Hornbill Unleashed

July 20, 2013

‘Amend NCR land laws, help improve our lives’

Filed under: Native Customary Rights — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:00 AM
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FMT Staff

Land development practices currently taking place in Sarawak warrants amendment to laws governing native customary rights land, say the Kayan community.

The estimated 15,000-strong Kayan community in Sarawak want laws governing native customary rights (NCR) on land to be amended. The tribe believes that changes to the NCR land laws will help improve the socio-economic status of the community.

Legally, under the NCR land development concept, natives cannot enter into joint venture with persons outside their community. But this has not stopped oil palm companies and unscrupulous parties from exploiting the impoverished tribes.

The Kayans are among the many tribal communities who’ve become ‘victims’ of the state administration’s massive development plans which include the construction of mega dams to support its bid to fuel the needs of Sarawak Corridor for Renewable Energy (SCORE).

The Kayans live predominantly in the northern interior and along the Baram, upper Rejang and lower Tubau rivers where the infamous Baram dam is in place.

In a statement today, the Kuching Kayan Association chairman, Mering Wan, said amending the current land laws and issuing titles on NCR land was the “surest way” to uplift the socio-economic status of the community affected by the current land development policies in the state.

Mering said the ongoing development in the state warrants a review and amendment to ensure NCR land is protected.

“The present situation warrants laws governing NCR to be amended to meet the needs brought about by development. With the present laws on NCR land, native lands would become economically useless or may even be lost,” he said.

Responding to the recent federal court decision, Mering said although NCR land laws are implemented with the best intention to protect native lands from being sold to non-natives, the laws however needed to be ‘upgraded’.

“The NCR laws should be changed to suit the current situation. The new laws must take into consideration the vast development going on in the state.

“For instance under the present law, those who fail to cultivate their NCR lands in a given period of time would risk losing ownership of the lands,” he said citing the example of 60-year-old farmer in the longhouse who owned several plots of NCR land but with none of his children having an interest in farming.

Upgrade laws

In such a scenario, Mering said the farmer could possibly lose his lands as he could not cultivate it alone.

“The NCR land law is supposed to protect the farmer’s interest and not make the land a burden. The NCR land has currently no value in the market because of the stipulated conditions governing the land such as the land must be used for agriculture purposes only.

“Amending the laws and issuing titles to the lands would be the surest way to uplift the natives’ socio-economic status,” he said.

The association was responding to the volley of differing views following last week’s federal court ruling that NCR land cannot be transferred by sale and purchase agreements, nor can native customary rights so acquired over the temuda (farm land) by a native be sold to another person who does not belong to the same community.

While some Dayak leaders and big oil palm companies had expressed shock at the court’s ruling and have called for an overhaul of state land laws, others such as former president of the Sarawak Council of Native Customary Laws said it was “disadvantageous”.

He said asking to amend the adat and land laws on NCR land would eventually put the community “in a disadvantageous position.”

“If these people want the adat and land laws changed then they have to be specific as to what sections of the laws needs to be amended.

“To me, the most important decision of the courts is the recognition of our NCR land, and this decision will once and for all erase the government’s perception that ‘all land not surveyed or any land not issued with a land title, including land under NCR claim is government land’,” he said.

Immediately after the court ruling, the Sarawak Dayak National Union (SDNU) called for a review of all land code, laws or ordinance to address land problems which affected the community.

It’s vice-president, Anthony Bayan, said the NCR land laws needed to be “updated” so that the Dayaks could “catch up” with the progress in the country.

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