Land for the people -Interview with Chong Chieng Jen

How serious of a concern is land issues for Sarawakians?

I believed that the government policies especially relating to the land issues are one of the main concerns for the people. Many of these policies are so unfair that it is suffocating the well being of the people. Many people are hoping the elections will bring changes to these inequitable policies.

Can you tell us about some of these land policy issues?

A lot of the houses and landed properties in Sarawak have only 60 years lease period. Many of these houses are approaching expiration dates. As the law does not allow for automatic renewal, so upon expiration of the lease period, it is up to the discretion of the state government to renew the lease. Many of the agricultural and industrial properties owners would often be encumbered by the renewal process.

We have instances where the government did not renew these leases; one example is the Bako area near Kuching. In Bako, the lease was allowed to lapse in 2009 and the government subsequently took back the land without compensating owners. The lands were later delineated to private developers connected to BN politicians.

There is also the issue of high premium rates for the renewal of the property lease, especially for the industrial properties. We have an example where an investor told us he had to pay over RM800,000 land premium for an industrial lot worth which he bought for over RM1 million.

The state government appears to have pervasive powers when it comes to acquiring land in Sarawak. Please elaborate on this?
The state government can invoke section 47 and 48 to delineate the lands it wants for development, almost whenever it wants and pay for it at pittance.

Take for example the Bako land case; a few thousand acres of the land was delineated under section 47 in 1973. For many years, the government did not develop the land. The landowners were also barred from developing the land. Then in 2010, the government decided to develop the land and issue notification under section 48 to acquire the land. The government then proceeded to compensate the landowners for their lands at the market value of 1973. The current market value is several times that of the compensation value. It is absolutely unfair to the people to be denied a fair compensation for their properties.

The native customary rights (NCR) land acquisition is another contentious issue. It is particularly relevant and important in the rural areas. Through the years the present BN government has systematically drafted and amended the law that makes the NCR land easy to be extinguished. For example, the government just needs to publish a gazette notification in the newspapers to claim the NCR land as state land and after 60 days from the date of publication, the existing NCR claim on the land is deemed to be extinguished. This is comical as some of the natives can’t even read or don’t have access to the newspapers! -The Rocket