Return our ancestral land, Sabah natives tell Felda

The Begahak people protesting against Felda in 2015.

KOTA KINABALU: The Dusun Begahak people in Lahad Datu are crying foul over what they claim as unfair treatment of indigenous people by the state government, past and present, after their ancestral land was given to Felda.

Robin Balud, a representative of the Begahak community.

Speaking to FMT, Robin Balud, a representative of the small community, said the conflict started 36 years ago when the then Berjaya government decided to grant 120,000ha of prime agricultural land in Tungku to Felda.

“Somehow, the land also included some 2,400ha of our native customary right (NCR) land.

“This is where we hunt, farm, live and bury our dead. We have been here for generations and there are still signs indicating this is our NCR land under the Sabah Land Ordinance.

“We have developed this land in accordance with our lifestyle and we have always understood that this land will remain with our people and our future generations,” he said.

The Begahak are a minority group under the Dusun ethnic group. They number about 2,000 in total and live primarily in the Tungku area in Lahad Datu. They speak a distinct Dusun dialect and most work as farmers.

The 2,400ha land in Tungku has always been their home, even before the colonial era, although it was believed to be bigger because of the larger size of the community then.

Despite their continued pleas and objections, Balud said the state government gave Felda all the land, including the Begahak people’s NCR land, under a lease grant in 2013 through the Land and Survey Department.

He claimed the department was not ignorant of the Begahak’s claim over the 2,400ha of land. Balud said he, as the chairman of the movement to reclaim the land, had been sending the department letters to notify the officers in charge of the matter.

“We have been sending them letters every month since 2012. We urged the assistant collector of land revenue (ACLR) in Lahad Datu to go down to the ground and visit us so he could determine if our demand has any merit.

“We demanded that the proposed land title for Felda not to overlap our NCR land. By right, the ACLR should have visited the land we wanted before issuing the land title,” he said.

Unfortunately, for Balud and his community, the ACLR never showed up to carry out investigations despite the repeated pleading. Balud only obtained information about the land from Felda.

By ignoring the requests from the community, Balud claimed the ACLR at the time had breached the Sabah Land Ordinance.

On top of that, he said the ACLR also failed to issue notice of the proposed land title, as required under the law, which would give the public the opportunity to challenge the land application.

“Why did the ACLR request the land report from Felda? It was as if Felda has the authority over the land, not ACLR.

“Naturally, Felda would want all the land, including our NCR land. In this, the government failed in its responsibility to take care of the indigenous people,” he said.

Balud said since 2013, he and his people have had a series of meetings with Felda to get back their land but was told that it was all up to the state government.

However, he said, Felda was open to isolating the Begahak’s NCR from their title.

“This thing has dragged on for too long already. We have proven the ACLR office has erred in giving Felda the land title without following the procedures under the land ordinance.

“I will never stop sending the letters even though I have been warned by an officer in the department not to send any more letters of inquiry or the letters will end up in the trash can.

“I don’t want to be prejudiced but I worry because the officers in charge of the case keep changing. I am old now, and who knows how long I can keep fighting like this.

“Thus, I hope the new state government will keep its election promise to take care of the natives by revisiting the issue and give us back our rights.”