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PRESS RELEASE (25 October 2012)

The problems faced by the 400 smallholders over a 6,000 acres of oil palm plantation in Kg Sungai Koya is such a tragic that requires intervention of the highest authority in order to resolve the issues.

YB Siddi from Sukau is presently trying his luck in the state assembly to get this long standing problems resolved. I wish him luck but I also have another facet of the “story” to what was reported in the news.

Another group of the settlers represented by Billy Chong first raised this problem to me in 2007. I visited the ACLR office in Kinabatangan immediately and met with the deputy DO. His reply was “parties must compromise over the dispute”. There was no formula from him how to compromise on the dispute since we met and nor any reply to my inquiries.

Basically, prior to 1993, a group of 300-400 settlers (we referred them as Group A) were asked to move into the Kg Sungai Koyah area (“the area”) by the then YB Zaki bin Gusmiah of Sukau and the JKKK during PBS era. This group A settlers were identified as the landless group of people. They were allocated into the areas which were pre-surveyed 15 acres per lot per family.

All people in Groups A settlers had submitted their Land Application to the relevant authorities for titles to their plot of land.

Sometime in 1995, the then District Officier (DO) of Kinabatangaan informed the settlers that they must open up the jungle, cultivate and develop their lots before titles would be issued to them. With that encouragement, all people in the group A settlers started to develop their plots of land in the area they occupied.

This Group A settlers cultivated and developed the lots into oil palm plantation. Up to today, they are still in occupation of their lots, residing, maintaining and harvesting fruits. Meantime, they are constantly checking with the relevant authorities about the status of their LA but without any answer.

Sometime in 1998, the group A settlers were shocked to discover that the same area of land was applied by another Group of people (we referred them as Group B) and titles were issued to the Group B applicants even though the Group A applied earlier and had settled in the same area of land.

The Group B applicants were not involved in the cultivation and development of the lots of lands as the Group A settlers. Yet titles were issued in their names.

The Group A settlers cannot understand why their applications for the lots they applied since 1993 (almost 20 years ago) were given away to another Group of Applicants (Group B) without their knowledge; and till today no one from the Group B came forward to discuss with the Group A settlers over the disputed lots.

The Group A settlers were more surprised that the Group B who purportedly had the titles are now claiming “loss of right and interest” in their lots to a JV company, who had cheated them in the JV deal they entered with.

The issues now faced by the Group A settlers are:

1. While they were adviced by the then YB, JKKK and DO to clear the jungle, cultivated and developd the area into oil palm plantation, submitted their application 20 years ago, how come titles were issued to another Group (Group B) who applied later ?

2. They had been checking with the ACLR Kinabatangaan diligently on the status of their application but no one was able to confirm the status of their application then all of a sudden their applications were superseded by another group (group B). They paid fees when they lodged their application and surely there are records on their application?

3. At one stroke, the group B obtained titles to the land in the area developed by the Group A settlers without their knowledge. While they are still in occupation of their lots of land; residing, maintenaning and taking care of the plantation. They have records to show as early as 20 years ago, they labored in opening up the jungle in their plot of land and develop into oil palm plantations. They have documents and vouchers to show they were asked to development by the JKKK and the authority concerned.

4. The Group A settlers are the real victims in this problems, it is not a triangle problem with three group of parties as alleged by YB Siddi. The Group A is certainly not the trespassers. They toiled and sweat to open up the jungles, developed their lands and many staying in the lots they called homes for 20 years and suddenly a new group claims titles to their lots, and a company claims to be the rightful owner now

The problem arises when the relevant authorities do not take the livelihood of the poor people seriously. Some of them are depending on the mere 15 acres of land as their only source of income. Administrative wise, how did it happen in this circumstance?

There must be a better system in the acceptance of the LA from people and in the processing of the application fairly and justly with transparency to avoid discrepancy in future.

I call on YB Siddi to conduct a thorough investigation on the actual situation on the ground and to settle the problems amicably with minimum injury to the affected parties; the Group A settlers and the Group B who claimed to have lost their rights in their land deal with the company.

The CM’s proposal to issue the Communal title to the Kg Koyah land problem is inadequate. In this case, the Group A settlers’ rights are not protected although they were first asked by the government to move in and settle in the area. They lost their “rights” when Group B obtained the titles to their lots of lands even though they (group A) applied earlier.

I propose that the a Native Land Dispute Resolution Tribunal or Center to be set up a soon as possible to resolve this long overdue problem of Kg Sungai Koyah and all Native Title land disputes; including but not limiting the NCR issues, the smallholders schemes and the Communal title lands.

The members of the Native Land Tribunal or Center should include independent body such as SLA, judicial people appointed by the CJ of Borneo, Land officer, DO of the district concerned, Suhakam and any other persons who may assist to resolve the problems. Later on, the Tribunal or Center can be elevated into proper Native Land Court.

In countries such as Australia and USA, is is a common practice for the Dispute Resolution Center to provide services in resolving disputes and problems arising from land issues. Parties who are involved in the disputes are in the know of what’s going on with their land. Given the amount of land disputes concerning NT and NCR land, it is time we set up such a land dispute tribunal or center for the benefit of the parties especially the villagers concerned.

Christina Liew
Chairperson, Public complaint Biro
PKR Kota Kinabalu Division