Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Gov't breaches fiduciary duties to Seletar tribe, rules court

Geraldine Tong     Published     Updated
The Johor Baru High Court ruled that both the Johor and federal government had breached their fiduciary duties related to the customary land rights of the Orang Seletar community.

"The court found that the state government had breached their fiduciary duty to the Orang Seletar.

"Their fiduciary duty towards the Orang Seletar is to protect their land by gazetting the land that they occupy but (the state government) failed to do so.

"The court also found that the federal government through Orang Asli Development Department (JKOA) has breached their fiduciary duties to the Orang Seletar as well, for not ensuring the state government protected their lands," lawyer S Yogeswaran told Malaysiakini today.

The Seletar tribe, a sub-group of the Orang Asli residing mostly in southern Johor, first filed the class action suit in 2012 against the Johor government and 12 others to stop encroachment of their native customary land.

Prior to filing the suit, they have also raised their grouses with the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) and even held protests at the Johor state legislative assembly in 2011.

Will file appeal

The suit was based on claims of customary land rights to an area now known as Danga Bay, near Johor Bahru.

The court also ruled that the Orang Seletar have non-exclusive rights to use their customary waters for their traditional purposes and their livelihood, said Yogeswaran.
 
However, he said, the court found that the private parties who now own the land are "innocent purchasers" who bought the land some time ago, so the Orang Seletar's claim against them for the return of the land was dismissed.
"(But) with all these breaches and so on, the court then said, 'Look, what do we give you?

"The court decided that basically they have to be compensated based on market value for all lands that have been alienated by the state to private parties," Yogeswaran said.

He said his clients plan on appealing the order for compensation in lieu of resitution of the land.

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