Thursday, 15 April 2010

Barisan Nasional warned that they will lose Sabah as a “fixed deposit” if the basic rights and interests of Sabahans continue to be marginalized and discriminated

I regret that the Cabinet has neither taken Parliament seriously nor the long-standing problems and grievances of the people of Sabah.
The Prime Minister’s Department has five Ministers apart from the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister as well as five deputy ministers, but not a single one of them rose in Parliament to answer issues about Sabah development neglect, whether during the winding-up of the debate on the Royal Address or during the committee stage debate on the Prime Minister’s Department on the 2009 supplementary estimates.



Just laid on the table is the 2009 annual report of Suhakam. A staple criticism of MPs and the civil society is the failure of Parliament to have any specific debate on the Suhakam annual reports in the past nine years.
I want to ask Barisan Nasional MPs whether they take the Suhakam annual reports seriously, as most BN MPs would not even open the Suhakam annual reports to read them.
For instance, in the latest Suhakam report on its activities in Sabah, various long-standing problems of Sabahans were referred to.

As example, on “Land Matters”, Suhakam dealt with land complaints and made recommendations, and I quote:
  1. State Land
    Complainants, usually villagers in rural areas, alleged that their applications for State land have not been considered, or have been ignored or rejected. They further alleged that the same plots were subsequently alienated to later applicants. More often than not, the latter occupy position of influence and authority or have close connections with decision makers.
    Recommendations
    1. Multiple land applications should not be entertained in respect of the same piece of land. The earliest application should be dealt with first. If it is rejected, the applicant should be notified and informed of the reason for rejection.
    2. There should be transparency in the procedures and criteria used in approving applications for land. Awareness programmes should be organised to educate villagers on the land policy, procedures, processes and criteria involved in applications.
    3. The Sabah Land Ordinance (Cap. 68) should be reviewed and amended to eliminateambiguity and confusion. A workshop could be held to bring together experts, complainants’ representatives and other interested parties to identify the changes required.
  2. Forest Reserves
    Complainants said they had been wrongfully evicted from their villages and that their houses had sometimes been burnt down by enforcement personnel, on the ground of trespass into a forest reserve. The villagers claimed that they had occupied the area for generations, as indicated by the presence of graveyards, fruit trees and other agricultural and commercial crops planted by them. They further claimed that they had been living there before the area was gazetted as a forest reserve.
    Recommendations
    1. If people have settled in an area before it was gazetted as a forest reserve, then the site occupied should be excised from the reserve.
    2. In the event that people have indeed encroached into a forest reserve, then the State (ii) Government should consider treating it on a case-by-case basis depending on circumstances, such as the period they have been living in the area.
    3. The State authorities should be humanitarian in taking enforcement action against alleged trespassers. Burning houses would lead to the perception that the Government gives higher priority to the forest than to human beings.
    4. The Government should consider providing affected settlers an alternative site to be excised from a forest reserve. After all, Sabah has vast stands of forest. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of hectares have previously been excised for commercial agricultural development, mainly oil palm.
    5. Enforcement should be quick and efficient against those deemed to be ‘squatting’ in a forest reserve. The authorities should not wait until people have settled on the site for many years before evicting them. In some cases, the oil palm they planted would be ready for harvesting. The relevant authorities should regularly monitor the situation and inform people as early as possible that they have trespassed into a forest reserve.
What is the position of the Federal and Sabah state governments to these recommendations by Suhakam.
Let me warn the Barisan Nasional government that they will lose Sabah as a “fixed deposit” if the basic rights and interests of Sabahans continue to be marginalized and discriminated decade after decade.
[Speech (4) on the first 2010 supplementary estimates in Dewan Rakyat on Tuesday 13th April 2010]