DEWAN UNDANGAN NEGERI SARAWAK
18-27 NOVEMBER 2013
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address this august House on the occasion of debating the Budget 2014 presented by the Honorable Chief Minister on 18th November 2013.
· NATIVE CUSTOMARY RIGHTS
Native customary rights to land have been in existence for centuries in Sarawak and given recognition by Brooke and British administrations via the rules, regulations and ordinances drawn up and passed by them. NCR over land are held by the Courts to be within the meaning of the right to livelihood, and therefore protected under Art 5(1) of the Federal Constitution.
The Courts including the Federal Court recognise that NCR subsist over land comprising cleared/farmed land (temuda), reserved forests area (pulau galau) and communal land (pemakai menoa). The State authorities have failed and/or refused to recognise and enforce the Courts’ decisions, resulting in numerous legal actions thereby wasting the time and resources of the litigants and courts. Even the State Legal advisor continues to ignore the decisions of the courts by persisting in arguing that the custom and practice recognized by law as establishing rights to the land is confined to temuda only.
According to the 2010 census, 71.2% of Sarawak’s population is made up of indigenous people belonging to 28 groups. This is a large proportion, to whom Native Customary Rights land means everything. Our esteemed Prime Minister said recently in London that to maintain stability, ‘the majority of the people must not be marginalised’. It is not a comfortable truth but that appears to be happening in Sarawak, and will continue to be the case if we do not adhere to the decisions of the Courts in this country.
In order to prevent the indiscriminate issuing of timber and plantation licences over NCR land and the subsequent litigation, I have submitted a motion to propose an amendment to the definition of ‘Native Customary Land’ in the Sarawak Land Code to include the reserved forests area (pulau galau) and communal land (pemakai menoa) as recognized by the courts. I hope that Mr Speaker and the members of this August house will support my motion, especially those from the indigenous groups, keeping in mind the PM’s words that ‘the majority of the people must not be marginalised’. In the event that my motion is rejected, I humbly ask my friends, the honourable members of the government, to bring this proposal to the SAG’s chambers as soon as possible.
No Compensation on NCR in Bakun
Still on the issue of NCR, I have been informed by the people of Uma Bawang, now at the Resettlement Scheme Asap Koyan, that no compensation has been made to them for their NCR lands submerged by the Bakun Dam. The burial grounds of their ancestors were originally meant to be outside the submerged areas but were subsequently submerged as well. No compensation has been made for this area either. From my understanding this problem is not only faced by the people from Uma Bawang but a few other villages affected by Bakun Dam. These affected people wish to know if the Government intends to make compensation for such NCR Lands.
Added to their woes, the government has issued notices that it intends to gazette the islands created by the impoundment of the dam as Bakun National Park. These islands are all that remain of the NCR lands of the people and it is totally unnecessary and extremely cruel to deprive them of even that. The least the Government can do is to admit their NCR over these “islands” and regulate the use of those islands rather than enforcing a total denial of their rights. Otherwise the world would look at it as a sly exercise to finish off the last remaining claims the people have to the land left unsubmerged by the dam. Like it or not, with this scenario, the government would be seen to be hell-bent on exterminating the natives of rural Sarawak. I wish to remind the government of the international standards, which the Chief Minister pledged in the State Assembly to adhere to, in implementing projects which impact on the people, in particular, UNDRIP. The requirements include free, prior and informed consent, just and fair compensation and the right to participate in decision making in matters which affect their rights. Perhaps it is time for the Government to adopt these procedures consistent with the Chief Minister’s undertaking of adhering to international standards and requirements in implementing public projects.
Sale & Purchase of NCR temuda Lands
In July of this year, the Federal Court held that NCR land (‘temuda’) cannot be transferred to another party by sale and purchase agreements even amongst the same native tribe or community. This decision caused much dismay to those who had been transacting such agreements and generated calls from many parties for a review of the laws regulating land in Sarawak so that the legislation and the adat of the communities would be consistent, as the Court had also stated that the question of sale of NCR temuda is subject to the adat or custom of the community concerned.
Not allowing the disposition of NCR land among the communities is a disservice and an unfairness on the native peoples as it would in effect be making their NCR lands worthless, and thus does not promote the well-being of the natives, as observed by the court in the case of Mohamad Rambli Bin Kawi. Therefore the calls for changes to be made to the law are to be expected.
