Saturday, December 11, 2010

'Ignorant' minister draws flak over NCR land

By Joseph Tawie

KUCHING: Sarawak’s Minister of Infrastructure Development and Communication Michael Manyin has come under fire for saying that community leaders do not have the authority to endorse native customary right (NCR) lands.

Sarawak PKR leaders Baru Bian and Nicholas Bawin accused him of being “ignorant” of the Land Code.

Bian (photo), who is chairman of Sarawak PKR, said that community leaders had an important role to play in confirming whether the land was NCR land or not.

“It will be a serious abdication of responsibility for headmen to shy away or be prevented by certain political powers or individuals from discharging their important duties. It is irresponsible of them not to exercise their rights. I smell something fishy,” he said.

Manyin had reminded community leaders not to assume that they had the authority to validate the rightful owner of a NCR land.

“Only the Land and Survey Department has the authority to do that,” he said, adding that he came across cases of community leaders, especially in Bidayuh areas, certifying individuals as the rightful owner of a piece of land in their village.

“I would like to remind them that they have no power to do so. Even the chief minister who is also the planning and resource management minster can only endorse the land as NCR upon the advice of the department,” he said.

Government is worried

Speaking to FMT, Bian said: “I think this is political. It is the pressure from the political masters. The natives are getting more educated and aware of their rights and willing to make a stand.”

“The government is worried. Because at the end of the day who do you expect to confirm our rights over land? Certainly you don’t expect (Chief Minister) Abdul Taib Mahmud and non-natives to come forward to decide for our rights.

“It is we who should decide our right on our land. If it is left to the government to decide it, then it will be dangerous,” he warned.

Bian, a well-known NCR land lawyer, said that it would appear that native leaders were succumbing to a third force which was higher than them.

“Our Tuai Rumah (village chiefs) should be elected by the people and not appointed by the government as many of them are not qualified on the customs and adat of the Dayaks,” he said.

Bian said that under the Barisan Nasional government the Dayaks had no future, pointing out that under Pakatan Rakyat, the people would get a better deal.

'If I was him, I'll shut up'

Meanwhile, PKR election bureau director Bawin blasted Manyin for his ignorance with regards to the customs and adat of Dayaks.

“Under the adat, the Tuai Rumah, Penghulu, Pemancha and Temenggong are custodians of the adat. They are appointed because they have substantial knowledge of the land," he said.

Bawin, a former deputy president of the Council of Native Customary Laws, said land was an integral and important part of the native community.

"Land means so much to the natives. It is where the people do their farming, planting fruit trees and foraging for food.

"If I was Manyin, I will shut my mouth. By reminding them of their role, you are actually threatening them. Later on they may not want to stand for the rights of the people under their jurisdiction.

“The community leaders are in the best position to know the rights of their people. It cannot be anybody else from outside,” he said, adding that community leaders’ land were also taken away.

Courts recognise NCR

Accusing the minister of lying that the government did not take away people’s land, he said: “The fact there are about 250 land cases brought by landowners is evidence to say that the government has been grabbing people’s land.”

“Even though the state government does not recognise our native customary rights over land, we are happy that the court recognises the ‘pemakai menua’ (territorial rights) of the community which has existed before any legislation on this land,” he added.

To the question that only the Land and Survey Department and the minister of planning and resources management had the prerogative of endorsing NCR land, Bawin said: “My fear and worry about this statement is that how far have they done the survey work. We know the attitude of the people in the Land and Survey Department. They do not want to go to the ground.”

“We have been independent for 47 years and it appears nothing much has been done regarding the surveying of the land. NCR land should have been given titles over 47 years ago,” he said.

Bawin called on the Land and Survey Department to respect the adat and rights of the people over land.

He said the deparment must work hand-in-hand with the landowners to get their views and not only seek the views of one party.

He said native landowners had no problem with their land when Sarawak was under the Brooke regime, the colonial government and even during the Japanese occupation.

“The problem only occurred when the BN state government took over the administration of the state and has since seized lands owned by the natives and leased them to their cronies under the concept of politics of development,” he said.

From Free Malaysia Today

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