Monday, February 21, 2011

‘Cheated into allowing logging on our land’

Keruah Usit

About 30 villagers who are defending their land rights against a logging company, Quality Concrete, substantially owned by Taib Mahmud’s sister Roziah @ Radziah Mahmud, their cousin Hamed Sepawi and the Mahmud’s brother-in-law and former Sarawak State Secretary Abdul Aziz Bin Husain, lodged police reports simultaneously at the Sungai Maong police station in Kuching this morning.

The reports were against cheating, misrepresentation and forged signatures on a “Deed of Settlement and Undertaking” purportedly allowing the logging company to enter and log in their land.

The villagers have a lawsuit pending against logging contractor Loyal Billion and timber licensee Quality Concrete, alleging that the companies had trespassed on the villagers’ ancestral Native Customary Rights (NCR) land.

The 15 Iban longhouse communities taking the action at The High Court in Kuching was also granted an interim injunction on January 26 against the logging company, restraining them from continuing logging and land clearing works and any other related activities within the area which the communities are claiming native customary rights (NCR).

Then two days before the inter-parte hearing of the injunction at the Kuching High Court on February 18, lawyer for the companies, Tang and Partners Advocates submitted documents to the court which indicated landowners had signed away their rights to the company to log in the villagers’ land.

villagers waiting to lodge their reports at the Sungai Maong station in Kuching

Counsels for the villagers had been busy attending to the trial of Numpang charged with criminal intimidation at the Simunjan Magistrate Court on Feb 16, some two hours’ drive away from Kuching.

A “Deed of Settlement and Undertaking” dated 30 August 2010 and witnessed by another Kuching-based lawyer was made between “The Native Customary Rights Claimants” with almost 300 names and signatures from some 15 villages and the logging contractor Loyal Billion Sdn Bhd.

Penghulu Merum Ak Babu of Sebangan, the third defendant in the civil suit by the villagers, and represented by the companies’ legal firm of Tang and Partners Advocate in the civil suit, signed under the wording of “I the following person representing the stated office, hereby affix my hands and seals as common witness.”

Loyal Billion was signed by directors Tiang Ming Nguong and Lau Pong Hui.

No further claims

The key “settlement” involves the company paying each ‘pintu’ or household dwelling RM250 as the one-off “Ex-gratia Compensation” and the villagers “collectively and individually” agree to the extinguishment by compensation, of their NCR claims, thus allowing the company to extract all merchantable timber.

The villagers are then not allowed to make further claims against the company “for compensation or proprietary or personal rights the merchantable timber in the said area now or in the future.”

When lodging police reports, villagers acknowledged being given RM250 by the third defendant, Penghulu Merum Ak Babu but they were specifically meant as money for “saguhati Kampung” or compensation for damages done, and definitely not for selling of rights.

Villagers had lodged several police reports against the company for encroachment to no effect but when the company made a police report after company machineries were burnt, the lead plaintiff in the civil suit against the company, Numpang was arrested and detained together with 6 other villagers.

Numpang was then charged with criminal intimidation and trial was on Feb 16. Submission by Numpang’s counsels lead by Baru Bian (right), See Chee How and Desmond Koh was set for March 2, with decision expected on March 10.

The Kuching High Court is scheduled to deliver the judgement on February 22 whether to extend the interim injunction or not.

4 comments:

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