KOTA KINABALU: A former Warisan assemblyman has refuted a claim by a former party colleague that the previous state government legalised logging through the native title (NT) customary land grants or the NT communal grants.
Incumbent Balung assemblyman Osman Jamal said the objectives of issuing NT communal grants were to, among others, protect the interest of natives on state land in the vicinity of native village settlements.
Apart from that, it was aimed at expediting the issuance of NT/field register-type land to natives en bloc, resolving the native customary right (NCR) claim issues and the overlapping land applications as well as ensuring that natives did not sell off their land easily, he said.
As such, Osman accused Warisan’s Kalabakan MP Ma’Mun Sulaiman of not telling the truth to Sabahans and slandering the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government under the leadership of Musa Aman.
“Customary land is not a forest reserve area but refers to sites that have been cultivated by applicants for generations,” he said in a statement today.
“The category of customary land is not included in the forest reserve area. The definition of a forest reserve is an uninhabited area far from the settlement of the population whereas customary land is a residential area.
“Why did Sabah’s forest areas increase? It happened because the previous state government did not issue new logging licences, whereas existing licences were allowed to expire.
“This showed that the Kalabakan MP had lied when he claimed that Sabah forest reserve areas increased because they cover the people’s customary land areas.”
Ma’Mun claimed yesterday that the previous government had taken away land from the people and given it to crony companies for logging purposes.
He also alleged that in order to hide the loss of forest land and to honour the requirement on forest coverage in Sabah, the BN government gazetted these areas developed by native Sabahans as forest reserves.
Osman, who is a former Sabah Land and Survey Department director, said the department had successfully issued 62 communal grants with a total area of 33,591ha through the Strategic Land Acquisition (Fast Track) system between 2010 and 2013.
He said the beneficiaries, consisting of natives (in-situ villagers), numbered 8,039 from 155 villages in 10 districts, namely Tongod, Kinabatangan, Keningau, Nabawan, Sipitang, Kota Marudu, Pitas, Ranau, Tenom and Labuk-Sugut.
“To develop the land, the landowners/beneficiaries have two options: either to do it through a joint-venture or on their own,” he said.
“If the beneficiaries choose to develop the land themselves, the land and survey department would conduct lot surveys through the mobile native unit or Pantas (Sabah Native Land Services Programme).
“If there is timber that can be logged and sold, the application must go through the Forestry Department.”
Osman said Musa’s administration had paid great attention to forest management.
He said serious efforts were made towards creating healthy and productive forests within the forest reserves, each having its own management plans.
For areas that were not fully protected, he said, logging was carried out sustainably while high conservation value areas were well maintained, in line with the various values found within the areas, including water catchment areas.
“Through Sustainable Forest Management, 53% of Sabah or an area of 3.9 million hectares of state land is designated as permanent forest reserves, protected areas and wildlife conservation areas,” he said.
“The state government had also allocated 30% of Sabah’s total rainforest area or 2.2 million hectares as totally protected areas, which it had hoped to achieve in the next five years or sooner.”
He said this number also surpassed the 10% target set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
“One thing to note is, the previous state government had restored and replanted more than 600,000ha of forest, believed to be the largest area for this purpose in any tropical rainforest area,” he said.
The government at the time also promoted Sabah as a tropical rainforest research hub, attracting international research organisations such as The Royal Society of the United Kingdom, The Nature Conservancy of the United States of America and Yayasan Sime Darby.
In this regard, he said, Ma’Mun needed to be honest by explaining the real definition of permanent forest reserves to the people and not confuse them with political terms.
“It was impossible for the government to gazette areas as forest reserves if such areas did not possess forest plants,” said Osman.
“If that was what the Kalabakan MP from Warisan meant, it was akin to saying that the Sahara Desert has a permanent forest.
“Even if Warisan does not want to acknowledge the extraordinary achievements of the previous government in resolving native customary land issues in Sabah, it should not resort to lying and slander.”
He claimed the Warisan-led government was only reaping what the BN government had sowed in resolving the issuance of customary land grants.
He added the BN government faced delays in surveying the areas for decades due to shortages in funding and manpower.
But realising the constraint, the previous state government held talks with the BN federal government and following that, the federal government had allocated RM20 million a year since 2011 for survey work carried out through Pantas.
Starting in 2011, survey works on customary lands were greatly accelerated.
“It cut the time to prepare and issue land grants. And the caretaker chief minister only needed to hand over the titles to the applicants after all the hard work was done decades before,” said Osman.
“Shafie is only ‘riding’ on the effort and hard work of the previous state government.
“It is nothing more than taking credit for other people’s work as the process of handing over customary land titles to applicants is done continuously until the Land and Survey Department resolves all the applications.”
He said the process of issuing land titles began in 2011, long before they could be handed over to the applicants.
“In truth, since the end of 2017, land titles for 90,000 acres of native lands were actively processed to be handed over to eligible applicants,” said Osman.
“However, lately, Shafie seems to be moving around Sabah to complete the handing over of the land titles.
“He did so without even the slightest embarrassment, even claiming that the grants were made possible because of the Warisan government.”