Angry native families in five villages in Sarawak have threatened to sue a company belonging to Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s son Bekir for allegedly grabbing their NCR land.
The office of embattled Chief Minister Taib Mahmud has allegedly promised to return land belonging to 495 native families if they did not proceed with a writ to sue his son’ company.
Sarawak PKR information chief See Chee How said that 490 families of Kampung Sempadi, Kampung Sungai China, Kampung Stoh, Kampung Kangka and Kampung Setia Jaya (also known as Kampung Ulu Riam) were told by Taib’s political secretary that they should not proceed with a writ to sue Polar Horizon Sdn Bhd, a company managed by Titanium which belongs to Taib’s son Bekir.
“We were supposed to file the suit yesterday (Thursday), but the day before yesterday (Wednesday) the villagers received a call from the political secretary to the chief minister asking them not to file the suit, promising them the provisional leases (PL) on their native customary rights (NCR) land will be cancelled.
“And the land will be returned to them,” said See, lawyer for the villagers.
See said that the villagers gave him (the political secretary) 24 hours to get the letter from the Land and Survey Department.
“Then yesterday they received a call again, saying that all the state assemblymen were meeting in Bintulu and he cannot get the letter. But they would give the letter next week and asked them not to file the writ today or Monday,” he said.
See said that Polar Horizon had sued the natives and Rona Hijau Sdn Bhd with whom the natives had a joint-venture agreement to develop over 2,135 hectares of land, accusing them of encroaching into its land and chasing away the villagers from the land.
The villagers in response filed their defence last week, declaring that the issuance of the provisional leases to Polar Horizon is unconstitutional, illegal and as such null and void. They claimed the provisional leases issued by the state encroached into native customary rights (NCR) land of the native residents from the five villages.
The natives have been occupying the land in Kampung Sempadi since 1902 and in the early 1920s had began clearing and cultivating the land.
Since 2005, the villagers have been involved in planting oil palm in parts and had converted some areas of their individual NCR land into smallholdings of oil palm gardens.
With the consent of the villagers in the respective kampungs, village committees and representatives of the villagers had negotiated with various plantation developers and management companies to develop parts of their NCR land into oil palm plantations and estates through joint- venture agreements.
In 2007, the natives entered into agreement with Rona Hijau, which had cleared and planted oil palm and had spent hefty sum of monies.
But on Feb 3, 2010, the Land and Survey Department had agreed to lease the NCR land to Polar Horizon.
Polar Horizon then filed a suit against Rona Hijau and allegedly issued eviction notices to the natives, claiming they had been given provisional leases for the land.
The natives in their counter claim want a declaration that the issuance of the provisional leases to the Polar Horizon is unlawful, improper, and unconstitutional and was therefore null and void.
The natives also want a prohibitory injunction restraining the Polar Horizon and or their employees or agents from trespassing, clearing, taking possession and or occupation of their NCR land.
They are also asking for costs, damages and such further and or other relief as the court deems fit and just.
‘Be wary of promises’
Meanwhile, Sarawak PKR has warned the people to be wary of promises made by the state Barisan Nasional (BN) government with regard to land matters.
Its chief Baru Bian said the BN leaders’ promises to withdraw provisional leases (PLs) on native customary rights (NCR) land and to lift Section 47 placed on certain land must be taken with a pinch of salt.
“The people have to be extra cautious… it is election time now” he said, in apparent reference to a statement by Deputy Chief Minister George Chan who said that the government had approved the rescission of the compulsory acquisition of land at Bako.
Bian was also referring to an attempt by Taib’s political secretary to stop villagers of the five kampungs in Lundu not to proceed with a writ to sue Polar Horizon.
“If yesterday, the government has issued a PL without your consent, today it will withdraw it. And tomorrow, if they are still in the government, they can issue another PL to another company and enforce another Section 47 on the same piece of land.
“I want the people of Sarawak to understand that this has been going on for the last 30 years since Taib became the chief minister. You have to be cautious about their promises.
“This is BN politics. In all this kind of provisional leases, the consent and consultation process with the locals has never been conducted.
“They have never had any meeting with the people as confirmed by witnesses in NCR land court cases.
“The people are in the dark. Suddenly a year or two later, bulldozers come and destroy their land,” he said, pointing out that Pakatan Rakyat will never do that sort of thing.
“Until and unless we are certain that the people are happy with the development and with the extinguishment of their rights, then only will we issue provisional leases or licences. That is the difference between BN and PR,” he added.
Bian said that since this is election time, the people should demand and insist on their rights and get as much as possible.
“The BN will give everything during the election time – there will be lots of projects, the withdrawal of PL and all the goodies to the people.
“But remember if they are still the government tomorrow after the election, there will be no guarantee that they will honour their promises,” he said.