate its activities on land where the Berawan people make their claims.
Though the Berawan struggle seemed to be over and peaceful, somehow, it was still alive.
Somehow, in June 11th 2007 Borsarmulu Sdn Bhd had been extended a new plankwalk project from the Royal Mulu Resort to the Mulu World Heritage area, which would trespass and encroach on the Berawan Native Customary Rights land and which should only go ahead with the free, prior and informed consent of the Berawan people involved or affected.
The Berawan people had sent a letter requesting compensation; somehow, the management of Borsarmulu Sdn Bhd ignored their demands until today.
The Berawans insist on recognition of their rights to veto any developments proposed on their Native Customary Rights land without their consent.
"All development in their NCR Land should only go ahead with free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous people involved or affected".
On August 28th 2007, the Berawan took action and instructed counsel of HNL and CO Advocates and Solicitors, well-known NCR lawyer Harisson Ngau, to deal with infringements of the law and trespassing of their Native Customary Rights land by construction of the plank walk. This could also involve claims of million of ringgit ultimately.
The Berawan have now had to return to their struggle and continue their protest against Borsarmulu Sdn Bhd, the Land and Survey Department, the Minister for Land and Resources and the State government of Sarawak.
We need your help and your support to spread the word and tell others about how the “official” story that communal conflict and NCR land disputes have been solved is not true. Be advised when you come over to Mulu so that you will be more aware of the issue. Please talk to the community people besides the government officials.
Send letters, fax and email messages or make telephone calls to the Chief Minister of Sarawak Abdul Taib Mahmud, and Deputy Minister of Tourism of Malaysia, Sulaiman Abdul Rahman bin Abdul Taib Mahmud protesting against their family’s business involvement in their Borsarmulu Sdn Bhd project, and support the Berawans' struggle to defend their land rights - these will be very much appreciated:
(1) Name: YAB Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Haji Abdul Taib Bin Mahmud,
Address : Ketua Mentri Sarawak,
Pejabat Ketua Mentri,
Tingkat 22, Wisma Bapa Malaysia,
Petra Jaya, 93503 Kuching,
Telephone: + 6 082 442211 (office); + 6 082 256556
(2) Name: YB Dato Sri Sulaiman Abdul Rahman Bin Abdul Taib Mahmud (son of Sarawak Chief Minister)
Address: Ministry of Tourism, Malaysia
Level 6, 21-23, 32-36, Menara Dato Onn,
Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC)
45 Jalan Tun Ismail,
50695 Kuala Lumpur,
Telephone: + 6 03 2697 7108
Facsimile : + 6 03 2694 1146
Email : email@example.com
(3) Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
Prime Minister of Malaysia
Prime Minister’s Office,
Pejabat Perdana Menteri Malaysia,
Federal Government Administration Center,
Bangunan Perdana Putra,
(4) Dato Karam Chand Vohrah
SUHAKAM – Malaysian Human Rights Commission
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia
Level 29 Menara Tun Razak
Jalan Raja Laut,
50350 Kuala Lumpur,
Tel : + 6 03 2612 5600
Fax : + 6 03 2616 5620
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Your support in their campaign for native customary land rights will certainly contribute much towards the emancipation of our indigenous communities in Sarawak.
10th April email@example.com