By STEPHEN THEN
MIRI: Certain state government departments are taking more than 10 years just to reply to complaint letters from people affected by land disputes.
In addition there are certain elected representatives who function at such slow pace that it takes them four or five years just to look into queries from their constituents who are affected by land development controversies.
These are among the grouses from the public that have surfaced during the current national inquiry into the land rights of indigenous people in Malaysia organised by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam).
More than 60 people gave testimonies yesterday at Miri Civic Centre during a public hearing presided over by Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, Commissioner (for Sarawak) Detta Samen, Commissioner James Nayagam and Commissioner (for Sabah) Jenny Lesimbang.
Hasmy, in his opening address, said that more than 150 reports of serious land problems, including disputes over development projects, and contamination of rivers and water catchment areas had been received so far in Sarawak during the current public hearing.
He said so far, there had been 61 cases that involved trespassing on native land by private companies and also state development agencies, 72 cases related to complaints of administrative weakness with regards to land rights registration and unhappiness over improper survey of native land and 25 cases of unfair compensations to natives for land acquired for development projects by the state government.
“Most of the complaints are against oil palm companies, logging companies, companies involved in planted forests (acacia plantations) and also against state agencies that acquire land for development projects.
“Many of these cases had been happening for years. The natives had complained that they were not consulted over these development projects on their land.
“Some of them said they had also been threatened by those who had encroached onto their land, while there were some who said there had been attempts to chase them out of their land.
“Suhakam have also received complaints from natives that their rivers have been polluted and that there are big development projects being carried out even in water catchment areas in the state,” he said.
As far as the trespassing of native land is concerned, northern Sarawak recorded the most cases so far with 24.
Kuching, Serian and Betong recorded 21 cases, Sibu and Kapit 15 cases and Bintulu 10 cases so far, said Hasmy.
He said Suhakam had also received reports from villagers who said the development companies and agencies had given them very low compensation for the land acquired from them.
“Suhakam will look into these complaints and find out the best mechanism to come to an amicable solution for the disputing parties,” he said.
He said representatives from the development companies had said they had been given provisional leases to develop the land where the natives are living.
“There had been attempts by the disputing parties to resolve the disputes but many negotiations and talks reached dead-ends,” he stressed.
During a case hearing yesterday afternoon, a villager from Lambir in Miri Division, gave evidence to the panel to prove that he had complained to the State Land and Survey Department and even written to his elected representative asking about his land that had been encroached upon by a private plantation company.
This man showed letters that he had written to the department and to the elected representative.
His letters were sent in 2001 and he only received a reply in 2005 from the elected representative.
Until today, his case is still unresolved.
“I feel sad because my appeals for help from the department and from the YB take years to be looked into and until today the case is still unresolved,” he said.
Other village folks who spoke as witnesses testified that even the cemeteries of their ancestors had been desecrated by plantation companies when they cleared land for their projects, and their farms and orchards had been bulldozed.
There were also complaints by villagers who were unhappy with the perimeter surveys currently carried out by the Land and Survey Department.
The public inquiry will continue in Miri until this Wednesday.
~ The Star