Native land rights: Bill tabled in Sarawak assembly

Douglas Uggah Embas says the title document would be issued to the community to protect their territorial domains. (Bernama pic)

KUCHING: The landmark Land Code (Amendment) Bill, 2018 was tabled at the Sarawak state assembly sitting here today.

Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Douglas Uggah Embas, tabling the bill, said today was a historic moment for the natives of Sarawak because the issue of native land rights was finally going to be resolved, Bernama reported.

He said the bill would enable native communal titles in perpetuity to be issued.

He said most governments, where indigenous communities exist, gave usufructuary rights (referring to the right of one individual to use and enjoy the property of another, provided its substance is neither impaired nor altered) to their inhabitants in areas traditionally occupied by them.

However, in Sarawak, under the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) government, the territorial domain was to be given the force of law and legally recognised as having a proprietary right, he added.

Uggah said the title document would be issued to the community to protect their territorial domains.

He stressed that this was a very significant proposal by the current state government under the leadership of Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg.

“This nullifies the views expressed by some so-called champions of native rights, keyboard and armchair critics and Sarawak Pakatan Harapan.

“They were all driven by their own selfish and malicious political agenda,” he said.

“Their contention that Gabungan Parti Sarawak is only giving usufructuary rights to the native territorial domain and, thereby, eroding the natives of their Native Customary Rights land is totally misleading and mischievous.

“This proposed amendment proves them all totally wrong.”

The Federal Court had earlier ruled that the “pemakai menoa” and “pulau galau” land were a custom and practice, but these were not enshrined under the law.

Following this ruling, Uggah said the state government formed a special task force on territorial domains to engage with the various stakeholders to come up with a comprehensive solution.

He said this amendment was necessary to give the customs and practices, relating to territorial domains, the force of law.

He said under the bill, the term “native territorial domain” was used instead of “pemakai menoa’” and “pulau galau” for inclusiveness, because the practice relating to native territorial domains was not only practised by the Ibans, but also all other native communities in Sarawak.

Uggah said that among the main features of the bill was the right to land may be created by natives through access to the area within, conjoining or adjacent to their native customary land, created under Section 5 of the Land Code, if the “usufructuary rights” were exercised by the natives prior to Jan 1, 1958.

“The term ‘usufructuary’ is merely descriptive of the customs and practices which would be legally recognised by the amended provisions to establish ownership rights to a territorial domain.

“The customs and practices described under the definition of ‘usufructuary rights’ are similar to the customs of ‘pemakai menoa’ and ‘pulau’ of the Iban community.

“These customary practices are now given recognition under the term ‘usufructuary rights’,” he added.

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