Hornbill Unleashed

March 2, 2011

NCR land: Court sets historic precedent

Patrick Lee

Federal Court grants leave to challenge Sarawak government over its ‘usurping’ of native customary rights land

PUTRAJAYA: The Federal Court today set a momentous precedent when it granted leave to lawyers to challenge the Sarawak state government’s aquisition of Native Customary Rights (NCR) land.

Human rights lawyers Sulaiman Abdullah and Baru Bian argued that native customary rights were akin to ‘the right of life’ under Article 5 of the Federal Constitution and that methods employed by the Sarawak state government to acquire NCR land were unconstitutional.

They named the Sarawak state government as the respondents.

Chief Justice Zaki Azmi and Justices Zulkifli Ahmad Makinudin and Raus Sharif presided over the hearing.

Bian said that the leave granted was a historic precedent. “The power of the state government to extinguish NCR over land in Sarawak is challenged,” he said.

Bian said that Sarawak Land Code Section 5(3) and 5(4) allowed the state government to usurp NCR land after paying compensation.

Bian, who claimed he was currently handling over 100 NCR cases, said that the state government was guilty of taking indigenous land without informing Sarawakian natives first.

The state government was also accused of paying these natives a pittance for their ancestral land, before selling it off to private companies.

JC Fong, the Sarawak government’s legal counsel, argued that Native Customary Rights over land could be “extinguished” so long as compensation to affected natives were paid.

Unreasonable offer

Bintulu resident, Jaili Sulaiman said that his father-in-law’s 122-hectare land in Tatau was seized by the Sarawak government, only to be given to a paper-making company.

Jaili said the government had offered to compensate him for RM4,000 a hectare. He turned it down, calling it an unreasonable offer.

“The government took our land and sold it to a company called Borneo Pulp and Paper,” said Jalili, adding that gangsters were hired by the government to chase out residents staying in the area.

“When we make a police report, they pretend not to hear. But when the gangsters make a report, there’s an investigation in 24 hours!” added Jaili.

Another Sarawakian native, Bato Bagi, 74, told FMT that his own village was affected by the construction of the Bakun hydroelectric dam.

In return, the Sarawak government offered his family three acres of land and a place at the Sungai Asap resettlement housing scheme.

Bato flatly refused but was forced to move upstream to other NCR areas after his village was flooded by the dam.

He was also angry with Sarawak legal counsel JC Fong for claiming that Bato and his kin had been resettled by the state government.

“I never went to the resettlement,” said an angry Bato after the hearing. “He (JC Fong) doesn’t know what he’s saying. He only hears what other people say. When did we go to Sungai Asap?”

The case will resume on April 28, 9am at the Putrajaya Federal Court.

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