Don't erode Sarawak natives' rights to land, Pakatan tells ex-BN reps

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  • Tuesday, 10 Jul 2018

Ba'Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian (left) and Kota Sentosa assemblyman Chong Chieng Jen (right) speaking to reporters at the Sarawak Legislative Assembly's media room. - ZULAZHAR SHEBLEE / The Star

KUCHING: Sarawak Pakatan Harapan is urging elected state representatives, including those from the ruling Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) coalition (formerly with Barisan Nasional), not to support the proposed Land Code (Amendment) Bill as it falls short of the native communities' expectations of their rights.

Baru Bian, who is Sarawak PKR chairman, said the proposed amendments, which will be tabled in the state legislature on Wednesday (July 11), to recognise the traditional cultural concepts of "pemakai menoa" (territorial domain) and "pulau galau" (communal forest reserve) were "very disappointing".

At the crux are whether Sarawak's natives have an element of ownership of ancestral lands, as opposed to mere "usufructuary rights", which only allow the natives to use the land but grant no ownership of it. (The term comes from the medieval Latin word "usufructus", which means "use of fruits".)

Baru explained that the proposed amendments fail "to recognise the fundamental characteristic of the 'pemakai menoa' and 'pulau galau' concept as affirmed by (several) landmark cases...which hold that the aboriginal people's rights include an interest in the land and not merely a usufructuary right."

However, the proposed Section 6A(1) of the Land Code (Amendment) Bill specifically provides for the recognition of "usufructuary rights" only, which is defined as "rights or privileges exercised or enjoyed by a native community over a native territorial domain to forage for food, including fishing and hunting", he told reporters at the Sarawak Legislative Assembly's media room on Tuesday (July 10).

Baru said the state Pakatan also disagreed with the proposed amendment to limit the extent of an area given to native communities under "pemakai menoa" and "pulau galau" to 500 hectares only.

"It's our stand that our native customary rights land cannot be restricted or limited to an area defined by the authority.

"The extent of the territorial domain should be in accordance with the area that the natives had continuously occupied since the time of their forefathers to this day.

"We have won cases where the 'pemakai menoa' and 'pulau galau' extends beyond 10,000 hectares. Limiting the size in this manner is unjust, unfair and morally wrong," he said.

Baru said another amendment provided that applications for recognition of the territorial domain should be made through the land and survey superintendent, and approved by the state land and survey director.

However, he objected to this as the determination of customs or "adat" of Sarawak's indigenous people could not be subjected to a non-native or a person with no knowledge of native "adat".

"In this regard, our proposal for an Indigenous Land Commission consisting of experts in native custom to deal with this issue is the right thing to do," he said.

Baru, who is also Works Minister, said he was announcing the state Pakatan's common stand against the Bill ahead of its tabling, as he will not be present in the House on Wednesday but will be attending the Cabinet meeting in Putrajaya.

However, he feared that the Bill would still be bulldozed through by the GPS assemblymen (formerly from Barisan Nasional who had formed the "independent" Sarawak-based coalition called GPS).

"Based on their practice in the past, I don't expect them to go against the Bill unless their consciences are pricked tonight," he said.

On July 8, more than 20 native social rights groups and two dozen community leaders also said a big “no” to the proposed amendment to the land law by the Sarawak government.

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