Iban landowners from six longhouses in Sungai Sut in the Baleh state constituency were shocked to find out that 125,000 hectares of their native customary rights (NCR) land have been leased to timber concessionaires Ta Ann Holdings for the planting of trees.
The assemblyman for Baleh is Senior Minister James Masing, who is also the state’s Land Development Minister.
Compounding the lease is the fact that Ta Ann is closely linked to Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud. The executive director of Ta Ann is Taib’s cousin Hamid Sepawi.
Lawyer Abun Sui said that he has in his possession a copy of a letter from the Forestry Department addressed to Ta Ann stating that Awang Tengah Ali Hassan, Second Resources, Planning and Environment Minister, had approved the provisional lease for Ta Ann to plant trees on the said area.
“The people were really shocked when I told them about the letter and that their NCR lands have been taken away from them and given to Ta Ann,” he said during a dialogue at Rumah Salang last week.
Ibans from the six longhouses, who were present, were very angry with Masing who is their elected representative.
He has represented Baleh, a part of the Hulu Rajang parliamentary constituency, since 1983.
“It is impossible for Masing and Parti Rakyat Sarawak’s potential candidate for Hulu Rajang, Wilson Ugak, who has been the chief minister’s political secretary for 15 years, not to know about the land-grabbing,” said Sui, who is PKR’s potential candidate for the constituency.
“Masing and Ugak are part of the government.
“And what make them [natives landowners] very angry is that both Masing and Ugak have never told them about their land being taken away for the planting of trees,” Sui said.
‘Vote BN out’
Like other NCR lands elsewhere, the NCR lands at Sungai Sut, Baleh, are planted with rubber, engkabang, fruit trees and cash crops. In their “temuda” land the natives have planted paddy.
Sui advised them to lodge a police report against Ta Ann for encroaching into their NCR land. He has also offered them his legal counsel.
He, however, warned them that the legal recourse would take a long time to settle.
“The easiest way is to vote the Barisan Nasional out in the coming election. When the BN government is replaced by the Pakatan Rakyat government, all agreements and provisional leases will be reviewed.
“Pakatan will form a land commission to review all these cases and will return lands to the genuine landowners,” he said, pointing out that this is the pledge of the Pakatan government.
Ibans first migrated to Ulu Rajang in the early 1800s, and by 1874 longhouse communities were established in Nanga Mujong, Nanga Sut, Baleh, Merirai and Entawau.
Forebears of Temenggong Koh, the paramount chief of the Ibans and Tun Temenggong Jugah Anak Barieng, the former Sarawak Minister of Sarawak Affairs, were the pioneering migrants to all these areas.
Temenggong Koh died in 1955, and his son Kenneth Kanyan is now the Temenggong of the Kapit Division.
Tun Jugah died in 1981, and his son Leonard Linggi is a very successful businessman, while his grandson, Alexander Nanta Linggi, is the current MP for Kapit.
Sui is expected to use the NCR land issue against the BN in Ulu Rajang, where he is expected to face either the incumbent Billy Abit Joo (from PRS) or Wilson Ugak, depending on Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s decision.
Also set to contest this seat is George Lagong, Sarawak Workers Party’s deputy president.
Ugak and Lagong have also been visiting longhouses in the constituency.