KUCHING: There was an emotional moment in the Sarawak Legislative Assembly when Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah (pic) recalled the late chief minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem's role in addressing native customary land issues.
Tabling the Land Code (Amendment) Bill 2018 on Wednesday (July 11), Uggah briefly choked up when he spoke of Adenan's commitment to seek a political solution to the issues surrounding the native customs of "pemakai menoa" (territorial domain) and "pulau galau" (communal forest reserve) following the Federal Court's decision in December 2016 that those customs had no force of law in Sarawak.
"Even on his death bed, Tok Nan reminded me to settle the issue. That showed the depth of his commitment to the 'pemakai menoa' and 'pulau galau' issue and his support to resolve the matter through a political solution," he said through tears, using the popular name for Adenan.
"We wish to record our appreciation to Allahyarham Datuk Patinggi Adenan Haji Satem for his steadfast support to pursue the issue pertaining to 'pemakai menoa' and 'pulau galau'."
Uggah also defended the proposed amendments as a comprehensive solution which would strengthen the protection of native customary land through legal recognition and proprietary rights.
The Bill had faced strong opposition from native land rights groups and Pakatan Harapan assemblymen, particularly over the granting of "usufructuary rights" which would allow the natives to use their ancestral land without granting them ownership of it.
However, Uggah said the contention that the state government was only giving usufructuary rights to native customary land was "totally misleading and mischievous".
He said the "landmark outcome" of the proposed Bill was to allow native communal titles to be issued in perpetuity over areas described as native territorial domain.
"Territorial domain is to be given the force of law and legally recognised as having a proprietary right. Document of title will be issued to the community concerned to protect their territorial domain.
"This nullifies the views expressed by some so-called champions of native rights, keyboard and armchair critics and Sarawak Pakatan. They were all driven by their own selfish and malicious political agenda. This proposed amendment proves them all totally wrong," Uggah said.
He said the Bill would not only recognise but also give legal effect to the customs of "pemakai menoa" and "pulau galau", while the native communal titles to be issued will be recognised as titles under the Land Code.
"This means that the right under native territorial domain is a statutory proprietary right and not just limited to usufructuary rights," he said.
He added that the term 'usufructuary' was merely to describe the customs and practices which would be legally recognised by the amended provisions to establish ownership rights to a territorial domain.
Uggah also said the area that could be claimed as native territorial domain was limited to 500 hectares.
This had been another point of contention raised by opponents of the Bill who said native customary land could not be restricted in this way.
"The most challenging issue was to recommend the size of native territorial domain. After lengthy discussions and debates, it was agreed that Section 6A should provide for a limit to the area that may be claimed as native territorial domain.
"That area was determined to be 500 hectares or 1,250 acres," Uggah said.
The Bill is now being debated by members of the state legislature.
It is expected to be passed on Thursday (July 12).