KUCHING, July 11: Minister of Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Land and Regional Development Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas today described as “misleading and mischievous” the claims by certain quarters that the state government was only giving usufructuary rights to the indigenous communities.
He said that while most governments only give usufructuary rights to its indigenous people, ‘territorial domain’ in Sarawak is to be given the force of law and legally recognised as having proprietary right.
He said the documents of title will be issued to the community concerned to protect the territorial domain of the indigenous folk in the state.
“This nullifies the views expressed by some so-called champions of native rights, keyboard and armchair critics and Sarawak Pakatan (Harapan).
“They were all driven by their own selfish and malicious political agenda. Their contention that Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) is only giving usufructuary rights to native territorial domain and thereby depriving the natives of their Native Customary Rights land is totally misleading and mischievous,” he said when tabling the Land Code (Amendment) Bill, 2018 at Sarawak Legislative Assembly here today.
The deputy chief minister said for the natives of Sarawak, land was regarded as an important part of their livelihood. Their customs and cultures revolve around their land, which is their ‘pesaka’ (heritage). In some cases, land is also used as a form of payment for fines.
More importantly, the natives rely on the land for farming, foraging for food, hunting and fishing as well as an important source of raw material for domestic purposes. Because of its cultural significance, they have very strong sentiment and attachment to their land.
Uggah stressed that the Land Code amendments were necessary to give the customs and practices relating to territorial domain the force of law.
“Under the Bill, we use the term ‘native territorial domain’ instead of ‘Pemakai Menoa’ and ‘Pulau Galau’ (PMPG) for inclusiveness. This is because the practice relating to native territorial domain is not practised by the Ibans alone. Other native communities in Sarawak also practise it.
“In the case of Rambli Kawi v Superintendent of Land and Survey, the court had also recognised the concept of ‘cari makan’ of the Malay’s, equivalent to PMPG. Thus, this amendment is inclusive and relevant to all natives in Sarawak,” he pointed out.
Among the main features of the Bill are that rights to land may be created by natives through access to the area within, conjoining or adjacent to their native customary land created under Section 5 of the Land Code if usufructuary rights were exercised by the natives prior to January 1,1958.
“The term ‘usufructuary’ is merely descriptive of the customs and practices that would be legally recognised by the amended provisions to establish ownership rights to a territorial domain.
“The customs and practices described under the definition of ‘usufructuary rights’ are similar to the customs of PMPG of the Iban Community. These customary practices are now given recognition under the term ‘usufructuary rights’,” explained Uggah.
The Bill also states that areas where such rights have been created would be known as a ‘native territorial domain’, over which a native communal title for a term in perpetuity would be issued. Such titles would be issued to any person or body of persons to be held in trust for the native community.
A native communal title would be issued for the ‘native territorial domain’ and the land may be used for agricultural purpose or such other purpose as may be approved by Majlis Mesyuarat Kerajaan Negeri.
In terms of land size, he said it was agreed that Section 6A should provide for a limit to the area that may be claimed as native territorial domain; and that area was determined to be 500 ha or 1,250 acres.
“When this Bill is passed, rules would be made under the proposed Section 213(1)(k) to ensure that once a claim for native territorial domain has been made under the new section 6A, an endorsement would be made in the Land Register to the effect that the area may be declared a native territorial domain and may be issued a native communal title. This would ensure that the area would not be alienated or issued with title to any third party.
“The amendments also confer powers on Majlis Mesyuarat Kerajaan Negeri (MMKN) to make rules relating to native territorial domain to facilitate the implementation of this new concept and to regulate the issuance of native communal titles for native territorial domains and the registration, proprietary interests and other related matters,” said Uggah.
He added that the proposed amendments would address the issue of non-recognition of some native customs by the laws of Sarawak relating to the creation of rights to land as highlighted in the majority and minority judgements of the Federal Court.
“I must also reiterate that these amendments are meant to enhance the protection for the rights of all native communities to land and should eliminate disputes between natives and other parties frequently accused of encroaching upon their native customary land.
“Further, the frequent complaints of Provisional Leases being issued over land belonging to the natives have been addressed by amendments to Section 28. While the concept of issuing Provisional Leases before the final survey of the land to be alienated is completed, is retained, the new amendments should eliminate incidences of native customary land and land under native territorial domain being included in a Provisional Lease,” he assured.