Wednesday, July 25

Taib’s policy on land drives investors away?

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. 

Tuesday, July 17

Bian: Is Taib dumb or ill advised?

The Sarawak PKR chief says the CM should read the Land Code properly and realise that there indeed have been land grabs.

KUCHING: Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud publicly revealed his ignorance of the law when he said that there had been no land grabs in Sarawak, according to state PKR chief Baru Bian, a lawyer well known for his advocacy of native customary rights (NCRs).

Commenting on a statement that Taib made last Wednesday, he said the chief minister either was unable to understand the Sarawak Land Code or had been misled by his advisers.

“I advise him and his advisers to study carefully the provisions of the Land Code, especially Section 15 Clause 1,” Bian said today.

According to the clause, NCR land cannot be alienated or used for a public purpose until all NCRs have been surrendered or terminated or after compensations have been made.

Last Wednesday, Taib claimed that all land yet to be granted to the people is state land and the government has never had a reason to grab land belonging to the people.

“As we all know,” the chief minister said, “most development starts from land. Unfortunately, some quarters try to mislead the people so that they will oppose these projects for fear that the government will take away their land.

“Why should the government grab people’s land when all the land that has yet to be granted to the people belongs to the government?”

Bian pointed out that he and other lawyers had won several cases against the alienation of NCR land and the granting of such land to big companies.

“My law firm alone has won more than 10 cases,” he said.

“NCR lands have no titles. A lot of people don’t understand that because they have no title, they are always subject to proof of occupation.

“There is a list of NCR lands being alienated under provisional leases, timber licences, and quarry licences.”

“Taib is wrong, and what he said is not true, because there exist NCR lands within the state land.

“The government can lease only state land. This is the legal concept that people don’t understand.”

He said his court victories were clear proof that NCR lands were alienated by the government and given to those with no right to them.

“This is what we call land grab,” he said.

“Taib is making a sweeping and misleading statement. He is either wrongly advised or he does not know the Land Code.

“I want him to read Section 15 of the Land Code. Like in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, of which Malaysia is a signatory, there must be prior consultation and consent from the natives before their land is taken for a public purpose.”

Asked whether his debate with Taib on the NCR land issue was still on, Bian said: “I don’t think he will accept it. And as far as we are concerned, we will fight the government in court.

“But the fastest and most effective way for us is to change the government.”

--Free Malaysia Today

Wednesday, July 11

Calls grow louder for Jabu to resign

Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu has been Layar's assemblyman for 38 years yet longhouses in his constituencies are without piped water and roads.

KUCHING: Frustrated voters in the Layar constituency, the homebase of Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu, are demanding that he step down following his failure to solve the acute water shortage affecting more than 1,940 families.

The calls for his resignation have become louder as water shortage has hit 80% of the longhouses in his constituency.

Up to June 27, more than 1,940 families have been without water due to a prolonged drought that has affected other areas in the state.

Layar constituency, which Jabu has represented for more than 38 years, was the worst hit.

And it’s not the first time. Drought and water shortage is a seasonal presence in Sarawak.

Despite knowing it will happen Jabu has not done anything to mitigate the problem.

Said Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian: “The people are starting to ask Jabu what has he been doing all these years.

“He knows very well that the water shortage is always there. The people have been experiencing it repeatedly. It is not an unusual drought.”

No piped water to longhouses

Bian, who is also the Ba’Kelalan assemblyman, said the fact that Jabu had held office for 38 years and did nothing to mitigate the situation is a “valid” reason for people to call for his resignation.

“Jabu has failed the people in his constituency. He has not heard the request and cry of the people for the last 38 years.

“It is a valid reason for the people not only to question his leadership quality, but also to call on him to step down as their elected representative,” he said, adding that Jabu has not only failed the people of Layang and Betong but also the rest of Sarawak.

Betong division, where Layar sits, is allegedly the worst hit by the water shortage.

Although the Betong town itself is unscathed, longhouses in the outlying areas are badly affected. Until today, numerous longhouses near Betong are without piped water.

Meanwhile, Bernama reported that Jabu proposed to build a temporary dam on the upper reaches of a river in the Betong Division to raise its water level and ease drought-stricken villages in the division.

He said the dam would impound the water that flowed from upstream to alleviate the water shortage problems experienced by the villagers ever since the dry season started.

“I have discussed with the Betong Public Works Department divisional engineer to take steps to build a low weir by pushing in gravels from the river base to build a temporary dam, probably rising up to two metres,” he said.

He said that as a long-term measure, a new water treatment plant and roads were being constructed in Krian.

The government, he said, was also upgrading the present one near Betong Town.

Saturday, July 7

Guns, threats won’t scare us, say natives

If the government continues to remain aloof from clashes between natives and oil palm companies, then it should be prepared for a bloodbath.

KUCHING: Despite two attempts on his life by workers allegedly from Palm Raya Pelita, Semawi Anak Renang will not be intimidated in defending his native customary rights (NCR) land and that of 25 other families.

Instead the threats against him and the other landowners of Rumah Randi, Selangau, have made them more determined than ever to defend their 3,000 hectares of land

Last Wednesday, the landowners organised a “sandau hari” (a ceremony in preparation for war) invoking the spirits of their forefathers for assistance, strength and courage following the second attempt on Semawi’s life.

The latest attempt on his life was made on July 2.

