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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Declare Tambunan District as Native Reserve and Resolve Outstanding LAs first – Dr. Jeffrey

KOTA KINABALU  - “A big furore has been created with many netizens up in arms with the posting of a letter from the Sabah Lands and Surveys Department (“LSD”) directing issuance of a Section 13 Notice in respect of a land application by a company based in Kepong, Kuala Lumpur, for 500 acres of land in Kg. Ulu Namadan, Tambunan, that had gone viral,” said Datuk Dr. Jeffrey Kitingan, Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku cum and Bingkor Assemblyman, in response to the said posting.

The company’s said land application appeared to have been received on 17 July 2017 while the letter from the LSD directing action was dated 28 September 2017. Judging from the available information, it appears that the LSD acted in less than 2-1/2 months.

It must have been a Sabah Guinness Book of Record by the LSD and the Sabah government or the LSD have suddenly turned super-efficient in handling new land applications. The speed it was handled compared to the 20-30 years that many land applicants all over Sabah are still waiting for a response from the LSD to their land applications, raises serious questions about the said land application. Sadly, some of the land applicants have passed on while waiting and not knowing the status of their land applications,

The said land application was followed by viral posting of another list of 9 other companies applying for land, all made in 2016, in Tambunan totalling 7,646 acres. The total land applied for together with the new 500 acres would be 8,146 acres, which if given to the natives of 15 acres each would benefit 543 families instead of just 10 companies.

What is the motive of the Sabah government and the LSD in considering the land applications by the companies while at the same time dragging their feet with the land applications particularly by natives throughout Sabah?

This land application handling fiasco can only be interpreted that the Sabah government has failed the indigenous native community and their moral and legal duty to protect native and indigenous land rights.  

It is not inconsistent with the Sabah government’s past actions in issuing titles over native customary lands occupied by natives for generations in many districts in Sabah as well as wanton destruction of native homes and show of force by the Forestry Departments, LSD and other agencies against and to intimidate the hapless natives.  

Is it the Sabah government’s stand to extinguish native land rights and displace the natives and to make the natives and local Sabahans refugees in their own land? asked Dr. Jeffrey.

Indigenous native land rights have pre-existed Sabah’s land laws including the current Land Ordinance (Sabah Cap. 68 in 1930). These customary rights were recognized by the British and past governments but not by the present Umno-led BN government.   

If the Sabah government and the native BN leaders are genuinely concerned and wish to protect native land rights, the right thing to do now is to gazette and designated the entire Tambunan District that are unalienated as “Native Reserves” under Section 78 of the Land Ordinance.

This will protect and preserve the native land rights while the Sabah government can always apply to de-gazette the native reserves in appropriate and deserving cases after going through the necessary vetting exercise not through some backroom dealings behind closed doors.

At the same time, before considering any new land applications, the LSD should take immediate steps to resolve all outstanding land applications, some of which have been pending for decades.

Under a STAR/Gabungan Sabah government, there will be a revamp of the land administration which will prioritize native land rights and issuance of documentary titles to all NCR landowners together with the establishment of a Land Tribunal and Native Land Foundation, and Sabahans given priority to land over outsiders. Details will be revealed at the appropriate time.

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