Good thinking, that …

These are Certificates of Title, not ordinary documents. — File photo

THIS is the type of news that I have been longing to hear or read for years: the recent statement made by the Chief Minister about issuing titles to land in Sarawak.

What sort of titles, may one wonder? The devil is in the details, I think.

Mixed Zone or Native Area Title?

In principle and in general, the Chief Minister’s advice to the relevant officials to issue titles to land is politically correct. The ball is in the relevant officials’ court now.

It is the bounden duty of a responsible government to solve a long-standing problem – the restrictions put on the dealings between Native land owner and non-Native individual or company have undervalued the land held under Native Area Title. Don’t talk about NCR land – only Native title there.

This debate – whether or not to economically empower the Native land owners – has been going on for far too long since colonial times. So the recent statement by the Chief Minister is music to the ears of the Native holding land without a title.

Since colonial times, the government has not really satisfied the needs of the Native owners. This time around it will be for real, I hope.

It is the right move to issue title to land, not only to those landowners whose interests in land have been documented by private individuals albeit unofficially recognised in terms of the Land Code, but also to those whose ownership of land has been under dispute. Witness the number of such disputes filed in court for determination as to the rightful ownership.

However, what sort of title are we talking about? Native Area Title under Section 18 of the Land Code or that of so-called Mixed Zone?

First, issue the title to the land which is already demarcated into individual parcels and the particulars of claimants/owners are known, verified as genuine and are not in dispute.

These people should at least be issued with the so called Native Area Title – in perpetuity and without premium. But I for one would recommend the better one – Mixed Zone title. It is saleable.

Restrictive title like the so-called Section 18 title does not really favour the Native owner. For instance, in several housing estates around Kuching, particularly around Simpang Tiga, houses have been built on Native Area Land (with title) but the houses can only be sold to Natives, not to others.

The value is about half that of a house built on land with a Mixed Zone title. Most unfair to the Native land owners!

And this unfairness has been inflicted on them for far too long. So when the Chief Minister was talking about issuing titles, first I had some doubt, then I began to hope in the saying “where is the will there is the way”.

There have been fears, even belief, among some community and political leaders that once the Natives get their land under title they will straight away sell it to the next buyer. Not necessarily true in all cases. Some Natives are daft and so are some among the other people. Many Natives are more sensible than one thinks.

Anyway, why can’t a Native who is a registered proprietor of a few parcels of land with an MZ title sell one or two of his holdings for a profit when he needs the money for the education of his children? Or if when he wants to travel in style or if he wants to buy a new house for his family or a new car or boat? Or invest in the Saham Bumiputera?

A better deal for the Native land owners would be for his land to be issued with a Mixed Zone because the title is indefeasible and saleable. He can use it as collateral for a loan, if necessary.

Anyone thinking of helping the Natives and yet believing that they will squander their rights over land is ketinggalan zaman (outmoded).

Registration of interests

The interests in land of the Native owners/claimants must be brought on to the Register under the Torrens System as soon as possible. It may take many years to survey/settle their rights over land but the time and money spent on settling their rights are a good investment. Over time, the disputes over ownership of land will be solved. Happy will be the day when quarrels over land rights are things of the past.

If the intention of the Chief Minister is to be carried out at all, it will be a great help in terms of economic benefits to the Natives. Then we can talk about great legacies by our politicians.

Torrens System

There are two principal modes of recording title to land – by a system of registration of deeds, or by a system of registration of title itself.

In England it was the deeds system that was used, but since 1858 the system called the Torrens System was introduced to New Zealand. And it was only in 1958, 100 years later, that it was applied to Sarawak. And it always has been the practice in respect of other lands of other categories.

The Native landowners should enjoy the benefits of the same system of registration of title. In the absence of fraud or forgery by the previous owner, the next owner/proprietor receives a clean title – good against all the world.

The Register is everything it is often said among land registrars.

It is hoped that the Chief Minister’s wish will be complied with by the relevant authorities soon. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

I must declare my interest here. Whatever land that I possess has been properly alienated and under title of some sorts. My only interest here is to see that the many Natives, who have land but cannot derive benefits from their lands because of the institutionalised restraints by the current land legislation, will finally benefit.

I support the move to have all land surveyed for the purpose of issuing an indefeasible title to each parcel. We should have done this a long time ago but it’s better late than never, thanks to the Chief Minister’s good thinking.

Comments can reach the writer via [email protected]

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