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Court ruling on land worries Dayaks

 | July 16, 2013

A recent Federal Court ruling has far reaching and adverse implications on the Dayak community’s development in Sarawak.

KUCHING: Dayak leaders and owners of big oil palm plantations are worried about the implications of a Federal Court decision which ruled that native customary rights (NCR) land cannot be transferred by sale and purchase agreements.

The court also decided that no native customary rights so acquired over the temuda (farm land) by a native may be sold to another person who does not belong to the same community or to persons outside the community.

Legally under the NCR land development concept, natives would not be able to enter into joint venture with persons outside their community.

Last week, the Federal Court comprising Chief Justice Tun Ariffin Zakaria, Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Richard Melanjun, and Federal judges Abdul Hamid Embong, Surayadi Halim Omar and Hasan Lah made the unanimous decision in a case in which Bisi Jinggot wanted a declaration that he had native customary rights over several lots of land.

The lower courts had refused him the declaration over 37.24 acres of land at Sungai Agas in Matang which he claimed that he had entered into eight sale and purchase agreements with a number of Ibans to purchase the land and paid them the purchase money.

Originally from Julau, Bisi claimed that the vendors had prior to 1958 created NCRs over the land.

The Dayak community are now concerned that the court’s decision may have far and wide implications on their NCR land that have been planted with oil palm on a joint venture basis with oil palm companies.

The companies are equally worried over the decision as they have also planted oil palm on NCR land under a provisional lease.

In Sarawak, about 200,000 hectares out of 1.5 million hectares of NCR land have been planted with oil palm through joint venture and small holding.

A concerned Sarawak Dayak National Union (SDNU) has called for a review of all land code, laws or ordinance to address land problems which affected the community.

“The laws related to NCR must be up to date so that the Dayaks can catch up with the progress of the country,” said the union’s vice-president Anthony Banyan.

“The legality of all deals like joint ventures on NCR land may be affected. If that is the case, then NCR land in joint ventures and NCR development projects should now be given back to NCR landowners,” he added.

Update land laws

The union with more than 100,000 members is headed by Social Development Minister William Mawan Ikom.

Expressing a similar sentiment, former Land Development Minister Celestine Ujang said that the state government should review outdated land laws especially those related to NCR land to enable the Dayaks to prosper.

“The Dayaks continue to remain powerless if land laws were not updated to enhance the value of NCR land,” he said.

Ujang, who is the deputy president of Dayak Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), said that the DCCI members could not use their land as collateral for loans as their asset has low economic value when compared to mixed zone.

“Such scenario is true even when the NCR land is lying adjacent to a mixed zone land,” he said, citing the case of a piece of NCR land in Tabuan Jaya.

“That piece of land was valued at RM2.5 million, but the mixed zone land next to it fetched more than RM10 million. This is unfair to the Dayaks.

“This ‘tungkus asi’ adat is outdated and should be amended to make sure that all NCR land become useful assets to the natives in this modern economy.

“This ‘tungkus asi’ has been a stumbling block to the Dayak community,” he added.

Land Development Minister James Masing also concurred with the call to review the Adat and the land laws, pointing out that the ruling was based on outdated perception of Dayak demographic pattern in the state.

He said that at present the Dayaks are no longer confined to areas of their birth as they are working and residing all over Sarawak.

“This ruling limits them to acquire NCR land in areas of their current residence or employment. Freedom for Dayaks to make better living should not be restricted by outdated laws.

“However, I agree with laws that restrict non-Dayaks from purchasing NCR land to prevent sale for quick cash,” he said.


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