Efforts to improve the level of education among Orang Asli students remain a top priority of the government, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today.
Mahathir said these efforts should be intensified with the cooperation of various parties through the provision of more education infrastructure, and the inculcation of awareness through campaigns on the importance of education.
"This awareness and change should begin at home, that is among the Orang Asli parents,” he said when opening the National Orang Asli Convention 2019 at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre.
Mahathir said there are now 1,090 Orang Asli studying in various courses at public institutions of higher learning (IPTAs), apart from those pursuing their studies overseas at the degree, Master’s and PhD levels.
"These figures signal to the government that the Orang Asli community is aware of the importance of education,” he said.
Mahathir said the high achievements of Orang Asli students also show that the community has leaders and intellectuals who can step forward to play a bigger and more significant role in setting the direction for the community and the country.
"Their highly encouraging achievements are surely the result of their own determination and hard work.
"It also encourages the government that the policies introduced have helped to produce these excellent students,” he said.
To achieve the target of providing formal education to every Orang Asli, he said, Putrajaya will continue to help Orang Asli students through the Education Promotion Aid Scheme implemented by the Orang Asli Development Department.
In the aspect of infrastructure development for Orang Asli settlements, the government gives attention to projects involving the supply of electricity and treated water, road construction and housing development, he said.
Based on the latest statistics, he added, Putrajaya has provided village roads to 84 percent of the 853 registered Orang Asli settlements throughout Peninsular Malaysia, 80 percent with electricity supply, 79 percent with water supply and 82 percent with Hardcore Poor Housing Project (PPRT) housing.
"The government is committed to these development projects, and it is hoped all these facilities can be provided 100 per cent, thus improving the standard of living of the Orang Asli community throughout the country,” he said.
Dr Mahathir said the government is also making efforts to improve their living standard through the generation of fixed and stable income under programmes implemented to strengthen Orang Asli entrepreneurs.
He said these programmes would be integrated with existing economic projects through training and guidance aimed at developing eco-tourism and agro-tourism for the Orang Asli.
"I am confident the Orang Asli eco-tourism or agro-tourism sector can develop the community’s economy by providing job opportunities which will directly boost the income of handicraft makers, makers of forest-based downstream products, thereby encouraging the community, especially youth, to venture into the entrepreneurial field,” he said.
The prime minister said every work initiative and development effort being implemented and to be implemented by the government to develop the Orang Asli community is in line with a human rights-based approach.
Mahathir said this approach is aimed at ensuring that every planned development and welfare programme will benefit the community by not sidelining their interests, and instead will safeguard them.
"This is very important to the government in ensuring that every policy that is developed has considered the interests of the Orang Asli community in Peninsular Malaysia, which is made up of 18 ethnic groups,” he said.
Dr Mahathir said several measures which are felt necessary to upgrade and strengthen JAKOA are being considered so that the department will be more effective in discharging its responsibility to safeguard the interests of the Orang Asli and develop them.
He said this is the government’s commitment to fulfil Promise 38 in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) Manifesto to champion the well-being of Orang Asal and to implement changes for the sake of the interests and life of the Orang Asli community.
The prime minister said the government had moved the department and placed it under the Prime Minister’s Department (JPM) under the supervision of Senator P. Waytha Moorthy, from the Rural Development Ministry previously, to optimise the use of resources and ensure its direction and function are in line with the role of the department.
As such, Dr Mahathir said he hoped that the convention could come up with resolutions to continue developing the Orang Asli community, apart from helping the government to understand their problems and the approach and actions needed to tackle them.
Meanwhile, a representative of the Orang Asli Batin, Mohamad Nohing, from Kampung Orang Asli Bukit Rok, Bera, Pahang, in his speech, said he hoped the PH government could resolve the issue of loss of customary land which has beset the community.
"This land is like our life to us, to ensure continuity in our living and to provide for our families. We do not have any property apart from customary land for cultivation and to harvest resources from the forests,” he said.
The convention was attended by 1,000 people, who included tok batin, Orang Asli youths and professionals, academics, and representatives of government agencies and non-governmental organisations to gather feedback for the preparation of the National Orang Asli Development Plan.
Themed ‘Strengthening Orang Asli Rights’, the convention focused on seven key areas - land, education, health, economy, leadership, infrastructure and culture.