I wish to bring to the attention of this Dewan that in fact, the State Government had already made an amendment to the law by way of the Land Code (Amendment) Ordinance 2000, section 6 of which amends the Land Code to permit the transfer of registered native land rights from one native to another.
However, only selected sections of the Ordinance were gazetted into law vide Sarawak Government Gazette dated 1st of April 2002 signed by the Chief Minister. One wonders if this was an April Fool’s joke on the native community, as the relevant section 6 was not one of the sections gazetted to come into force. This peculiarity, has escaped the attention of many, and no explanation has ever been sought or given for it. I call upon the Chief Minister to explain and to see to it that those sections of the Land Code (Amendment) Ordinance 2000 which were not gazetted into law be done so without delay. I would be most interested to find out why it was not gazetted accordingly.
The Indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak are caught in a vicious cycle of poverty. The main determinant for their economic progress is through the accumulation of human capital through education. However, the government has far to go in terms of providing even the most basic infrastructure for rural schools, not to mention quality teachers and equipment. The Education Minister admitted earlier this year that rural schools in Sabah and Sarawak lagged behind in facilities and needed massive support to catch up with urban schools. He said, “I agree that education facilities in rural areas should be better. There should be no discrimination just because they are located in remote areas”.
The Education Blueprint had stated that the Education Ministry would ensure that 100% of schools meet basic infrastructure requirements including access to clean, treated water; at least 12-hours of electricity per day, along with sufficient toilets, classrooms, tables, and chairs for the student and teacher population by 2015, starting with Sabah and Sarawak.
It further stated that the Ministry had conducted a detailed infrastructure audit to establish the amount of repairs required to bring all schools in line with the benchmark for basic infrastructure. The repairs and upgrades would proceed in stages, starting with Sabah and Sarawak as schools in these states are in most need of repairs. By the end of 2013, critical repairs and upgrades would be completed across all 1,608 schools with critical needs.
We are close to the end of 2013 but I can safely say that our rural schools with critical needs remain in dire straits. Of particular concern to me is the Physical Infrastructure Audit Report 2011 of the schools in severely damaged condition that 57% of all secondary schools and 28% of all primary schools have ‘very badly worn down electrical wiring’. This poses extreme danger to students and staff and needs to be addressed without delay. Lives are at risk from fire or electrocution. I hope that our Minister for Welfare will be able to enlighten us as to how many of the 57% secondary schools and 28% primary schools in this category are schools in Sarawak. How much of the RM450 mil allocated in the Federal Budget 2014 to the Special Fund for Building Upgrading and Maintenance of Schools will be spent on our schools? It is disappointing to note that there was no special allocation made for our schools, even after the government had acknowledged that our schools are most in need of repairs.
The news was splashed all over the newspapers earlier this month of the Chief Minister and other state leaders patting themselves on the back for the fact that Sarawak has RM22bil in reserves. And on the other hand we get to read regularly of the atrocious condition of schools in rural areas, many in dilapidated disrepair, without access to piped water or grid electricity. There is nothing to be proud of, and actually it is downright embarrassing to keep proclaiming Sarawak as being one of the richest states and is set be the richest state by 2030, if we cannot even provide basic education facilities for the children of Sarawak.
I came back from visiting at least four Primary Schools in my area few months ago and was appalled at the fact that the physical condition of these schools is wanting. I commented to one of the Guru Besar, “the only difference between my time in Lg Semadoh primary School in the 1960s and these kids in 2013 are, one, they have lights and two, they have mattresses but still no beds.” The Persatuan Ibu-Bapa Guru (PIBG) in some schools are pressured to build teachers quarters at their own cost. To me this is not right.
I am aware that Education is under the purview of the Federal Government and that not all the schools are in a dire straits, but perhaps since we have proudly declared that we have a very healthy financial status, education should be one of the areas that the State Government should come along side to assist as and when the need arises.
· DRUGS & ILLEGAL ONLINE GAMBLING
I had brought up the problem of drug abuse and trafficking in Limbang and Lawas before but the police, who challenged me to produce evidence instead of conducting their own investigation, denied this. I must bring this issue up again. I was recently informed by the villagers in Ba’ Kelalan that four Lun Bawangs were arrested in Indonesia for possession of huge amounts of drugs and were sent to Nunukan. Their future is very bleak. I do not have any further details of this but it shows that my concerns about this matter, ie the Lun Bawangs’ exposure to the drug trade, were valid. The police must be more proactive and take precautionary measures against drug related offenses, particularly in towns which are close to the porous border we share with Indonesia.
