Friday, June 25

PH against Land Code (Amendment) Bill


Baru (seated second left) and other state Pakatan Harapan members including Chong (seated right) at the press conference — Photo by Chimon Upon

KUCHING: Ba Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian said the Sarawak Land Code (Amendment) Bill, 2018 which purportedly seeks to recognise Pemakai Menua and Pulau Galau (PMPG) concept of acquiring native customary rights (NCR) over land in Sarawak, failed to recognise and affirm fundamental characteristic of the PMPG concept.

Baru explained that the PMPG concept as affirmed by landmark cases from other jurisdictions holds that the aboriginal people’s rights included an interest on the land and not merely an usufructuary right.

Section 6A (1) of the Bill specifically provides for the recognition of ‘usufructuary rights’ only which is defined as ‘rights or privileges exercised or enjoyed by a native community over a native territorial domain to forage for food including fishing and hunting’.

Baru said another bone of contention is on Section 6A (2) of the Bill that says the extent of an area allowed to be given to the native community under this concept is limited to 500 hectares only.

“It’s our stand that our NCR land or PMPG concept cannot be restricted or limited to an area defined by the authority. We have won cases where their PMPG extend beyond 10,000 hectares. Limiting the size of PMPG in this manner is unjust, unfair and immorally wrong,” said Baru in a press conference to announce Pakatan Harapan’s stand to reject the Bill when members of the august house debate over it from today (Wednesday).

Baru argued that the extent of the native territorial domain should be in accordance with the area that natives had continuously occupied since the time of their forefathers to this day.

Baru said Pakatan Harapan also opposes Section 6A(2), (3) and (4) of the Bill that provides that application for recognition of the native territorial domain is to be made through the Superintendant of the Land and Surveys and to be approved by the director of Land and Surveys and; any rejection by the director of such application can be appealed against to the relevant Minister.

“Our stand is that the determination of custom or Adat of the native people of Sarawak cannot be made subjected to non-native or a person who does not have the knowledge of the natives’ Adat or custom.

“In this regard, our proposal for the setting up of an Indigenous Land Commission consisting of those experts in the native custom and Adat to deal with this issue should be the proper thing to do,” he said.

Baru noted the positive aspect of the proposed amendment on perpetuity title to be issued over the native territorial domain but said this by itself could not justify the absurdity of the main aspects of the other amendments.

Baru admitted the numbers game of the State Legislative Assembly will see the Bill passed as law unless lawmakers from Sarawak government oppose the Bill, adding the number of state Pakatan Harapan lawmakers in the legislature would not be able to get the bill rejected.

The spirit of the Bill is not what the native community had expected, he argued.

Baru pointed out that he and Kota Sentosa assemblyman Chong Chieng Jen will not be able to join the debate on the Bill as they had to attend the federal cabinet meeting in Putrajaya today.

Baru and Chong are MPs. Baru is Works Minister while Chong is Deputy Minister for Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs.

Baru said the other state Pakatan lawmakers will stand on behalf of him and Chong to debate over the Bill so that their arguments would be recorded in the Hansard.

The Dayak community faced a dilemma when on Dec 20, 2016, the Federal Court in a landmark case ruled that the NCR – native customs – has no force over lands the native claimed as their territorial domain and/or communal forest reserves.

As the Dayak community demanded that their NCR be given force of law, the Sarawak government intended to table the Bill today, hoping it to be passed by the august house.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas on Sunday night said the amendment on the Sarawak Land Code (SLC) involving NCR over land – if passed during the current State Legislative Assembly (DUN) sitting – will not contribute to diminish the NCR.

Just because Section 5 of the Sarawak Land Code (SLC) which recognises the existence of the NCR popularly known as Pemakai Menua and Pulau Galau (PMPG) is to be amended, it does not mean that the Dayak community would lose these rights, he assured.

On top of that, these NCR – under a new name – will be given the effect of force of law, according to Uggah when allaying the fear of members of Dayak community by assuring them that the Sarawak government under Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) is committed to resolve issues surrounding PMPG once and for all with the amendment on relevant provisions in the SLC.