Paul Raja, a lawyer who has been representing NCR land owners against the state government has revealed that there are a few laws that are used as tools to take away Dayak lands.
“Besides the Land Code, there are the Land Custody and Development Authority Ordinance, Sarawak Land Development Board, The Forests (Planted Forests) Rules, 1997, and the Agropolis Ordinance.
"Among these, the two most notorious tools are the Land Custody and Development Authority or LCDA (jokingly referred to as the acronym for ‘Let’s Chase Dayaks Away’) law and The Forests (Planted Forests) Rules, 1997,” said Raja in a statement to the Dayak Nation blog,
He said: “The LCDA is used to designate certain areas as ‘development areas’. Most of the time, these areas will affect the native lands. But the native lands are always erroneously and deceptively termed as ‘state land’. These lands are then alienated to certain companies.
“These companies can be LCDA partners or individually owned. In most cases, those lands individually owned are sold to a third party, to make a quick buck. These deals normally earn these individuals millions of Ringgit.
“The normal price rates for these provisional leases range between RM1,000 per acre to RM3,000 per acre. The areas of these provisional leases range from 1,000 acres to 20,000 acres,” Raja said.
He said while these huge transactions were taking place in the cities, the people in the villages were sleeping soundly in the longhouse, until a few months or years later. Then they woke to see bulldozers moving onto their lands.
“This is the common scenario of land grabs in Sarawak. The main victims are the poor Dayaks. This predicament of the Dayaks community is just one aspect of the many problems they are facing.
“Yet the Dayak elected representatives or YBs will not admit these problems, for they expose the YBs as total failures. The YBs become very defensive instead,” he said and asked: “where will these lead us to”?
For the past 15 years Raja’s legal practice has been defending native communities against Sarawak State government aggression. The State government works hand in glove with the rich and powerful timber companies and now plantation and tree-planting companies. The native communities have always been on the receiving end.
As one who comes from the native community, the defence of natives’ land rights is challenging, and the task an arduous one for him.
“Often, we are considered aliens amongst our peers, at times a nuisance. There are always those who purposely make us feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. I pity their narrow-mindedness,” he said.
In the 1980s through the 1990s, defenders of native customary land rights were portrayed by the state-controlled media as “anti-government”, “anti-development” and “anti-social”. These defenders were subjected to all sorts of negative perception, he said.
“When I first ventured to do native land cases in the mid-90s, some of my lawyer friends even warned me that I would be blacklisted by the Special Branch of the Police Department. Those were some of the challenges that we faced,” he said.
It was an onerous task for native plaintiffs to establish their NCR claims. The might of the State government machinery always overawed the courts and the native claimants. To a certain extent, there was always the firm belief that ‘the state can do no wrong’ and ‘the state is immune in any of its conduct, right or wrong’, he said.
Obstacles on the ground
Moving from the courtroom to the ground, even the very people that they were defending were divided, with some supporting our cause and others opposing angrily. In many cases, they spent a lot of time trying to extricate their clients from the intrigues by the opposing members of the community concerned.
“Having fought many cases and having gone through many humiliations in court, we realize that the natives’ land problem is not merely a legal problem. We saw that the root of the problem lies in the law that governs land tenure in Sarawak.
“Since the introduction of the Land Code [Cap.81] in 1958, the land rights of the natives have been continuously eroded. Now the natives are in the worst position they have ever been in. Apart from land, they lose out in almost every aspect of life.
“Whenever the plights of the natives are highlighted, the so-called Dayak leaders, instead of lending support to the plight of the rural poor, are the first to condemn the whistle-blowers,” Raja said, pointing out that the Dayaks were the worst affected where their lands, properties, wealth, identity and dignity had been taken away from them.
“Now with the advent of oil palm plantations, dam construction, forest replanting schemes, almost all the Dayaks lands have been obliterated. This is despite the often-repeated propaganda by BN elected representatives, that the government does not take away peoples’ land,” Raja stressed. – The Broken Shield