Last Saturday, the Borneo Post reported the concern of two State Ministers, the Honourable members for Belaga and Baleh of this same issue now spreading into the Asap and the Ulu Kapit areas. The issue begs answers from the Police. We want statistics as to how effective the Police have been in suppressing drugs/syabu trafficking in Sarawak.
On a similar issue, as raised by other Honourable Members of this august house on Monday while debating the Local Authorities (Amendment) Bill 2013, illegal online gambling is flourishing in Lawas too. I have been informed that more than 20 outlets are operating in Lawas town and some are now moving their operation centers into housing areas to avoid detection. Young and old are affected no matter what profession they come from.
Shortly after I became a member of this August House, the Deputy Chief Minister, in the spirit of generosity and co-operation assured me that his Ministry was ready and willing to supply all farmers with fish fries and rubber seedlings. I had then spread the word around of the Deputy Chief Minister’s promise. However, I have since then been told on numerous occasions that it was an uphill task trying to get any fish fries or rubber seedlings from the agriculture offices. Indeed, when I tested it by trying to apply for fries, I was given a form to apply for a pond/fish tank licence, with numerous requirements attached, such as the need to form a company, submit plans, title to the land etc, which then had to be sent to Limbang or Miri for approval. Even as a lawyer, the requirements in the form felt too onerous for me, what more to say the people in the villages. This red tape is unnecessary if the Department of Agriculture is serious about wanting to help the rural folk in their farming ventures. Many of them are not well educated and the requirements they have to fulfill will exclude the majority of them from being able to benefit from the Ministry’s programme. I am requesting that the process be made simpler and the authority to approve be given to the Ministry staff at the Agriculture stations throughout the state.
I also discovered that fish fries and the best rubber clone are not available at the Agricultural station in Lawas. I would appreciate clarification from the Minister concerned on this issue and on where these fries and clones would be available.
· LOCAL ISSUES
ü Lawas Hospital
Mr Speaker, the hospital in Lawas is still being housed in rented shoplots while the new hospital is being built on the site of the old hospital. The reason given for not building on a piece of land previously allocated for the new hospital was that the land was too swampy. Now there is a new shopping centre being built on a piece of land next to the old hospital, which I was told is also state land. The question on the minds of the people of Lawas is, why is priority given to a new shopping centre instead of a hospital? Why was that piece of state land not offered to be used to build the new Lawas hospital but given to a shopping centre development? The people would like some answers as to how this came about and whether the state land has now been transferred to a private company. Healthcare for the people of Lawas should take precedence over another shopping centre. I hope the Minister concerned can enlighten us on this issue.
ü Solar System Projects in Lg Semadoh Neseb & Lg Sukang.
I brought up this matter at the previous sitting of the Dewan and having received no explanation, I wish to again ask when they will be operational to provide electricity for the villagers. The people want to know why the projects are not commissioned yet even though they are ready to generate power. I understand too that once operational, the whole system would be handed to SESCO to manage and meters would be installed and the users would be charged accordingly. I would appreciate it if the Minister in charge could confirm that indeed this would be the case.
ü Water Treatment Plant In Buduk Nur
Around three months ago, I paid a visit to the Buduk Nur water treatment plant built at a cost of about RM3mil which malfunctioned a month after it was installed. I understand that water is running through the pipe from Sg Muda nearby but the treatment system cannot treat the water as planned. The project is yet to be commissioned. Can the Minister for Rural Development give us a satisfactory explanation and tell us when the people can expect to get clean water for their daily needs or are we going to see another instance of a waste of the taxpayer’s money and another statistic or a so-called “failed project”?
Yet another failed project in my area is the Windmill project, which I also visited not long ago. Three windmill turbines costing about RM6mil I was told, were supposed to produce power in Bario. As I understand it, one of the problems is that they built the windmills at the foot of a hill, where there is not much wind to power it. In Europe, wind turbines are built on huge open fields where there are strong winds. I was told that previously, one of the windmills had collapsed, but it was put up again. To date it is still not functioning. Can the Minister responsible give us an explanation?
The total cost of these two projects (the Buduk Nur Water Treatment Plant and this Bario Windmill) of about RM10 million, could have been utilized for the construction of teachers quarters, hostels and school buildings in the rural areas of my constituency which are in dire need due to lack of allocation from the Federal Government as I had pointed out earlier.
