Batek deaths: Gov’t agencies failed the community

Batek deaths: Gov’t agencies failed the community

PETALING JAYA: The Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) director general Dr Juli Edo blamed the death of the 15 Batek tribe members in Kampung Kuala Koh to various factors, including the failure of government agencies.

“When my wife and I reached arrived in Kuala Koh, there was only water and home. I would die if I had lived there.  Poverty was not addressed. There was also the issue of environmental degradation,” he said.

Juli also hurled brickbats at the PAS-led Kelantan state government for the deaths of the Batek people.

“The state government failed to understand the issue.  They considered it unimportant.  I understand their (the Batek people’s) lives.  The state doesn’t care about the Orang Asli,” he alleged.

Juli also criticised the Health Ministry and JAKOA staff at the district level for not having the passion to champion the welfare of Orang Asli.

“The Health Ministry blamed the nomadic lifestyle of the Batek community for the failure in vaccination.  JAKOA at the district level also failed to do their jobs.  The majority of the JAKOA staff also are not passionate in the cause,” he said.

Juli also pointed out that the staff at the government agencies had built an ‘us versus them’ attitude in engaging with the indigenous community.

“There is this ‘us versus them’ attitude and this affects government agencies’ delivery system.  It is due to high ethnocentrism,” he said.

Dr Juli Edo, head of the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa).

Juli was speaking at a forum entitled “What has led to the Kuala Koh catastrophe?”, organised by Centre for Malaysian Indigenous Studies (CMIS) in University Malaya on Friday evening.

Earlier, senior dermatology consultant, Dr Steven Chow KS rubbished the government’s announcement that the death of the 15 Batek tribe member was due to measles.

Juli also said that the attitude of pushing the buck between JAKOA and the health departments are prevalent.

“When we are treated as second class citizens, we don’t go to them,” he said.

He added that there was a lack of coordination and maintenance within government agencies to support Orang Asli communities.

“As a member of the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma), I can say that there is no coordination in resolving this issue.  There are water filters in villages, but it is not maintained.  There are cases of vandalism in tube wells,” said Juli.

Having said that, he urged the NGOs and the private sector to work together with JAKOA to uplift the community.

“Jakoa can’t work in silo.  We need help from the private sector.  NGOs should raise constructive criticism with solutions for the issues raised.

He also revealed that his department is not given high priority by the government.

“It is designated as low priority and given a small allocation.  In the education sector, only RM90,000 was allocated out of RM23 million for 45,000 Orang Asli students.

“Am I supposed to go around giving RM2 for every Orang Asli student?”

“A total of 150 houses were allocated for 850 Orang Asli villages.  You need to question the government, not JAKOA on this,” said Juli.

He also revealed that Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail has apologised personally to him over the series of errors.

He added that Wan Azizah has suggested that Felda Global Ventures to conduct corporate social responsibility activities that would aid the indigenous community.

By: K Pragalath