Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Richard Malanjum’s proposal for the authorities to set up a land tribunal in Sabah to hear native land-related cases must ensure that the body is bestowed with full “powers”, a prominent native customary rights (NCR) lawyer here said.
Baru Bian, who is also state PKR chairman, while lauding Malanjum’s suggestion, said the more important factor in setting up such a tribunal is its composition and authority.
“This is very encouraging news which is line with our earlier proposal. Now the most important thing is the composition and power of the tribunal.
“The basic requirements and qualifications of a High Court judge are that he is familiar with natives ‘adat’ and culture.
“They must be independently appointed,” Bian said.
He was responding to a statement by Malanjum that a native land tribunal should be set up in Sabah to provide a more effective alternative to resolving disputes involving native land.
Malanjum said that a dedicated body, similar to the Waitangi Tribunal in New Zealand, would be more flexible and therefore able to settle disputes faster and more efficiently.
He has suggested that it “may be time for the state to consider setting up such a commission, instead of just throwing native land dispute cases to civil courts”.
“In some cases, judges from Peninsular Malaysia, who may not be that familiar with Sabah’s native customary land rights, have to preside in local cases and as a result, these cases may be decided as they would have been in similar land cases in the peninsula,” Malajum reportedly said.
Bian said Pakatan Rakyat Sarawak comprising PKR, DAP and PAS had, in the last election, included the setting up of a land commission in its manifesto.
Among others, the commission would assist the state and the natives to solve the increasing problems connected to NCR land.
Bian, who is Ba’Kelalan assemblyman, had raised the proposal at the State Legislative Assembly in its June meeting last year and urged the government to set up the land commission.
He had argued that establishing a land commission was “crucial” because the court and the state government had different ideas on NCR land.
The government is of the view that NCR land covered only areas farmed before Jan 1, 1958.
But the court had ruled that NCR land also included “pemakai menua” and “pulau galau”.
Bian’s suggestion was rejected outright by the state government.
Currently, there are more than 200 NCR land cases pending hearing in the High Court, and many have been in the court for more than five years.
“Lately there has been some improvement. With the setting up of the tribunal, many of the cases can be expedited,” Bian said.