KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) has warned that the trend of Sabahans losing their lands to peninsula-based plantation firms will cause major socio-economic problems like in the Philippines and Zimbabwe.
SAPP chief Yong Teck Lee said those in power should act now to protect agricultural land to prevent their takeover by giant corporations.
Yong was commenting on a statement by Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) on “land grabs” affecting the local people in Sabah.
“I am surprised that Herbert (Timbon Lagadan, PBS vice-president)seems unconcerned about the fact that many local people are losing their lands to big companies from outside Sabah.
"A huge number of native titles have been leased out on long-term basis. Small plots of agricultural land that used to be cultivated by local Sabahans have fast fallen into the hands of Peninsula-based corporations.
"The government has the responsibility to check such trend or else local Sabahans, especially rural natives, will end up as tenants in their own state.
"This will bring about major socio-economic problems related to the loss of land like what happened in the Philippines and Zimbabwe,” he said.
Hungry for land
He noted that Sarawak and some other states in the peninsula have restrictions on land ownership by companies from outside their respective states.
“Mismanagement by some civil servants and neglect by political leaders have caused many legitimate villagers to lose their land to big companies hungry for land.
"Almost everyday local newspapers report land disputes, and in most cases the local villagers lose out.
“Many locals are now made to work in plantations with foreign workers, like at the Agropolitan project in Banggi Kudat. Some villagers who have been evicted from their villagers in Kota Marudu are squatting with relatives in Kota Belud at Herbert’s door steps.
“How can Herbert expect these poor villagers to resort to legal actions that are stressful, cost a lot of legal fees and take a long time to resolve? Where can the people live while waiting for the legal process to enforce their native customary rights (NCR)?
"Why can’t the state government find a solution to the land crisis facing local people? Herbert should search his conscience and support the SAPP proposals on land reforms,” he said.
On the Forest Management Unit (FMU), Yong, a former chief minister, said the first FMU licence was issued to the KTS Group in early 1990s by the then PBS chief minister without referring it to the Cabinet.
The FMU licences, also known as “sustainable forest management licence agreements” (SFLMAs), spell out some safeguards along with a RM5 million bond. Under the licence agreements, the villagers within forest reserves are protected and entitled to development.
“These agreements were approved even before I became chief minister in 1996," Yong said.
Yong said that on June 17, 1996, the powers of the chief minister to approve licences for land, forest and mining activities were transferred to the Cabinet when the Land Ordinance, Forest Enactment and Mining Ordinance was amended by the State Legislative Assembly.
“This amendment was made supposedly because a non-Umno CM cannot be trusted to manage the state’s natural resources. Therefore, it was legally impossible for me to have approved the FMUs and major land deals,” he said.
He said Barisan Nasional leaders are guilty of approving controversial land deals such as the 60,000 acres to Begaraya Sdn Bhd in Kota Marudu (signed on March 19, 1996) and the Tanjong Aru government quarters housing land deal (signed on May 25, 1996).
Yong said he could not be held responsible for any of these controversial deals as he only became chief minister on May 28, 1996.
“Within three weeks, the powers over land, forestry and mining were transferred from the chief minister to the Cabinet. Within a year, the Cultural Heritage Conservation Enactment 1997 was passed to protect Sabah’s cultural heritage.
"When Likas Lagoon, Merdeka Padang, Atkinson Clock Tower and Chong Tain Vun Park were facing threats, the cultural heritage protection law was introduced.
“As far as I know, the development plans (near the clock tower) were objected by the then Kota Kinabalu Municipal Council. This project was dead and was later buried by the cultural heritage law. But this Cabinet negligently approved it last year.
"Again, BN officials had implied that the controversial hotel/office project affecting the Atkinson Clock Tower was approved in 1996, meaning during my tenure as chief minister.”
He also said that Umno-BN had used PBS to maliciously and falsely attack him on the Saham Amanah Sabah (SAS) fiasco.
“By now, PBS leaders already know who the real culprits are in the SAS fiasco. But they will play to Umno’s tune to praise Umno and falsely accuse another,” he said.
Concocting a story
On the proposed Tambatoun Dam and rice self-sufficiency, Yong said Herbert should not sacrifice his own people by concocting a story about the need for a mega dam to flood his villages.
“Tambatoun Dam has nothing to do with rice-self sufficiency. A mega dam means profits for Umno cronies at the expense of those tranquil villages in the valley. Everybody, except Herbert, knows that not only one but several villages will be affected,” he said.
He noted that rice self-sufficiency was already mooted by then Minister of Agriculture (Pandikar Amin Mulia) in 1997 and a padi unit was set up in the Department of Agriculture along with a plan to revive the State Padi Board.
A four-year development plan was also incorporated to cultivate 100,000 acres of new rice fields in various parts of Sabah to bring about self-sufficiency in rice, Yong said.
“This was consistent with the National Agricultural Policy. I have reminded the BN government in my press releases in mid-2008 (about the need for rice self-sufficiency) when the global food crises and food riots in Haiti were at their height,” he said.
He contended that instead of building a mega dam that will submerge villages, Kota Belud needs a mere RM4 million to resolve the padi irrigation problems and a few more million ringgit to turn Kota Belud into a rice bowl.
“But such funds are not available, according to Agriculture Minister Yahya Hussein and his assistant minister Musbah Jamli, the Kota Belud assemblymen. The people wonder where the billions of ringgit announced by two Prime Ministers ever since 2008 have gone to,” he said.