Reports that about half of the 35,567ha of land earmarked to be gazetted as Kedah's permanent forest reserves have been classified as "missing” should be taken seriously not only by the Kedah State Government, but also by the Federal Cabinet.
Kedah Mentri Besar, Datuk Seri Sanusi Junid has ordered a full-scale investigation into the “missing land” - geographically larger than Penang island. The Kedah Land and Mines deputy director, Zulkifli Ismail has said that initial investigations revealed that the "missing" area had either been sold or given away to certain parties.
Further checks showed that part of the land had been given out under the previous administration but the Land Office has no official records of this. The Kedah Land and Mines Department discovered the missing area a few days ago when it received the file from the Forestry Department.
It was repored that in 1995, the Forestry Department had informed the Land and Mines Department that the land was to be converted into permanent forest reserves, a requirement under the National Forestry Act. A major part of land to be gazetted involved Bukit Keramat, Bukit Genting and Bukit Siong - in the northern part of the state.
Alienation of land, including forest reserve areas, had been a highly contentious issue in state government politics in Malaysia, highlighting the most unholy mix of land alienation, abuses of power and corruption.
In Selangor, the Anti-Corruption Agency is currently investigating into a case connected with the conversion of a 40-hectare forest area in Bukit Sungai Putih, Hulu Langat, which was originally part of the Bukit Sungai Putih forest reserve, but which had been earmarked for mixed development after a logging license was given out to a company. In this case, the ACA is also investigating two men of which one was former aide to the Selangor Mentri Besar, Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib and one of whom was found with about RM1.5 million in his car when an ACA team from its headquarters in Persiaran Duta went to his house in Shah Alam last month.
As land alienation is a major source of abuses of power and corrupt practices in state governments, the Cabinet meeting tomorrow should establish a high-powered committee to conduct a full inquiry into land alienation, abuses of power and corruption by all state governments to demonstrate that Malaysia is determined to address this serious issue.
If necessary, Parliament should pass a special law to give all the necessary powers to such a committee of inquiry into land alienation, abuses of power and corruption so as to compel all state governments, officials and past government officials to co-operate in the investigation.
There is no doubt that if all forms of abuses of power and corrupt practices are eliminated or reduced to a minimum in land alienation at state levels, this would by itself contribute to a remarkable improvement in the international ranking of Malaysia as far as Transparent International’s annual international corruption perception index is concerned.