According to Semawi, he was on the way to take his bath in a river near the longhouse, when he saw two 4WD vehicles, one of which was blocking the road.

He went to the driver to ask him to remove the vehicle, when suddenly another vehicle rushed at him.

He was hit and thrown into the bush. Both vehicles hurriedly left the scene.  Several people witnessed the incident.

His wife Leman Anak Senang claimed that one of the managers from the company met her, offering RM20,000 to pay for her husband’s medical expenses, and urged her not to report the incident to the police.

She turned down the offer and lodged a report with the Selangau police station. Semawi is now in Sibu General Hospital.

Semawi’s home shot at

The first attempt on his life was made in the early hours of May 25 when strangers fired shotguns towards his house. No one was injured, but his 4WD was damaged.

A report had also been made with the police.

Semawi believed that he was the target of the gangsters allegedly employed by the company as he and 25 others refused to surrender their land to the company after the company failed to adhere to the agreement between them and the company.

They have filed legal action against the company and the case is pending.

During the “sandau hari” hundreds of residents from other longhouses pledged to fight together with them.

“We must be united to defend our rights. When our rights are taken away, in this case our land, we must not retreat.

“Our forefathers defended their land with blood and tears,” they said.

Meanwhile, Joshua Jabeng, PKR’s potential candidate for the Selangau seat, has called on the government especially the police to arrest the culprits and take immediate action in order to prevent violence and bloodshed.

He said that the companies had to proceed with their activities as they had invested millions of ringgit in oil palm, but the native landowners had to defend their rights.

“So bloody clashes between the natives and the oil palm companies are expected if the government does not intervene,” he warned.

Jabeng also said the government should be held responsible for any consequences as the government was the one which gave provisional leases to these companies to take away the rights of the natives. – Free Malaysia Today.

Thursday, July 5

Truck torched as ‘warning’ to natives

Local native NCR landowners protesting against the government for issuing provisional leases (PLs) to oil palm companies will not cower in fear.

SERIAN: A 4WD vehicle belonging to a local Iban native leader was torched early yesterday morning in what is seen as a “warning” of worse things to come if the natives persisted with their dispute over 5,500 acres of native customary rights (NCR) land, which the government had handed over to three oil palm companies.

The three companies which have been given provisional leases (PLs) over the land to plant oil palm are Memaju Jaya, United Team Trade and Tetangga Arkab.

One of the companies is allegedly owned by former Kedup assemblyman, Frederick Bayoi Manggie. The native landowners alleged that their land was part of a deal for Manggie to step down as elected representative. His place has since been taken over by Martin Ben.

The torched RM76,000 Hilux truck belonged to Micheal Lung who has been at the forefront defending the rights of the 200 affected landowners.
According to Luang, his vehicle was parked near his house at Kampung Tanah Mawang, about 20km from Serian.

“I was wakened up early this morning by the sound of fire and went to check. I was shocked when I saw my Hilux parked near the house burning and saw someone leaving the place in a car.

“It is obvious that these people were trying to intimidate me because I am one of the leaders who are defending our NCR land.

“I can tell you we will not be cowed by this act of vandalism. Instead, we will become more resolute in defending our NCR land,” he told FMT, adding that their great grandparents had created this NCR land for them and no one had the right to take it away.

Luang has since lodged a report at the Serian police station.

Legal recourse

Several angry leaders and landowners turned up at Luang’s house upon hearing of the incident to discuss a number of options open to them, one of which was through the legal means.

“We have contacted our lawyers,” Luang said.

He added that a few weeks ago officials from the Land and Survey Department contacted them and urged the community to “cooperate”.

“They told us the government could not do anything now since the PLs have been given to the companies to plant oil palm,” said Luang, who was one of the Iban natives from several longhouses in Balai Ringin who carried out camped-in protests at the car park of the Land and Survey headquarters in mid-May this year.

More than 70 men and women camped three days and nights at the car park until the Land and Survey director agreed to meet with them.

Initially, the director refused to meet with them until the protests caught the attention not only of local and national media, but also of international organisations.

Their protests also attracted the attention of both the opposition and the Barisan Nasional leaders.

Kota Sentosa assemblyman Chong Chieng Jen raised the matter in the State Legislative Assembly, which was sitting at that time.

“The delaying tactics by the Land and Survey Department is not helping the natives. This is the time when the people are standing up for their rights to their land that the government has taken away.

“They are going to stay here until the problem is resolved.
“We call on all those who face similar problems to come and visit them in order to show solidarity with them,” Chong, who is Sarawak DAP secretary, had said.

Change the policy

Chong said this was not the only group that had suffered. Throughout Sarawak, there are hundreds of thousands of natives whose lands have been taken away from them.

“This is very unfair on the part of the state government which only turns a blind eye to their problem. Only through change of policy can these problems be solved,” he added.

The natives first brought their case to the Land and Survey director in January this year, asking him to cancel the PLs on their land.

On March 17, the same group again tried to meet the director. Again, the director refused to talk to them. Instead, he sent a junior officer to deal with them.

On May 14, they wanted to see the director for the third time. Again, the director refused to meet them.

A junior officer was sent to talk to them, saying that their problems were yet to be solved.

Unhappy and angry, the natives numbering 70 comprising men and women refused to go home and set up camps in the car park in front of the Land and Survey Department to show their protest.