This Dewan was told in a previous session that the Lawas-Long Sukang Road was halted because of some unresolved NCR claims. However, upon enquiry, I found out that there was no such problem. As indicated by the honourable Minister in the previous sitting there is some balance of the budget allocation available for a re-tender and I would be happy to assist the Minister in any way I can to get this project started again. If there is indeed any NCR claims which became a hindrance, please furnish me the names of all the claimants and I undertake to resolve this matter.
On the Bario-Ba’ Kelalan Road, I would like to ask whether there is a plan to reroute the road, given the strong objection of the locals to the current planned route. After constructing about 3 km, works had stopped. May we be informed as to why works had stopped?
I would also like to request that a proper road be built to link Lawas to Long Luping as the current road is a logging road, which is very dangerous for the village folks to use. A few fatal accidents had already occurred in view of the different rules used by the logging companies.
I had in previous sittings raised the issue of the Trusan-Tengoa road but to this day the condition remains the same with potholes, and few places need resurfacing and sealing. I would appreciate it if the Minister in charge can inform this august house as to what had been planned to maintain this road.
Recently, I drove twice by road to Bario from Miri taking about 12 hours. When I first went in September 2013, I was very impressed with the construction of the stretch of road from Long Peluan to Bario. But when I went a second time on 12th of November 2013, I was shocked to see many of the culverts had been washed away or blocked completely either by the erosion of the hills or due to the debris brought in by flooded streams. Fortunately, the contractor was able to clear these areas a few days before my trip. But I observed that the problem will recur once the landas season begins in December to February. I note that certain areas must be built with higher bridges, not just culverts to avoid the same problem. I hope the Minister would check this out and do the necessary before this road is fully destroyed and travel disrupted.
ü Deep Sea Port For Pulau Bukit Sari, Lawas.
The transportation of goods to Lawas and Limbang is inconvenient and costly given the long distances and poor roads from the major ports. Building a deep-sea port at Pulau Bukit Sari would enable goods to be sent directly to the area and will serve to boost economic activity for the community in Limbang and Lawas. I would like to ask the government to look into the feasibility of this proposal. I am certain my friends the Honourable Member for Bukit Sari and the Honourable Member of Bukit Kota, Limbang would agree with this proposal.
ü SMK Lg Semadoh
I have been told that a secondary School at Lg Semadoh was approved a few years ago and a piece of land had been identified and acquired for that purpose. I wish to know when this school will be built. Such a school would be timely to cater for all the students from around the Lg Sukang, Lg Luping, Lg Semadoh and Ba’ Kelalan areas as children from these areas are now sent to SMK Trusan and SMK Sundar, a great distance from home, making it a real problem for the parents to visit their children on weekends or vice-versa.
ü Potential For Tourism in Lg Semadoh
Long Semadoh, with its wonderful scenery and cool climate, has the potential to be a tourist destination. However, transport remains a great challenge and thus it is not accessible to many. I would like to propose that the old Long Semadoh airport be reopened and expanded or better still, a bigger and new airport be built in Lg Semadoh area. This will not only open up the area for tourism, but also for agricultural activities to take advantage of the soil fertility and cool climate, as I was made to understand that the most fertile and arable land in Sarawak is in and around the Lg Semadoh area.
ü The Allah Issue
Finally I wish to say that Sarawakians must be united in our rejection of the ruling of the court on the Allah issue and the supremacist attitudes of a small group of narrow-minded people. The various races and ethnic groups of Sarawak are celebrated for their ability to live in harmony and we must not let this unique trait be poisoned and destroyed by religious bigotry. Let us be vigilant and keep the undesirables away from our shores. I wish also to say that this issue has been allowed to simmer and fester as a political ploy of the UMNO government to whip up Malay support in Peninsula Malaysia. In this regard, I applaud the statements made by our state leaders on both sides of the political divide including the Honourable Chief Minister in disagreeing with the Allah ban especially for Sarawak and I pray that logic and justice will prevail in this matter. Please be reminded that political leaders come and go but the laws remain as precedents. As such I urge the executive of our State Government to remain vigilant to ensure that no religious bigots take advantage of such ruling to curtail our religious rights and freedoms as enshrined under the Federal Constitution and guaranteed under the Malaysia Agreement 1963.
Finally, may I take this opportunity to wish all Christians in and outside this august house a blessed Christmas and a Prosperous New Year, and to all our Muslim friends, Selamat Menyambut Maal Hijrah.
May God bless Sarawak.
N70 Ba’ Kelalan