KUCHING: The continuous conflicts over land in the state is because of the vague and weak definition of native customary rights (NCR) and the Sarawak Land Code, said Borneo Resource Institute (Brimas).
According to Brimas executive director Mark Bujang, this is also the reason why more than 300 NCR land related cases are pending in court.
Citing the Penan community as an example, Bujang said certain quarters in the government believe that this group have no NCR rights because they are nomadic.
“But the fact is even though they are always ‘roaming’, traditionally the Penans live in the forest and have their own distinct territory.
“The challenge is when the executive — the state government – does not want to follow the recent court judgement.
“There are more than 20 cases such as Nor Nyawai, Madeli Salleh and Tuai Rumah Sandah, in which the courts have decided that NCR is not confined only to Temuda (farmed land) but also Pemakai Menoa (communal land) and Pulau Galau (reserved land).
“The indigenous communities say that Pulau Galau, Pemakai Menoa and Temuda are NCR.
“But the state government only recognizes Temuda (farmed land). This is the source of conflict,” he said.
Bujang was presenting a paper on the ‘Indigenous people’s role in traditional forest conservation and governance in Sarawak’ at a Capacity Building Workshop on Forest Watch Initiative in Sarawak organised by Transparency International Malaysia here yesterday.
He said although NCR was recognised by the state government under the Sarawak Land Code, there were some weaknesses in the definition of terms that needed to be accepted, understood and resolved.
“The other weakness that the state faced is weak enforcement. We can see there are a lot of reports lodged with the enforcement agencies (on land matters).
“But there is either no action taken or the action is weak,” he said.
Urgent need for a tribunal
He also touched on the contentious proposal to build 12 hydropower dams.
“The issue is not about how many dams (are built) but whether the communities affected have consented to the construction of dams and how will the implementation of the projects be,” he said.
He added that the state was striving towards industrialisation through Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) and that large tracts of forest are being cleared and in some cases converted into oil palm plantations.
Bearing this in mind, he said the indigenous communities recommended that a pre-site survey be conducted before there is any issuance of logging and forest plantation licenses to determine whether the communities have rights over the land.
He said what is urgently needed is for the government to set up a commission or tribunal to look into the current legislation and land/forestry policies with regards to NCR in line with what the courts have already decided.
“The government should set up a commission or tribunal to look into this. This was proposed by Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak (Tan Sri Panglima) Richard Malanjum last year.
“He said there should be a body looking into the matter of NCR disputes because there are not enough lawyers and experts to deal with this issue,” Bujang said.
He also urged the state government to respect the demands and wishes of the indigenous people when developing their territories.
“It is not necessary that the government has to decide for the community. They now have the capacity to decide what sort of development that they want on their own.
“If there is any development that has negative impact on the communities, we urge the state government to halt it.
“Call for a dialogue session and meeting to engage the communities before proceeding with the project,” he said.
~ Free Malaysia Today