Monday, March 08, 2010

S’wak govt: We are not forcing natives

Sarawak Assistant Minister of Land Development Datuk Francis Harden Hollis has denied allegations that the state government was forcing natives to give up their land for commercial purposes.

‘We have never forced the people to give up their land. But what is certain is that the government wants the living standard of the people to be improved through commercial agriculture projects on their land through planting of commercial crops such as rubber, oil palm, pepper and other crops,” he said.

Francis was commenting on growing criticism that chief minister Tan Sri Taib Mahmud’s “new concept” land policies that promoted joint ventures between native landowners and oil palm plantation companies were depriving Sarawakian native communities of their lands and livelihoods.

The joint venture projects had reportedly churned massive profits for well-connected investors, while yielding next to nothing for native customary right (NCR) landowners.

Under the ‘New Concept’ model, the NCR landowner receives 30 percent of JV shares, the government 10 percent, and the private investor chosen by the government, 60 percent.

Countering the claim, Francis said landowners are given ample opportunity to think through a proposal before deciding on whether or not to join the commercial agriculture project.

He also added that the government emphasised on a win-win solution for both landowner and developer as far as such projects were concerned.

“As such, I want to urge the people especially landowners to be far-sighted especially when it comes to efforts to implement agriculture projects on their own land,” he said .

On Feb 21, the Federal Court ordered the Sarawak government to pay RM110 million compensation to Amit Salleh and 663 other Native Customary Rights (NCR) landowners in Suai, near Bintulu.

The court ruled that the state government had illegally stripped these landowners of their rights and as a result, the communities had lost revenue from the valuable teak and sentang trees they had planted.

- By FMT staff

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