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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Land Tribunal and Land Foundation key to protecting native land rights – Dr. Jeffrey

KOTA KINABALU - “The Sabah government has a moral and legal duty to protect native land rights and ought to be more proactive to safeguard the native customary rights to land for “land is life” for the indigenous natives in Sabah” said Datuk Dr. Jeffrey Kitingan, STAR Sabah Chief and Bingkor Assemblyman in supporting whole-heartedly the call by the Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak imploring the government to establish a Land Tribunal to resolve land disputes including empowering the native laws to be on par with the Muslim Syariah law.

The indigenous tribes in Sabah have existed long before other communities, certainly pre-historic compared to the existence of Malaysia which came into being only on 16th September 1963.

For the history buffs, in May 2012, archaeologists led by Prof Dr. Mokhtar Saidin from the Universiti Sains Malaysia Global Archeological Research Centre and members of the Sabah Museum discovered utensils in Kg. Lipasu, in the Bingkor sub-district.  They were said to be more than 200,000 years old, older than the previous known discoveries in Mansuli, Lahad Datu, said to be some 150,000 years old.

Even the United Nations has acknowledged indigenous native rights under the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People which has been universally adopted by many countries globally.

It is undisputed that the natives in Sabah are losing their customary lands, much of it due to wanton and unwarranted alienation and issuance of land titles to outsiders.  These outsiders get land in the tens of thousands of acres while the land applications of natives of 10-15 acres are not processed for many, many years.  

It was not surprising that the previous Director of Lands and Surveys and State Attorney General had announced that native customary rights did not exist after 1930 which reflected the state of land administration to the detriment of the natives.

As a result, the natives some of whom have been in occupation for generations are hounded out of their own lands with the aid of court orders and the presence of the police and government enforcement agencies.  

More often than not, the natives do not have the resources and ability, especially financially, to fight the injustice caused by the improper alienation of their lands to the outsiders.

The establishment of the SABAH LAND TRIBUNAL to look into, adjudicate and resolve the numerous land problems and disputes has been long overdue and should be a boon for the poor and long suffering native landowners.  And the proposal being repeated by the Chief Justice of Sabah and Sarawak, Tan Sri Richard Malanjun, is timely and should carry due weight and prominence.

“I see no reason why the Sabah government cannot and should not establish the Land Tribunal unless the Sabah government leaders including from the natives communities wish to see the land rights of the indigenous natives wiped out over time” said Dr. Jeffrey.

The British not only deemed it fit to respect native customary rights to land but also made numerous provisions to protect such native rights as can be seen throughout the Land Ordinance.    The same cannot be said of the present Umno-led Barisan Nasional Sabah government.

At the same time, a SABAH NATIVE LAND FOUNDATION should also be established to safeguard and protect native lands and the rights of the natives to their native lands.

All unalienated State land should be declared and designated as “Native Reserves” under Section 78 of the Land Ordinance and placed under the purview of the Native Land Foundation.   Similarly, if the State governments in Malaya can designate lands to be “Malay Reserves”, there is no reason why the Sabah government cannot similarly declare unalienated State lands to be “Native Reserves” unless the leaders have ulterior motives themselves and to deprive the natives of their legitimate land rights.

The declaration of Native Reserves and the Native Land Foundation will in a way prevent the recurrence of the loss of native lands as in Malaya where native customary rights are not recognized.    Over there, the poor Orang Asli, who are the legitimate “bumiputra” indigenous natives are deprived of their lands and very often the lands grabs are by the Umno/BN politicians and their cronies.

In addition, the 30% native requirement for commercial land alienations and plantations should be reserved for the Native Land Foundation which can also assist native landowners in times of need.   In such way, native lands will be preserved and safeguarded and will prevent the natives from being squatters on their own land which is already happening throughout Sabah.

The Sabah government should start cracking and instruct the Attorney General to draft the necessary laws for adoption at the next State Legislative Assembly sitting for the establishment of the Land Tribunal and the Native Land Foundation which is key to protecting native land rights.

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