Wednesday, September 30

Predicament of landowners

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BEFORE, it was the clogging of land under Section 47 at Muara Tebas and Sejingkat — now, the attention has turned to land that had recently been acquired in the two areas.

OVERVIEW: Map showing the total area being acquired. The top red section indicates the total area lifted from Section 47.

The affected landowners all have their tales of woe to tell. They fear their predicament might cause them to lose their hard-earned savings, retirement plans and investments.

‘Sireh’ farmers Lee Chong Fui, 43, who has lost one of his arms, and his father, 63-year-old Lee Nyong Paw, are uncertain what tomorrow will bring.

Their two parcels of land at Muara Tebas have been acquired and they said the options open to them were all ‘unattractive’.

They have a third parcel of land which, together with the other two, have been clogged under Section 47 for many years. The expiry is due in nine years.

They consider their third parcel as ‘lost’. Although they have the title, they said they had, so far, not received any letter of acquisition for it. They fear it could be a case of overlapping ownership — and an inquiry is on-going.

Father and son had attended the inquiry, conducted by the Land and Survey Department and the outcome, they confessed, is disappointing.

“They are willing to pay us only a total of RM54,632 for the two parcels of land,” said Chong Fui who co-owns the land with his three brothers.

“When the amount is divided among us, it will not be enough to buy a kancil, let alone another piece of land,” he lamented.

Though their land lease will expire in nine years, they have no choice but to accept the department’s proposal.

Chong Fui said they were doing it with a heavy heart because all available options were unfavourable.

“We are hoping the Land and Survey Department will consider our appeal,” he said, adding that they were now at the mercy of the department.

He hoped the department would increase the compensation payments or compensate them with another piece of land where they could continue to farm.

According to him, their two parcels of land put together constitute just a small piece and he wonders why it is necessary to acquire land of such an insignificant size like theirs.

Sireh farming is their main source of income to support three families. Chong Fui and his father are the city’s most established sireh supplier.

“Our land is situated on hilly terrain which is good for sireh farming. The tangy air from the sea and well-drained soil are excellent for the crop,” Chong Fui explained.

He lost his left arm when he suffered a fall while helping his father at the farm. He was only seven years old then. With just one arm, Chong Fui tills the land and transports the yields to customers on a motorcycle.

He said falling is normal in sireh cultivation.

“The vines can grow as tall as 20 feet and only the young leaves are picked.”

It (falling) has happened to him so many times that he has ‘perfected a technique’ of preventing injuries whenever he slipped.

The land has been theirs since Ching Fei’s grandfather immigrated from mainland China to settle in the Far East. That was more than 100 years ago.

The land has provided sustenance for three generations of Lees but the recent acquisition is threatening to break their rice bowl.

Another landowner, Maureen Song, had retirement in mind when she bought five acres at Maura Tebas. She had hopes of farming the land when she retired but they have now been dashed by the acquisition of her land.

“I was approached in the 90s for RM80,000 per acre but I refused to sell as I was thinking of my retirement,” she said.

The compensation of RM190,000 for all the five acres is “an insult”, she added.

The payment is far too low — 30 percent of the market value,” Song said, adding that the clogging of Section 47 on the area caused the market value to drop.

She pointed out that if the clog were lifted, the value would automatically increase to not less than RM500,000 per acre.

The strategic location of her land by the roadside and the renewed land lease (she renewed it in 2008 for another 60 years) give her the confidence to expect a high value for her property.

Song said the present policy would only frighten foreign investors away.

More as an investment and a safety net, 68-year-old housewife Sim Yaw Sik bought one acre at Muara Tebas.

“Property in the form of land has always been a solid investment but not now,” she noted.

Her land was recently acquired and Sim said the compensation (RM80,900) was disappointing.

Like Song, she believes her land could fetch more because of its locality — by the roadside with a nice view of the sea. She expects to be compensated RM200,000.

Sim hopes there will be some degree of consideration from the Department. A lawsuit is her last resort but she feels it should not be an option at all.

“My years of working in a law firm have taught me that land issue cases often dragged on for years — some even more than 17 years.”

She said going to court is not an “appropriate option” because many did not have the means to see it through, adding that many landowners were also advanced in years.

Both she and Song noted that under the new land code, land could be acquired for public and private purposes.

They said they would agree if the acquired land were used for public purposes such as building schools, hospitals and other infrastructure but felt it was not appropriate to use the land for private purposes.

They said they bought the land with their hard-earned money and when the land was acquired, it was done with a fraction of its value and the next thing was that the land would belong to some individual.

“What this implies is that today, the land is mind, tomorrow, it could belong to someone else,” they stressed.

The three landowners — Sim, Song and Lee — have been advised to submit a copy of their land’s valuation within seven days from the date of the inquiry to back up their requested amount of compensation. But they said the timeframe were too short for any valuation to be done.

They suggested since it was a massive acquisition, a win-win situation could be reached if the affected landowners were engaged in the development of the area on profit-sharing basis.