Orang Asli ‘millionaires’ living in poverty
Jul 9, 04 6:54pm
An Orang Asli community in Lembah Linggiu is living in deplorable conditions despite being awarded RM38 million by the Johor Baru High Court in June 2000.
A spokesperson for the community today claimed that of this figure RM22 million is kept in a trust fund while the remaining RM16 million is unaccounted for.
“The situation we’re living in now does not reflect the court’s decision on our award as we’re still finding it hard to make ends meet,” Saling Lau Bee Ching told a press conference at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in Kuala Lumpur.
“Even our village headmen still have to work in places like a scrap-metal yard and while another is a security guard in a chicken farm.
“First we were victims of a government project that robbed us of our traditional land and source of livelihood, now we’re victims to mismanagement of our funds,” he added.
The Johor state government had acquired the land at the Sungai Linggui catchment area for the construction of a dam in the early 1990s. The land was used by the Orang Asli from surrounding villages for cultivation.
A lawyer was introduced to the village heads by a middle man, Hamzah Mohamed Tahir, who agreed to help them seek compensation for their loss to the source of their livelihood. A suit was subsequently filed with the Johor Baru High Court.
In December 1995, the court ruled in favour of the 52 plaintiffs and ordered RM26.5 million plus an additional RM11.5 million in accumulated interest (from Nov 1994 - May 2000) be paid to them. From the total RM38 million, the High Court ordered RM22 million to be placed in a trust fund.
From this trust fund, RM900 was supposed to have been paid to each plaintiff per month. All the above was recorded in the court’s judgment and a trust deed approved by the court.
The balance RM16 million was supposed to have been paid to the legal firm Khana and Co handling the case and after deducting legal fees and other costs, the remainder monies were supposed to have been distributed to the plaintiffs.
“We have to date only received an initial payout of RM2,500 for each villager (total of 401 persons) in the year 2000. Later each villager was given RM100 for nine months contrary to the court’s decision.” said Saling.
Unhappy with the insufficient payments the, the plaintiffs complained to their lawyer S Kanawagi and Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (JHEOA). The JHEOA, the lawyer and two village heads are named as trustees in the deed.
“After that, the 52 plaintiffs started receiving RM900 per month from the trust fund to date but we have yet to see any of the balance form the RM16million.
“We then made another complaint to because we were unhappy that our lawyer had not disclosed how the money was being utilised and had not revealed detailed accounts of the monies,” Saling added.
During a meeting in June 2004, he claimed the lawyer stated that RM22 million was in the trust fund but did not reveal accounts concerning the interest from the trust fund and what had happened to the balance from the RM16 million.
Saling later lodged a police report in Johor on July 5 on behalf of 36 other plaintiffs, in which they claimed the lawyer was to receive a fee of RM500, 000 only and that the plaintiffs did not make any prior agreements for other deductions to the award money.
“We (the plaintiffs) believe there was fraud and embezzlement of our award money. The RM16 million is not accounted for,” he added in the report, copies of which were distributed to the press today.
The villagers also claimed that when they pursued the matter with the middle-man, Hamzah, he had allegedly threatened to kill them.
The group is scheduled to file a complaint with the Bar Council’s disciplinary board against Kanawagi on Monday.
The press conference was organised by the National Human Rights Society of Malaysia (Hakam) and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) Johor branch.
Hakam coordinator K Shan said the judgment in the case of Lembah Linggiu set a strong precedent in upholding the rights of the Orang Asli in this country.
He added that non-governmental organisations along with numerous parties around the world had welcomed and applauded the decision by the court.
“However we were appalled after seeing the conditions that the villagers are living in today which does not reflect the outcome of the case,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kanawagi when met at his office later, denied
any wrongdoing while Hamzah could not be reached for comment.
Lawyer denies shortchanging Orang Asli clients
Jul 9, 04 8:41pm
A lawyer who represented an Orang Asli community in Johor in a landmark case against the state government today denied that he had misappropriated a portion of the RM38 million awarded to his clients.
“There was no fraud involved. I have given the said monies to the appropriate parties while setting up a trust fund for my clients,” S Kanawagi told malaysiakini when met at his office in Kuala Lumpur.
In June 2000, the Johor Bahru High Court awarded RM38 million to the community in Lembah Linggiu after the state government acquired a part of their land to build a dam.
However, the community today accused
the lawyer of committing fraud and embezzling their windfall.
According to them, RM22 million was placed in a trust fund while the remainder RM16 million ‘has gone missing’.
“From the RM16 million, I have given RM3.6 to the (community’s) headmen to distribute among the plaintiffs and RM2.2 million to the middle-man who introduced me to the plaintiffs.
“The balance (RM10.2 million) was retained for legal fees and costs. The fees was not just for me. I had a team of seven very high class lawyers and some were even international professors,” Kanagawi said.
“I don’t think it is a very big amount to be kept as legal fees. In fact if we had stuck to the original agreement between me and the headmen, I would have retained RM19 million,” he added.
Kanawagi, who has been in practise for 18 years, also showed a copy of an agreement between him and three headmen from the Sayong Pinang, Samangar and Pasir Asam villages.
The agreement, inked on July 1995 (six months before the court reached it verdict) stated that in the event the court granted an award above RM6.4 million, the lawyer would be entitled to 50 percent.
“At no point in time did I agree to a legal fee of RM500 000. This is news to me. This is not true and is nowhere in the agreement” he said in rebutting claims made by his clients.
Questioned on Saling Lau Bee Ching, one of the plaintiffs who had lodged a police report on behalf of the others against Kanawagi, the lawyer said he had no recollection of meeting him.
“Saling I believe is a grassroots man and I don’t know him. He was never part to the agreement between me an the headmen.” the lawyer asserted.
He also said the middle man, Hamzah Mohamed Tahir, deserved the amount because of his hard work and effort in giving the community the chance to receive the award.
Kanawagi said he also plans to lodge a police report in Johor to counter the one lodge by Saling against him on July 5.
According to the lawyer, he had previously lodged a police report against his chambering student whom he claims was responsible for the scandal.
“I had a nephew who did his chambering here in my firm last year. He had full access to my files and I believe he has systematically removed my files during his tenure here. I believe he doctored the said agreement and passed it the people involved in this accusation,” he claimed.
Asked why his nephew would do such a thing, Kanawagi said he had no idea.
“When his term ended last year, neither of us expressed interest in him continuing here full time. I thought he left gracefully but I guess I was wrong.” he added.
He said if any document, apart from his copy relating to the legal fees surfaced, it would be proof that his nephew had stolen them.
In their police report, the villagers claimed to have only received only RMI million from the RM3.6 million that Kanawagi claims to have handed to the village headmen.