Penan child (all pics courtesy of Sofiyah Israa / Flickr)
PETALING JAYA, 21 Aug 2009: Despite Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil’s pledge, the Penan task force report is still not available, not even to “interested parties” visiting her ministry.
Attempts by The Nut Graph yesterday — following the minister’s promise to make the report available to a limited audience of “interested parties” only — to access and examine the report at the Women’s Development Department (JPW) proved unsuccessful.
“It is not available now,” JPW director-general Datuk Dr Noorul Ainur Mohd Nur said when met at her office, even though it’s been nearly a year since reports surfaced that Penan women and girls were being sexually violated.
“I will pose this request (to access the report) to the minister, and get back to you,” Noorul said, when asked why an “interested party” such as a journalist could not access the report.
On 26 May, Shahrizat, in declining to commit to making the report public, said that “interested parties” would be able to approach the ministry to discuss the details of the report.
“A request has to be put in, and we will be happy to oblige,” Shahrizat had said.
The Nut Graph did notify the minister’s office of its intention to view the report through her media secretary. However, this request went unacknowledged.
The Nut Graph also wrote in to Noorul two days before going to her department but only received an e-mail response to say that she would revert on the request after having a task force meeting next week.
Penans saying grace
When met yesterday, Noorul said she “hoped” to have the report available for viewing after the meeting next week.
Neither Shahrizat nor Noorul have been able to explain why the task force report, which identifies the Penan community’s vulnerabilities in the Sarawak interior, cannot be made public or accessed by “interested parties”.
The Penan task force was commissioned by former minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen in October 2008. It was dispatched to investigate claims that logging company employees were sexually abusing young Penan girls and women.
While ten months have passed since the task force was dispatched to investigate the situation on the ground, its findings have still not been released.
This remains the case, despite calls by women’s and indigenous peoples’ advocacy groups for the government to make its findings public so that there can be public accountability.
“Important to forge forward”
When asked whether she thought that not declassifying the report reflected badly on the ministry, Noorul said that “we should not play the blame game”.
“What is important now is to forge forward, and think of ways to improve the lives of our indigenous communities,” she said.
Penan listening to a sermon at the village church in Long Adang
According to Noorul, who was also part of the Penan task force, despite the lack of public disclosure, various government departments had already begun to act on the task force’s findings.
Noorul revealed that on 27 May, the cabinet endorsed a plan of action to address the problems brought to light by the task force’s investigations.
“The JPW is working with Sarawak NGOs, such as the Sarawak Women for Women Society, in a three-phase programme to address issues of sexual harassment and mental development,” Noorul explained.
This action plan, after familiarisation phases in late June, will be implemented in October.
“This is the JPW strategy,” Noorul said, adding that the National Registration Department, as well as the health and education departments, were already undertaking their own strategies.
“What has been proposed must be implemented on the ground,” Noorul added. To this end, she revealed that the Penan task force would be reconvened to monitor such actions.
However, it will be hard to ascertain whether the task force’s recommendations are firstly, adequate and secondly, implemented if the public remains in the dark about what its recommendations are.
Sarawak police reportedly told NGOs they cannot afford Penan-Malay interpreters to conduct investigations
This lack of public accountability and the 19 Aug revelation that the Sarawak police would not be supporting a joint police-NGO mission to investigate the reports of abuse due to a lack of funding, is worrying. It raises the question of whose interests are really being protected in Sarawak.
But Noorul would not be drawn into such a discussion. Instead, she stressed the need for NGOs and the public sector to work together.
She added that the JPW welcomed interested NGOs who wished to work with the ministry on Penan welfare. “The more the merrier,” Noorul said.
The terror of government silence
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