Tuesday, July 21

S'wak land owners resist joint-venture 'land grab' ~ Malaysiakini

Source: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/108602

Native Customary Rights (NCR) landowners from some 60 longhouses in the Lower Julau and Upper Bintangor areas in the Sarikei Division have registered their strongest yet objection against the inclusion of their plots as part of an oil palm plantation joint project by the Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA) and Sime Darby Plantations.

In a statement emailed to Malaysiakini, TAHABAS (Jaringan Tanah Hak Bangsa Asal Sarawak) or Sarawak NCR landowners network secretary Nyumbang Anak Barau said that the landowners who attended a dialogue session on July 9 had told LCDA and Sime Darby Plantations to exclude their land.

However, despite their protest, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between Sime Darby plantations and the LCDA to develop 20,000 hectares of NCR land.

The landowners from 109 longhouses were represented by the LCDA.

Sarawak's land development minister James Masing witnessed the signing of the agreement.

Nyumbang said: "I wish to reiterate our stand as the affected landowners that we are against the implementation of this NCR land development policy in our areas, where LCDA and Sime Darby respectively own 10 percent and 60 percent shares in a joint-venture company (JVC).

He said that the remaining 30 percent is supposed to be "owned by us, the landowners who have not agreed to this policy".

Major points of discontent

"We are not against NCR land developments through oil palm schemes per se, but we cannot accept this particular land development policy," he said and outlined the main points of disagreement.

He said: "We are not confident that LCDA can competently and impartially protect our rights in the JVC. We see LCDA has vested interests, and the mechanisms to be employed are not convincing enough to protect our rights;

Secondly, he said, the LCDA is being given an equivalent of "dictatorial power which is too strong for our liking, while our rights are unfairly and vastly diminished."

Thirdly, they do not trust LCDA, and “we are against LCDA becoming our Trustee. LCDA's records as known by us have failed to dispel our fear of not receiving fair bonuses and dividends later."

He said that so-called 30 percent share that is offered to may not eradicate poverty but "we may even become poorer by losing our lands forever after signing the trust deed".

Nyumbang said the current policy does not satisfactorily provide a guarantee to return those lands to their heirs upon the expiry of the joint venture after 60 years.

"This fear is genuine and not unfounded. And this is reflected by over 200 cases in our courts involving NCR lands. With such numbers, why are we not to worry?" he asked.

"Incidentally, the people from over 60 longhouses living in Lower Julau and Upper Bintangor and those along Kanowit-Julau-Durin road formed an action committee in 2007 to counteract an earlier attempt to extract timber on these same lands by a company issued with a provisional lease by the government," he said.

Loss of land

Nyumbang said that in the event that the joint-venture company fails to settle its debts by a certain period, the land owners will then be forced to use their land as collaterals.

"We could lose our land," he said and that working as a labourer earning a rate of RM15 per day or RM330 per month is hardly sufficient. It is well below the poverty line."

He said due to the absence of land titles, some of the idle NCR lands may not seem to offer them much profit. But they are a source of unpolluted vegetables, meat and fish in addition to giving them priceless building materials and other jungle produce.

"Moreover by safe-keeping these lands temporarily, we can therefore hope that one day our next generation with better education and means will be able to develop them better," he said.

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