Recent court rulings favouring natives in NCR land issues should be seen as a warning to potential investors.
KUCHING: The recent court victories of native customary rights (NCR) landowners against oil palm companies should serve as important lessons and precedents to would-be investors.
NCR lawyer See Chee How (pic) said oil palm companies can no longer bully landowners simply because the state government refuses to respect the people’s rights.
“There is no alternative for big oil palm companies but to cooperate and work directly with the native landowners, and this means you (the companies) have to respect their (landowners) native customary rights over the land.
“They should respect the customary rights of the native landowners, although the government does not respect the people’s rights if they want to develop their land,” he said.
See, who is also Batu Lintang assemblyman, was commenting on a NCR land case between 168 native landowners and Pelita Holdings, Boustead Pelita Kanowit Sdn Bhd, Land and Survey Department and the State government.
The landowners had sued the companies and the state government after the firms failed to honour its agreement and disburse profits to landowners despite four years of yeild.
After hearing the argument by lawyer Baru Bian, the Sibu High Court ordered the agreement to be cancelled and land to be returned to the landowners.
Damages and compensations are to be assessed later.
Natives not anti-development
Relating to the case, See said that the companies could appeal, but the land will have to be returned to the people.
“We are busy looking for a good plantation company to replace Boustead and help manage the plantation.
“Arising from this case, all the while we have been saying that the investors should respect the native customary rights of the people over the land, even though the state government does not respect native customary rights.
“The natives are not anti-development as labelled by certain quarters. In fact they want development; they want a better life for themselves and for their children and their future generation,” See stressed.
He pointed out that knowing this investors should work together with the landowners to develop the land.
“But when investors insist on going together with the government and get the provisional leases and start planting oil palm then you bear the consequences.
“We have won so many cases (nearly 20 cases) and the precedents are all there. And for those who listened to us they are now making money and the natives also benefit.
“It has got to be a win-win situation. But if you do it alone, you may win all or lose all. In the case of Boustead as well as in Gedong and other cases, the companies lose all,” he added.
“If they work with the native land owners, there will be a win-win situation. But if they chose to listen to the government, of course you either win or lose that kind of thing,” he said.- The Free Malaysia Today.