KOTA KINABALU: Village folk with land issues were treated like footballs by government departments, according to Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam yesterday.
Hasmy made the biting remark after being informed of the status of the applications for native customary land at Kampung Tiga Apin-Apin and Kampung Bundu Apin-Apin, which was occupied by some 600 villagers, was unknown after the area was gazetted as a water catchment area in the 1990s.
He was irked to learn that important comments by the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) that supported the land applications by the villagers had been forwarded to the Keningau District Office and to the Land and Survey Department for their necessary action, but nothing had been done.
“If there is no problem posed by the DID, then what is the problem?
“And yesterday, the district officer kept several sacks full of land applications which were never opened … it shows that village folks are being treated like footballs. This matter should have already been resolved. Coming to Suhakam to present their case was a last resort,” he stressed.
Earlier, the public inquiry heard the complaint from Eging Sasai, who hails from Kampung Tiga Apin-Apin and representing the 600 folks from the two villages.
He explained that the villages have existed since the British colonial era and the villagers have carried out agricultural activities by planting paddy, fruit trees, rubber and other crops.
“We have carried out our agricultural activities for so long without any disturbance or hindrance from anyone until in the 1990s when an area of 2,207.45 hectares, including our villages, was gazetted as part of water catchment area.
“We were not informed and therefore unaware of the process and none of us were involved in the perimeter survey,” he asserted, adding, that it had resulted in their land applications to be frozen by the Land and Surveys Department.
“We also applied for kampung (village) and cemetery reserves but these were cancelled by the Land and Surveys Department only because the land applied for is within the water catchment area.
“We are extremely disapppointed because the area we have applied for is the same exact place where our people have resided since the colonial time and the cemetery reserve we have asked for is where our ancestors have been buried,” Eging said.
He highlighted the fact that several appeals since the 1990s until recently have been submitted to the authorities imploring them to withdraw the gazettal and dialogues were also initiated with the relevant departments in 2004 and 2008, he said.
Meanwhile, the senior assistant director of DID, Yap Siow Fah, said the decision to gazette the area as a water catchment needed re-assessment since the gazettal included the two villages.
He also clarified that the government has two available options when it comes to the protection of its water source and water catchment sites.
“If an area is declared a water protection area, the villagers would be asked to move out.
“But if an area is gazetted a water conservation area, the villagers will be allowed to stay there subject to them abiding by certain restrictions and to abstain from activities that would degrade and pollute the water supply,” he said.