KUCHING: Chief Minister Abdul Taib’s government policy in granting provisional leases on native customary rights (NCR) land to crony companies will not only start ‘wars’ with the natives, but will also drive away potential and genuine oil palm investors, warned See Chee How, State PKR Vice-Chairman.
“The scheme of granting provisional leases (PLs) for planting land to companies (usually crony companies) and allowing them to sell the companies or leases to investors at a huge and lucrative premium has been practised for the last decade.
“However, it was earlier exposed that the scheme was modified and taken further by certain quarters to create superfluous and ostentatious one to rip-off investors, and honest business corporations,” said See, who has been representing the native landowners on NCR land cases in the state.
“This is seriously affecting and hurting the confidence of potential investors not only in land development projects but other projects in the state as well.
“The government should be cautious with the issuance of provisional leases and approval of plantation projects involving native customary rights land,” said See, who is the Batu Lintang Assemblyman.
He added: “The application and approval must be made openly and transparently in accordance with the principles of good governance.
“This is necessary to ensure that the rights of native landowners are safeguarded on the one hand, while the business interests of genuine investors are protected on the other,” he said.
See made the comment in light of two reports of criminal breach of trust charges against former Sime Darby Bhd president and group chief executive officer (CEO) Ahmad Zubair Murshid by the Session Courts in Kuala Lumpur last week which caused Sime Darby to incur RM85mil in losses.
“The arrest and charging of the former Sime Darby CEO puts the state to shame and we certainly hope the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the Malaysian-Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) to get into the bottom of the matter.
“There is a lesson to be learned from this episode. Both the Chief Minister and Land Development Minister (James Masing) must take note of intensifying strives by certain Barisan Nasional elites in the state creating devious and specious competition with genuine investors coming to Sarawak.
“But the benefits from the competition are wholly for themselves and not benefiting the state,” he said to news media.
The PKR leader pointed out that the charges in connection with the acquisition of the land in Sarikei under the Sarawak Upstream Expansion Plan among others were not the first case where business interests of genuine land development corporations were affected by opaque dealings and incomprehensible award of land leases or approval of land development projects.
“This practice (granting provisional leases) for oil palm to companies and allowing them to sell the leases to investors a huge and lucrative premium has been going on decades,” he said and warned that it would drive away genuine and honest investors and at the same time it would create a conflict between the natives not only with the government but also with the investors.
His legal firm, Baru Bian Advocates and Solicitors, has been handling more than 100 cases, in which the native landowners are suing the government and the companies for taking away their NCR land.
So far the legal firm has won more than 10 cases.
In the first charge, Zubair was accused of failing to take or instruct legal action between November 17, 2008 and November 28, 2008, to rectify the award of NCR land in KJD/Lower Julau, Sg. Julau/Sg. Pitoh/Sg. Jiet and part of Merurun/Meluan/Entabai in Sarikei to Vertical Drive Sdn Bhd and thereby causing Sime Darby to incur losses amounting to some RM85mil for having to acquire Vertical Drive.
In the second charge, he was accused of failing to take or instruct legal action between November 17, 2008 and December 4, 2009 to rectify the award of NCR lands in the confluence of Btg. Rajang/Btg. Baleh, Kapit and the remaining eastern half of the Merurun/Meluan/Entabai and Julau to Nature Ambience Sdn Bhd and thus causing Sime Darby to incur losses amounting to some RM16mil in having to acquire Natural Ambience.
He was also charged with two alternative charges of cheating under Section 418 of the Penal Code. Under these charges, he was accused of failing to inform Sime Darby’s board of directors on November 28, 20078 and December 4, 2009 respectively that the NCR lands in Sarikei had instead been awarded to Vertical Drive and Nature Ambience.
Zubair claimed trial all the charges.