Update to Sabah natives list not ready after 10 years, admits assistant minister

Assistant Law and Native Affairs Minister Jannie Lasimbang (back row, in black) at the Penampang police’s Aidiladha and Community Policing event in Kota Kinabalu today.

KOTA KINABALU: A bill to update the Interpretation (Definition of Native) Ordinance in Sabah, mooted 10 years ago, is still not ready, leaving many groups wondering if they will be considered as natives.

Native status will give these groups benefits such as land ownership and the right to claim certain lands under native customary rights.

Sabah Assistant Law and Native Affairs Minister Jannie Lasimbang admitted today that her her ministry has yet to review the proposed bill to update the list of natives in the ordinance.

“The past one year, we have been occupied with the appointment and training of native chiefs and endorsement of indigenous status,” she said after attending the Penampang police’s Aidiladha and Community Policing event here today.

“The bill was proposed in 2009 and inputs were made after discussions among departments but in the end, it was not tabled.

“We need to carry out fresh surveys and studies before it can be introduced,” she said, adding that she has not checked whether some of the proposals are still relevant.

The ordinance mentions five ethnic groups as natives: the Suluk, Kagayan, Simonol, Sibutu and Ubian, all of whom are found mainly on the east coast.

Other natives in Sabah, particularly the Kadazan-Dusun and Murut, have demanded that they are included in the list.

Those listed as natives are entitled to land ownership and the right to claim certain lands under native customary rights.

A non-native Sabahan can only own “country lease” land while a native can apply for “native title” land, usually meant for agriculture.

At present, the Kadazan-Dusun, Murut, Bajau, Bisaya, Rungus, Lotud and many other communities are lumped into two sub-clauses of the ordinance, but not under any specific group.

The Kadazan-Dusun number about 600,000 or about one-third of Sabah’s population (not including the foreigners) while the Murut population is about 100,000.

Lasimbang said a forum on indigenous people held recently in conjunction with World Indigenous Day passed several resolutions, one of which was to set up a special committee to look into the ordinance.

“This committee will comprise representatives from the government as well as from each community in Sabah.

“The proposal has been presented to Chief Minister Shafie Apdal and the relevant ministries will have to meet and decide what to do next,” she said.