Patience running out over NCR land issues

A section of the crowd attending the Nov 13 NCR Rally at the Old Courthouse in Kuching, on Nov 13, 2017. — file pic

Commentary

by Lian Cheng

Following the unexpected results of the just concluded May 9 general election (GE14), the state government must recover fast from its shock and take whatever remedial actions necessary to prove it is an effective and people-oriented government.

It is not too late yet as the state government still has three years to right any wrongs or to improve on certain matters to show voters that it always puts the people as first priority — not just repeating empty slogans like former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has been accused of — through actual hands-on implementation to produce fast but effective results.

Politically, the state government cannot afford to dilly-dally anymore. One of its most immediate tasks is to disentangle itself from United Malays National Organisation (Umno), which even before the election was already perceived to be greedy and arrogant. The state BN coalition parties must charter a new course on their own and make it distinctively and endemically Sarawak.


Socially, there is an even more urgent task — the tackling of native customary rights (NCR) land disputes, a long-delayed long-standing issue that sets the blood of every native — no matter urban or rural — boiling whenever the topic is mentioned.

The NCR land issue was put aside due to GE14. However, the memory of the Nov 13 NCR land rally in Kuching is still fresh in the minds of many especially those who have lost their land through the courts.

NCR land is a significant issue that unites Sarawakians across the board. Both Dayaks and non-Dayaks turned up in significant numbers to support the peaceful rally. It was only a half day event, but the message sent through the peaceful crowds under the hot sun, the ‘miring’ before the whole event, the speeches and the submission of memorandum of the indigenous leaders should be clear and loud enough.

The state government should not delay addressing and resolving the NCR land issue anymore, as it had done one legislative assembly after another. It must be on the agenda of the upcoming state assembly, which was to be convened in May, but delayed due to GE14.

Until now, nothing has been heard yet about the upcoming state legislative assembly and whether the amendment to the Land Code will be tabled to recognise ‘pemakai menoa’ or territorial domain and ‘pulau galau’ or community reserve land (collectively call PMPG), despite the fact that the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers Club (BNBBC) publicly declared its approval of the amendment and Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas’ promise to table it in the next State Legislative Assembly sitting which was supposed to be held in May this year.

Uggah’s explanation for the delay in tabling the bill was that he wanted very comprehensive amendments to be made to the Land Code, contrary to the private member’s bill submitted by Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) chief Baru Bian, an expert in NCR land cases. Baru submitted a private bill to amend Section 2 of the Land Code in the November sitting last year to acknowledge the natives’ PMPG rights. His motion was shot down by Speaker Datuk Amar Mohamad Asfia Awang Nassar.

Incidentally, in May 2014, Baru had also tabled a private member’s bill to amend Section 2 of the Land Code to include the recognition of ‘temuda’, ‘pulau galau’, ‘pemakai menoa’ and their equivalents as NCR land. His motion was seconded by Kota Sentosa assemblyman Chong Chieng Jen from Democratic Action Party. The motion was promptly shot down by the Speaker.

This earlier attempt followed a previous failed attempt in the sitting the previous year when Baru had also attempted to table a motion to amend the definition of NCR under Section 2 of the Land Code, but was advised by the late Pehin Sri Adenan Satem to table the amendment as a private member’s bill instead.

During the November sitting last year, Uggah’s explanation for the delay was very reluctantly accepted by the Dayak landowners but it does not mean that it went down well. Now with Pakatan Harapan winning GE14 and taking over the federal government, which has also raised Baru’s fame to greater heights, what would stop Baru from tabling a bill to ammend the Land Code yet again? This time, what would be the reason to turn him down? And how would the Dayak people react to it if his bill is dismissed yet again? After GE14, there is a general awareness of people’s power and their rights.

This is why by hook or by crook, Uggah must come up with the bill to amend the Land Code in the upcoming state legislative assembly, before Baru tables one and before any drastic action may again be taken by some local NGO land rights groups.

The warning signs are clear. If the state government continues to be perceived as dragging its feet, there will be some consequences including the increase of public distrust in the state government’s capability and public suspicion of whether there is some hidden agenda behind their perceived reluctance in solving the issue once and for all.

The state government must realise that what happened during the just concluded GE14 was not a curse but a blessing in disguise. The result of keeping only 19 out of 31 seats contested still allows it to claim a majority but at the same time, sends a strong enough message to the state government that it needs to change to prepare for the 2021 State Election.

The amendment to the Land Code will be a good place to start. Tabling a bill which shows its sincerity to prioritise the people’s agenda will be the first step towards renewing its battered public image as well as set the tone for a new future. — DayakDaily