I refer to NST 23/10/08 and 24/10/08.
For the past two days, YB Sivanesan has been making outrageous statements on urban pioneers (peneroka bandar) in Perak state, in the context of the 12 families who are being moved out of the Kinta River reserve.
Among other things, he said:
# If the 12 families stay put and do not accept rental of government flats as alternative housing, and RM3000 compensation, the state will forcibly move them out (NST 23/10/08).
# The Perak government wants the Federal Government to increase the number of enforcement officers in the nine districts in the state to help Perak 'deal with the squatter problem'
# The shortage of enforcement officers had resulted in the increase in the squatter population every year despite the zero squatter policy of the previous state administration.
It is disappointing that Sivanesan's understanding of, and attitude towards the issue of urban pioneers is no better than the Barisan Nasional's, to whom urban pioneers are squatters, illegal, and have no rights at all. As long as urban pioneers are seen as offenders and law-breakers, as long as they are viewed in a purely legalistic manner, as people who do not have grants to the land they are on, and have been on - a substantial number from even before Merdeka - no justice can ever be done.
The history and contributions of the urban pioneer community in the country must be borne in mind when trying to address the problem of so-called squatters. To a large extent, urban pioneers are the rural-urban migrants who heeded the government's call for cheap labour to work in the industries that were newly being set up. Unable to rent or purchase houses on their low wages, they rehabilitated disused land and built whole new villages, in the process, raising the value of the land. The government gave recognition to the urban pioneers by providing water, electricity and telephone services to these communities. Not only that, during every election, such communities have been the vote-fishing grounds of politicians from all parties, all promising them grants or alternative land/housing.
Regular census exercises were carried out by the government and up to the 90s, the government resettled the urban pioneers on housing lots in planned villages. However when the government realized that land could be sold as a commodity for profits, it began to view the urban pioneer community as a burden and an obstruction. Forced evictions in the name of development became rampant, and very often such evictions were not accompanied by the offer of alternative housing. After intensive campaigns by groups such as JERIT, and the politically-costly standoffs on the ground, the government has lately begun offering alternative housing, alas, in the form of flats.
One needs to understand the background of the urban pioneer community, and its current situation to properly address and resolve the issue. Wages continue to remain unrealistically low; in fact real wages have dropped, whilst the price of housing has shot up. Low cost houses which once cost RM25,000 are now priced in the region of RM42,000. Falling income, rising prices – one does not need rocket science to understand why the urban pioneer community, who are largely underpaid labourers, can only increase in numbers.
That being the case, any number of enforcement officers, any amount of force in evictions, and any extension of the BN's brutal zero-squatter policy will not solve the problem. All these are the shortsighted, inhumane and arrogant measures of a government which has forgotten that people have a basic right to decent housing, and it is the duty of the government of the day to honour that right (we are not talking about the few opportunists who squat on urban pioneer villages hoping to acquire a lot or compensation). The government should also look into outstanding promises of land/alternative housing, some made more than 20 years ago, to the people by previous governments.
The BN government never saw it as necessary to consult with the representatives of low-income stakeholders in making policies and decisions affecting them. In March 2008, the people voted out the BN as an obvious indication that they had had enough of their anti-people policies. Unfortunately, YB Sivanesan's inclination to the policies of the BN in addressing the issue of urban pioneers seem to suggest that he is of the same mold. Sivanesan as a senior member of the Perak state government should realize that his attitude and actions are a mockery of the PR's regularly used slogan 'Hidup Rakyat' (Long Live the People).
Central Committee Member,
Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)