Ten representatives from 119 villages alleged on 12-1-2004 that the State Government under various administrations had systematically violated their land rights under Native Customary Rights (NCR).
Stating this in a memorandum to the Chief Minister, they also alleged that the Government had ignored their applications for ownership over the land they have been living on for generations, and that the Lands and Surveys Department gave these away to agriculture-based companies.
Among the firms cited in their memorandum include Syarikat Asiatic Sdn Bhd, Hap Seng Consolidated Bhd, Corak Nahkoda Sdn Bhd and Borneo Semudera for oil palm plantations. However, they did not say under which Land and Surveys Department Director these “abnormalities” occurred.
The group, comprised of Wilster Lawrence of Kampung Minusoh, in Tongod, Kinabatangan, representatives from Keningau, Kg Karamuak and Kuamut of Kinabatangan, Kota Belud, Tuaran, Penampang, Kota Marudu and Kudat.
According to spokesman from the Partners of Community Organisation (Pacos Trust), Gallus Ahtoi, the group represented about 10,000 people. Pacos Trust is a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) helping the group to co-ordinate and prepare the memorandum.
Wilster claimed that the State Government had indiscriminately given away the land they should by right be owning under the NCR to these private companies. For example, he said there had been cases where villagers had resettled and applied for the land on which they stayed for more than 30 years, but this was not considered by the Lands and Surveys Department.
Furthermore, the Government later gazetted the land as a water catchment area, without bothering to consult the affected residents, he said.
They regretted that the Government’s action reflected complete disregard to their status and rights as indigenous people of the country.
He also voiced frustration over the non-chalant attitude of the Lands and Surveys Department “which has been entrusted by the Government to supervise the distribution of land to the landless people but had failed to safeguard the NCR rights”. The failure by the Department has resulted in the rights of the indigenous people of Sabah being violated, contrary to the provisions under the State Land Ordinance Chapter 68.
Also included in the memorandum were:
1. Urging the State Government to recognise their land rights under NCR;
2. Informing the people openly the procedure to recognise the NCR as mentioned in Section 14 of the State Land Ordinance Chapter 68;
3. Urging the Government to inform the people the criteria in owning NCR and hold dialogue with the indigenous people, and taking into account their local customs (adat); and
4. Encourage communal land titles as provided under Section 76 or Native Reserve under Section 78 of the Land Ordinance.
Meanwhile, the complainants from Tongod and Penangah said that the land for which they claimed as NCR had been approved by the Government to big companies.
They claimed they had been in the area for generations since the days of their “great-great grandfathers” but had been disregarded by the State Government.
Another complainant from Kudat claimed that the Government had deprived them of their rights through “empty promises”.
He claimed that in 1972, the Government promised to make them settlers at Kampung Radtak, Pinawatai, Pomonsukan, Sungai Pupu and Kabangaan once the Sabah Land Development Board (SLDB) had taken over and developed the land.
“The Government also promised that once we had become settlers for 25 years, the land will return to us,” he said. However, the promise was never fulfilled when SLDB handed over the land to Sawit Kinabalu.
Any comments from the YBs, who claim to champion the people's rights?