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Land Bill aimed at ‘punishing natives’

 | June 23, 2011

The proposed Land Custody and Development Authority Bill currently being debated clearly shows that the BN government does 'not trust' its courts, says DAP.

KUCHING: The bill to bar Sarawak natives from seeking legal redress for grievances involving their native customary rights (NCR) to land is draconian, says Sarawak DAP.

State chairman Wong Ho Leng said the move clearly showed that the government of Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud was bent on depriving the natives of their legal rights to their land.

“This bill is draconian in the topmost degree. It is unfair to stop the natives from going to court, even when they receive no dividends or benefits from joint ventures (to develop the land).

“It is a draconian law which only the Barisan Nasional (BN) has the audacity to introduce,” he said when debating the Land Custody and Development Authority (Amendment) Bill 2011 at the 10th State Legislative Assembly sitting.

The bill was introduced by State Land Development Minister James Masing.

Wong said DAP never opposed the development of NCR land so long as it is “meaningful and for the general good of the natives”.

“Let me assure this House that contrary to the lies of Deputy Chief Minister (Alfred Jabu Anak Numpang) uttered so many times in this House, DAP never oppressed or suppressed the opportunities of the Dayaks in NCR land development.”

Earlier, Wong, who is also the Bukit Assek assemblyman, said that while Sarawak natives had helped BN secure a more than two-thirds majority in the recent state election, the BN state government did not deem it fit to reward them positively.

“This bill is introduced to punish the natives.

“Less than two months before the state election, on Feb 18, the Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA) and the state government had lost a legal battle in a case involving the development of NCR land.

“Clearly, this bill is introduced to plug what was so profoundly shown in the judgment of Justice Linton Albert in Kuching High Court in the popularly known Pantu Land case, where the learned judge ruled against the LCDA and the state government,” he said.

Wong said that for the LCDA to develop the land, it is paramount to obtain the consent of the native landowners first, adding that the consent must be “genuine and sincere” and not the Ali-Baba type of agreement.

Development agreement

Wong said the question is how to secure “genuine consent” from the landowners.

“Land titles may be issued to the tuai rumah (longhouse chief). But the land is enjoyed by all the longhouse folk.

“Will a development agreement between the LCDA and the tuai rumah be sufficient to bind the majority or all the longhouse folk?

“The question hinges on the extent of the authority of the tuai rumah,” he said.

Wong said he had received many complaints from Selangau, where the penghulu and tuai rumah had signed agreements for oil palm plantations.

But the penghulu and the tuai rumah had signed the agreements without prior consultation with the longhouse folk.

“Under the bill, the development agreement cannot be revoked, for the only requirement is that the agreement is signed by the LCDA with the owner, even if the majority of the longhouse folk do not know of the agreement or even object to it.

“In the example that I had given, a tuai rumah holding the land title, or occupying native customary land, can be persuaded or even bought in order to sign the development agreement.

“His longhouse folk have no say or right to consultation. Seen in this light, the bill is unjust.

“Conversely, suppose the tuai rumah is not convinced that a development agreement is viable or beneficial to the longhouse folk, the bill clearly provides a way out in favour of the LCDA.

“This is done by forcing a development agreement to be signed by ‘any other party.’

“Under clause 6(b) of the bill, it clearly shows that someone without authority from the community can sign the development agreement with the LCDA.

“We cannot allow a stranger who has no right to sign a development agreement to bind the tuai rumah and the lawful occupiers of the land,” he said.

‘Don’t cheat’

Wong warned the government that it can expect conflict to arise in the native community and that there may even be bloodshed.

“If you want to develop the NCR land, make sure that there must be sincerity and honesty.

“Do not sign the agreement using the LCDA’s name and then give it to a crony or subsidiary company. That is plain cheating.

“LCDA is a government agency. Do not cheat on the natives,” he said.

Pointing out that the Dayaks are the poorest people in Sarawak, Wong said that they are a friendly community and will try every means to avoid trouble.

“But history has shown that they will fight to their last breath in order to protect their land, for land is life to them,” he said.

Wong said with development agreements which may last 60 years, it is unavoidable that there may be disputes that will land in court.

“How can you, the BN government, be so heartless as to slam the door of the court on their face?

“They are already in court; they have their rights to resort to legal remedies.

“You are not allowed to shut them out. Clearly this violates a person’s fundamental right to seek redress in a court of law.

“Clearly, the state BN government is showing that it does not trust the court,” he said.

Undreamed-of wealth

Wong said that many natives had entered into development agreements with the government believing that they would be receiving undreamed-of wealth.

According to the handbook which is “the official communication guide on NCR development matters”, the natives would receive an annual dividend of up to RM40,000 calculated on the basis of crude palm oil at RM1,400 per tonne.

He said the price has since been tripled.

In the Pantu land case, no dividend was paid to the natives although six years had passed since the commencement of the oil palm plantation and fruits having been harvested for three years.

“It is justified for the NCR landowners to cancel the development agreement since there is no benefit to them.

“With land taken from them, they have no other income,” he said.

On the issue of dividends paid to landowners, Wong said that for 13 years – from 1996 to 2009 – the dividends paid out was a mere RM2,301,116.86.

“Divide that by 406,425 hectares, it means that the dividends paid out to the natives is less than 17 sen per year. It is not even enough to buy a cigarette.

“Is there anything wrong with the accounts? Are there no natives on the board of directors of LCDA to keep an eye on the accounts?

“Clearly, the natives in Sarawak have been given a raw deal, ” Wong said.

He urged the government to come clean with the current status of payouts to natives.

“Have the other dividends been paid out?

“Please update this House. The amount of dividend paid out (thus far in the Pantu case) is a far cry from the RM40,000 per year that was promised under the handbook.

“If so little dividend is paid out, it means that the fundamental purpose of the joint venture has collapsed.

“Yet, the natives are left with no remedy,” he said.

Wong added that if natives were receiving such low dividends, it simply meant that their legitimate expectations of mutual benefit under the joint venture is destroyed.

“In such a situation, to insist that the natives continue to starve under the joint venture is clearly oppressive,” he said.


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