KUCHING: Prime Minister Najib Razak’s RM30 million allocation to initiate steps to resolve the native customary rights land issues here may not be enough to save Sarawak Barisan Nasional or Chief Minister Taib Mahmud.
Despite Najib's pledge that a perimeter survey of the 1.5 million hectares of NCR land in the state will be carried out, natives are not putting much faith in it because there are still several unanswered questions.
For instance, what exactly does Najib mean by "... perimeter survey of NCR land"?
Does he mean the communal land boundary or what the Ibans described as the "antara" or "garis menoa" (communal land boundary) of a longhouse or between the longhouses?
Does it include the longhouse area, their burial ground, tembawai (old longhouse sites), temuda and kebun (farming) areas and the pulau (communal forests) areas as well?
These are just some of the questions plaguing the locals here, said NCR land lawyer Harrison Ngau.
“In fact ,the courts have decided on the extent or boundary of the NCR land of the longhouse and that is also what we have asked (the government) to gazette all along,” he said.
Ngau also said that localities had their own uniqueness.
For the Baram district, for instance, there are two books called "Register of Land Boundaries" kept at the district office at Marudi.
The books recorded, in sketch maps or descriptions, the communal land boundaries between the longhouses in Baram. The records date back during the time of the Brookes and British colonial administrations in Sarawak.
“I have filed in court for a copy of the Registers in one of my cases, but the trial of that case has not started,” Ngau said.
“The Sarawak government argues that the recording of the land boundaries in the Register is only an administrative act, which does not have any legal force nor does it prove that the government has accepted, recognised or granted NCR over the lands within the land boundaries recorded,” he said.
He added that the contention was that the Registers have to be read together with the Secretariat Circular No. 12 of 1939 issued by the then chief secretary to the Rajah which, among others, directed that village councils be established in the villages or longhouses to assist the village head to administer the village or longhouse and to determine or fix, record and report the communal land boundary of the longhouse to the district office.
“In the Suai, Niah and Sibuti areas, there is a map or plan in the Land and Survey Department in Miri called 'Composite plan showing distribution of native farming land in Suai Niah and Sibuti', which records the communal land boundaries of the longhouses in the areas. These records were compiled by the district office during the Brookes' and British administration.
“I have a copy of the map/plan and am using it in my court cases now pending.
“I have also seen similar records of communal land boundaries shown to me by one or two longhouses in Sebauh, Bintulu. The records were obtained from the sub-district office in Sebauh.
“If Najib and the Sarawak government are serious and sincere in surveying and gazetting the perimeter of NCR lands, they should gazette the communal land boundaries based on these records.
“In cases where the communal land boundaries have not been recorded, then they should survey and gazette the communal land boundaries which have existed or have been established between the longhouses.
“This survey should be jointly carried out by the Land and Survey Department and the longhouse residents,” Ngau said.
He said if Najib and the Sarawak government only surveyed and gazetted the perimeter of the temuda areas, then their proposal will not resolve the NCR problem and that would be contrary to what the courts have decided. “It is also not what we wanted or have asked them to do.”
(The temuda areas are based on aerial photographs taken after Jan 1, 1958 and they were based on government legal counsel JC Fong's interpretation of what is NCR.)
Natives won't be fooled
Will Najib and the Sarawak government dare to revoke or withdraw logging licences, licences for planted forests and leases over NCR lands issued to big companies for oil palm plantations, which were all approved by Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and Awang Tengah Ali Hassan both as First and Second Ministers of Planning and Resource Management respectively?
This will be the RM100 million question.
Awang Tengah had reportedly said that the Land and Survey Department will first determine the boundary between NCR and state land.
Only then will the perimeter survey of NCR land be done on the ground.
This showed that the department, and not the residents of the longhouses, will determine the boundary between NCR and state land.
Will the department determine the boundary based on the decisions of the courts which have upheld “antara or garis menoa or sempadan” (communal land boundary) as the extent or boundary of NCR lands?
Most likely not as the department has been telling people, government officials and community leaders in its seminars that NCR land is restricted to temuda only.
This is contrary to the decisions of the courts and the sempadan of longhouses recorded by the Brookes and the British administration before.
The BN now feels that support from the natives may decline as a result of the NCR issue. That is why it has to be seen doing something because of the coming Sarawak election.
The BN is aware that the opposition is going to exploit the NCR issue.
Thus the move to announce the RM30 million allocation to win back the hearts and minds of the natives.
But the natives are no longer fools as the problem has been festering for about three decades. Nor do they believe in BN promises anymore.
In the past few weeks, for instance, BN elected representatives have sent letters to the Land and Survey Department in support of the longhouse folks in their NCR claims against the companies. (They have asked the lands claimed by the longhouse folks be excluded from the leases issued to the companies.)
Some of these letters were produced by the longhouse folks in the courts, but the courts have said the letters are useless as the government or Land and Survey Department has not agreed or accepted what the BN elected representatives have proposed in the letters.
Hence, the BN representatives are merely paying lip service: they are doing it (sending letters) in order to be seen doing something.
As elected representatives, they should get Taib and Awang Tengah, who signed or approved the leases to the companies respectively, to revoke these leases or exclude the NCR lands of the longhouse folks from the leases.
But they did not do it because they are afraid of Taib and the big companies.
It is also public knowledge that the big companies have been contributing funds to the BN during elections.
So the next question is, will the BN administration act against the big companies?