“How dare ‘outsiders’ claim we don’t want agro forestry, eco-tourism projects!”

Ulu Ngemah Resident Association president Magai Sawing (seated, third from left) with representatives of the Resident Associations holding up their joint press release.

By Brandon Wong

KUCHING, April 3: The leaders of Junan/Belatong, Empurau/Lepong Gagup, Pasai, Semangat/Ngemah Ulu and Ulu Ngemah Resident Associations have come forward to declare their support for the agro forestry and eco-tourism projects to be built at Rumah Magai, Ngugun, Ngemah.

In a joint statement today, they alleged that the claim made by Thomas Laja, Entili Garaji, Ujang Sibau and Tr Lakun at a press conference on March 29, purportedly representing six resident associations that objected to the plan to turn 4,800 hectare of land in Ngemah into agro forestry and eco-tourism project, to be “false”.

According to their statement, the six associations mentioned by Thomas, comprising Sungai Spali Original Resident Association; Ngemah Tengah Ulu Original Resident Association; Pang Junan Original Resident Association; Ulu Ngemah Simujan Native Land Committee, Sungai Empurau; Lepong Gagup Native Land Committee and Sungai Pasai Native Land Committee had never been registered with the Registrar of Societies (RoS) and were not set up based on Iban Customary Law.

“Furthermore, there are only eight Tuai Rumah (longhouse chiefs) in the affected areas, namely, Tr Magai, Tr Seli, Tr Unjong, Tr Menoa and Tr Ambon (Sekuau) originating from Semir/Ngemah Ulu while Tr Andrew Balun and Tr Mamat Ujai are from Pasai, Empurau and Lepong Marga respectively, while Tr Salang is representing his longhouse that owns land in Belatong and Junan.


“None of us, the majority of the original inhabitants of the affected area appointed them (Thomas and his group) as patrons to our native customary rights land,” said the statement.

The statement pointed out that 95 per cent of the land owners in the affected areas have been looking forward to development, more income and having their land surveyed.

The Ministry of Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Land and Regional Development (Manred) is fully aware of what the land owners want.

“Officials from Manred have tried to contact Thomas and clarified with him at any place he named, but he refused to meet up with Manred officials.

“The small group led by Thomas does not understand the sufferings of the landowners who are in poverty because the small group consists of teachers and civil servants who can rely on their pensions, unlike other landowners who have no source of income,” it stated.

The statement pointed out that Ngemah is a river in the Kanowit District and the area is stricken by poverty and has been underdeveloped.

“Yet there are those who are opposing development brought about by the Sarawak government, which may bring income to the landowners.

“Therefore, we, as the land owners of the area, are insisting that the Sarawak government, specifically Manred and (its minister) Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas should come in to help develop our land in line with Manred objectives and to improve the economic status of our people and increase income sources for us.”

The statement claimed that Thomas had a political intention for turning a development issue into a political one. Hence, they asked him not to interfere with a land development plan that he has no part in.

“We agree that we are not been forced or defrauded. We understand the concept presented to us by the developers at the dialogue session held on Aug 26, 2018, at Kanowit District Office.

“However, our voice has been drowned by those who are not from our area and has no land in our affected area,” said the statement.

Thomas had on March 29, held a press conference in Sibu, where communities from 11 longhouses in Ulu Ngemah, Kanowit, supposedly objected to their ‘pemakai menoa’ (territorial domain) and ‘pulau galau’ (communal reserve) to be used for any form of development, including agriculture.

He said about 80 per cent of the longhouse folks and village chiefs had declined to have their 4,800 hectares of NCR areas be developed by fellow villagers, community leaders or private companies for such purposes.— DayakDaily