KUALA LUMPUR: The bright city lights and skyscrapers of the capital are usually not associated with the orang asli. But located in a lofty office building adjacent to the iconic Petronas Twin Towers is the headquarters of the Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa).
While the Jakoa headquarters in Wisma Selangor Dredging is close to amenities such as restaurants and financial institutions, it is far removed from the people Jakoa is designed to assist – the orang asli.
This is something that Jakoa director-general Datuk Ajis Sitin (pic), the first orang asli to assume the position since its inception in 1954, hopes will change in the future. He started the job in May last year.
“This office is not orang asli-friendly; look at where it is located... how can the orang asli come here?” he said.
Ajis said it is difficult for the orang asli, who mostly rely on buses, to go from their villages in the outskirts to the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
“I think the office should be moved to a more client-friendly location as Jakoa’s clients are orang asli only.
“That’s why when I first came to Jakoa, I put down on paper that I wanted to relocate this office to Gombak,” he said, adding that Gombak is a nostalgic and historic place for the orang asli in Selangor.
Gombak is home to a thriving orang asli settlement and has the Orang Asli Hospital, Transit Centre, and Orang Asli Museum.
Ajis, who is from the Semai tribe in Pahang, did not want to disclose how much the rental for the office in Wisma Selangor Dredging is, but said there will be savings in the long run if Jakoa has its own building.
According to property agents, rental for office space there goes for about RM7 per sq foot.
Jakoa occupies three floors of office space, estimated to be about 8,000sq ft per floor. According to calculations, rental alone could come up to more than RM2mil a year.
Ajis’ proposal is to build a Jakoa administration complex in Gombak.
“We want to build a complex complete with Jakoa’s headquarters, staff quarters, gallery, museums and such.
“In the long run, the government will be able to save while the building will be an asset,” he said.
Jakoa, he added, has obtained permission to build such a complex but the project is on hold because of the country’s economic situation.
Ajis said the tightening of belts means that Jakoa does not have enough funds to provide the orang asli with essentials like school uniforms, reliable transportation and hospital supplies.
“I hope the economy recovers so we can provide the orang asli with what they need,” he said, adding that they have been in the present building for close to 20 years now.
According to the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns coordinator Colin Nicholas, the orang asli community has long complained about why Jakoa is spending so much money on rent in the Kuala Lumpur office.
“Their suggestion is for Jakoa to be located in Putrajaya, where they can be closer to the government institutions and officials who can assist them,” he said.
Colin said relocating to Gombak would also be a good move.
“Jakoa officials will then be required to face the orang asli daily and not sit in a glass tower,” he said.