NCR land issue: Baru replies to Dr Aveang Buan Lah’s open letter

Baru Bian

KUCHING, Jan 7: Works Minister Baru Bian has defended his stance that the recent amendment to Section 6 of the Sarawak Land Code was not a complete recognition in the natives’ customs.

He said the amendments recognised the usage of land but not right in the land.

“Secondly, it restricts the ‘adat’ (customs) on the extent of the size of the area allowed to be claimed to a maximum of 1,000 hectares only,” he pointed out.

Baru was replying to an open letter addressed to him by Kebangkitan Anak Sarawak (KAS) president Dr Aveang Buan Lah yesterday. Aveang allegedly accused the Selangau MP, who is also a land rights lawyer, of deliberately politicising the Land Code amendments for personal gains or to preserve his ‘periuk nasi’ (rice bowl).

In the open letter, Aveang said when Baru tabled a Bill during the Nov 2017 State Legislative Assembly sitting to amend Section 2 of the Land Code, many lawmakers objected, claiming it was only “piecemeal” and not extensive.

“Now the amendments to Section 6 by the state government is more extensive and really gives ownership rights to the natives,” opined Aveang.

Baru, in his reply, argued that none of the lawyers involved in defending Native Customary Rights (NCR) appeared to agree with the recent amendments to the Land Code.

“Are all these NCR lawyers, academics, experts and judges who agree with our legal positions playing politics too or ‘jaga periuk nasi’?

“The fact that I have been fighting this issue in all the courts all my practising life as a land rights lawyer would manifestly and unquestionably rule out anyone even suspecting me of playing politics or ‘jaga periuk’,” he insisted.

Baru said that his views and the legal positions that he had argued on the issue of NCR over land in Sarawak before judges have consistently been affirmed by the High Court, Court of Appeal and Federal Court as far as ‘Pemakai Menua’ and ‘Pulau Galau’ (PMPG) are concerned.

One such case, he pointed out was the TR Sandah case, which was won by him at the High Court and affirmed by the Court of Appeal. But when it was brought before the Federal Court, the judges were split equally in their decision after one judge retired and failed to write a judgment, Baru shared.

“It is still pending in the Federal Court for a review, meaning a final decision has yet to be made on this issue of PMPG.

“The TR Sandah Case will be the landmark case that will eventually determine who is in the right and who is plainly in the wrong. More pertinently, it will resolve the contestation once and for all whether I am plainly playing politics or not or ‘jaga periuk’ when I raise this issue,” he said.

Replying to the last point of Aveang’s letter, where he asked Baru on the NCR cases he won involving up to 11,000 hectares of land, Baru said the TR Sandah case itself was already over 4,000 hectares and the case that was 11,822.26 hectares was the case of Usang Labit and Others cited as Superintendent of Lands and Surveys Department Sibu Division & Anor and another Appeal v. Usang Labit & ORS. [2014] 9 CLJ 370 [2013] 1 LNS 1247 refd (7)). — DayakDaily