Content of leaked “amendment” to Land Code a cause for concern, says SAS founder

KUCHING, July 5: All elected representatives should say their piece in the coming State Legislative Assembly (DUN) if the proposed amendment to the Land Code does not address the native customary rights (NCR) land issues.

Solidariti Anak Sarawak (SAS) founder and activist Peter John Jaban, in a statement today, said for the last 18 months since the judgment in the Tuai Rumah Sandah case, Sarawak natives had been looking to the Sarawak government to solve the issues that have dogged NCR land rights in the state for the past 20 years.

He said the leaking of the proposed amendment and early media reports suggested that NCR landowners were likely to be disappointed with the amendments, with only ‘usufructuary’ rights to ‘a native territorial domain’ remaining for them as opposed to any control over their ancestral lands.

“This is why all representatives across the political divide must stand up in the forthcoming debate in the State Legislative Assembly lest they are held accountable for this final, serious breach of trust, both at the next state election and in generations to come.

“It is clear from what we have seen of this amendment so far that it has not been made for the people. It is so full of obscure and confusing legal terminology that the press and even the educated legal commentators in Kuching are spending most of their time trying to decode and explain what it all means. It seems it is another attempt to simply confuse the rural landowners into submission,” he said.

Peter John said the natives merely wanted the state government to respect their ‘Adat’ (customs) and to recognise their claims under that ‘Adat’, which forms part of Sarawak law.

“Anything less than that will be considered a betrayal,” he said.

In fact, he added that if the leaked amendment was true, it would be crystal clear that the state government treated the natives’ “Adat” to be of little importance and that the law takes precedence.

Peter John said all political representatives must realise that the rakyat had the power to change the government, as evident on May 9.

“The state election is only three years away, and now we all know that governments can and do change.”

Peter John commented that Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas might be clearing up a mess not entirely of his own making, even though many of the current ministers have held office for many years.

“However, his record in history will be made in the present day, and no one will be able to duck responsibility for decisions made on their watch,” he said.

He acknowledged it would be an unenviable task to balance the needs of plantation owners, who had invested handsomely in their right to exploit these lands, with the needs of the ancestral owners.

“But the decision is clear: inconvenience big business or further impoverish those who already have so little; compensate the wealthy plantation owners out of state coffers or risk the ire of the native landowners at the ballot box and beyond.

“Nobody said that doing the right thing was easy. The state has billions in reserve for the benefit of the people and, so far, clearly very little has been spent on the rural natives. Perhaps it is time that some was,” said Peter John. — DayakDaily