Malaysia: Communal Title Special Terms Not Friendly To Rural Communities



    “Communal Title Special Terms Not Friendly To Rural Communities”

    Kota Kinabalu: PACOS Trust thanks Chief Minister Musa Aman for his commitment to give special priority on Land Ownership to rural communities who have long been residing on forest reserves since their ancestor’s time.

    This was the response of the Community Development Organization on the statement by CM Musa Aman yesterday that singled out PACOS Trust for not helping the rural communities to own lands. The CM stated that PACOS Trust is not sincere in their struggle.

    Anne Lasimbang, Executive Director of Pacos Trust responded by saying “This statement is wrong. We have campaigned for the introduction of Communal Titles to be introduced for communities to own land, but we do not agree on the Special Terms and methods of implementation of the Communal Title introduced by the Government”.

    “This is because the Communal Title under the SLO and its Special Terms are not ‘friendly’ to rural people because it has violated the constitutional and native customary rights NCR of indigenous peoples with the primary benefits of the policy favoring the government and plantation companies.” She added.

    PACOS is a community-based organization that works with native people organizations to raise awareness on issues relating to ownership and security of native customary lands (NCR). It previously put forward a policy recommendation for the government to recognize land ownership through a Communal Title mechanism. This recommendation was adopted by the Sabah Land & Survey Department, but only in name. The mechanism introduced by the Department was instead a perversion; the Special Terms violate the principles of NCR ownership and the implementation in communities was rife with misinformation. Hence, PACOS took a strong position to reject the implementation of the current Communal Title system.

    Land Grabbing for Developmentalist Agendas

    As a nation State that relies heavily on the exploitation of its natural resources for the development of its economy there is clear tension between the rights of the indigenous to their ancestral lands and the government’s desire to utilize the land and natural resources.

    “According to Chief Minister Musa Aman on March 26th 2014, the Sabah Development Corridor 2008-2025 plan (SDC) policy outlines the federal government’s strategy for the development of Sabah, the goal of which is to ‘make sure that Sabah’s God-given bounty can be harnessed to bring wealth and prosperity to every corner of Sabah. The plan is ‘aimed at enhancing the quality of life of the people by accelerating the growth of Sabah’s economy, promoting regional balance and bridging the rural–urban divide while ensuring the sustainable management of the state’s resources.” said Andrew Ambrose or popularly known as Atama Katama, International Relations of PACOS Trust.

    In addition to the introduction of the SDC, a reform was made to section 76 of the Sabah Land Ordinance 1930 (SLO) in 2009, which significantly increased the government’s power to alienate traditionally indigenous land for the purpose of development. Most indigenous lands have already been alienated and developed to the detriment of the indigenous peoples of Sabah, and the SLO and the Sabah Forest enactment 1968 continue to be used today in ways that suit different developmentalist agendas’.

    Andrew continued as saying “In the 2014 budget, the Government allocated RM1.6bil for development in the five regional corridors. Among the main projects to be implemented include the agropolitan project and oil palm-based industries in the Sabah Development Corridor. We are deeply concerned that further marginalization and land grabbing will continue in the name of development and progress.”

    Issues With Communal Title

    As a result of the Land (Amendment) Enactment (2009), which introduced 10 Special Terms, PACOS Trust submitted a memorandum to the government in 2011 outlining their issues with the way the communal title was being implemented. Specifically, the PACOS memorandum points to the parts of the legislation, which they believe inherently, disadvantages the indigenous community. For example, the phrase ‘Any State land planned by the government’ is an open-ended phrase; it does not specify a purpose and thus gives absolute discretion to the State to decide on the plan and purpose for a particular area of land, effectively nullifying the rights of the native people to the land.

    Anne Lasimbang continues as saying “The current implementation of communal title in Sabah is also in contradiction to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), to which Malaysia is a signatory, as well as the notion of Native Customary Rights (NCR) as it was understood prior to the implementation of the SLO in 1930.”

    Recommendations for the CT Amendment

    In an attempt to overcome these contradictions, there are many recommendations that have been suggested by PACOS to restore the current policies of communal title to the concept of which it was initially proposed.

    Firstly, it is suggested that communal title should be issued in accordance with secured customary rights tenure, so that the natives of a particular village can have customary rights over their own areas within the wider area covered by the communal title.

    “The issuance of communal titles have to incorporate the holistic needs of the community in that area, as well as the idea of integrated land usage, allowing for natives of Sabah to have the right to determine the way that their own indigenous territories can be developed, thus ensuring the maintenance of crop diversity, water catchment areas, forests and many other natural resources. This notion must be reinforced because Custom is the law of the nation. In our Malaysian constitution, custom is regarded as the law of Malaysia. ” Continued Anne Lasimbang.

    Secondly, the government is not sincere in listening to grievances of the community that have rejected the communal title so this is something they need to work on.” She concluded.

    Anne Lasimbang,
    Executive Director,
    PACOS Trust