(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): I have faxed to the re-appointed Sarawak Land Development Minister, Datuk Celestine Ujang accepting his invitation publicly extended last month to brief all DAP leaders, including myself, on the state land policy especially with regard to the commercial development of native customary rights land.
In my fax, I suggested to Celestine Ujang to fix the briefing either at the end of this month or early July, and to let DAP leaders know about the state government’s policy to improve the socio-economic welfare of the landowners.
I am prepared to accept Celestine Ujang’s invitation for a special briefing on the commercial development of native customary rights land as we believe in the process of democratic discussion and consultation. I hope the briefing would include visits to some of the land development projects in the state.
DAP leaders are always open-minded with regard to issues affecting the people and what the government is doing to resolve them.
In fact, I am even prepared to visit the Bakun project site in Sarawak if the Ekran Bhd executive chairman Tan Sri Ting Pek Khiing is prepared to invite DAP MPs and Assemblymen for a special briefing and visit to the Bakun dam site.
Celestine Ujang and the Sarawak Barisan Nasional government should realise that although the DAP lost in the recent Kemena by-election, the Sarawak DAP had highlighted the important issue of customary community land rights of the Dayaks which still await a fair and just solution.
The Sarawak state government should realise that the Dayaks value their Native Customary Rights (NCR) lands - whether recognised by the Sarawak Land Code or otherwise.
The Sarawak Land Code defines NCR land as:
Section 5(2) of the Land Code states the methods by which NCR land may be acquired (prior to Jan 1, 1958). They are:
However, a new Section 5(3) of the Code has given the State Government the power to extinguish any native customary rights by way of a directive by the Minister.
New section 5(6) went further in depriving the NCR land of the Dayaks by providing that in the event that there is a dispute whether any native customary rights exist or subsist over any State land, it shall be presumed until the contrary is proved that such State land is not encumbered by any such rights. With such a law placing the onus on the owner to prove that the land belongs to him and not the other way round as prior to the amendment, a massive extinguishment of the NCR land of Dayaks is enacted by the stroke of the pen!
These laws are clearly most unfair to the Dayak community, and in the briefing by Celestine Ujang, I will like to know in particular four things:
1. the government stand on a new 30-year extension of the definition for NCR land to include customary community land after January 1958 up till 1988;
2. what are the safeguards to prevent abuses and misuse of power as a result of the recent amendments to Sarawak Land Code, particularly in depriving Dayaks of their rightful NCR land;
3. how can the Dayaks participate fully in the development of NCR lands to ensure that they are partners and not victims of development; and
4. a referendum among the Dayaks on the state’s land policy.
I hope Celestine Ujang is fully confident about virtues of the Sarawak state land policy and would not back down from his invitation to give a special briefing to DAP leaders on the subject.