Land grab, Malaysian-style
Land grab is non-discriminatory; Malaysians from all racial, religious and social strata are affected.
COMMENTBy Thomas Fann
This is not a new issue, in fact it is 21 years old.
It all began when the Barisan Nasional government, with its overwhelming majority in Parliament, passed by 99 to 25 votes the 1991 Land Acquisition Amendment Bill, or Act A804. The rephrasing of sections of the Land Acquisition Act 1960 basically gave incontestable power to state governments to seize private land for development by private companies and individuals. Lands originally acquired for public purposes can also be used for private development.
Before Act A804, land could only be acquired for public purposes or for public utilities like building of roads, schools, hospitals, pipelines, water or power plants, etc. With the addition of “…for any purpose which in the opinion of the State Authority is beneficial to the economic development of Malaysia”, no land is safe.
The term “beneficial to the economic development of Malaysia” is as subjective as you can get. A piece of land can be acquired to build a posh five-star hotel, an amusement park or a golf resort because in the opinion of the government it would bring in the tourist dollar and create jobs for locals, not to mention enriching the private companies which would, of course, be paying taxes.
To really make the Land Acquisition Act water-tight for the acquirer, Section 68A says that acquisitions cannot be invalidated by reason of any kind of subsequent disposal or use (etc) of the acquired land.
This new provision aims at preventing the acquirer or the purported purpose from being challenged in court. You can only challenge the quantum of the compensation offered, the measurement of the land area, the person whom compensation is payable to, and the apportionment of the compensation.
The leader of the opposition then, Lim Kit Siang, in opposing Act A804, gave this dire warning: “When it becomes law, it will destroy the constitutional right to property enjoyed by Malaysians for 34 years since Merdeka, and become the mother of all corruption, abuses of power, conflicts-of-interest and unethical malpractices in Malaysia…”
Was Kit Siang just over-reacting or scare-mongering when he said that or is it a prophecy that was and is being fulfilled till today?
A new ball game
The impetus for the passing of Act A804 was for the acquisition of 33,000 acres of land in the Gelang Patah area for the construction of the second link with Singapore and the construction of a new township by UEM, wiping out 19 villages and displacing 10,000 people.
The Johor state government offered the affected smallholders compensation averaging RM26,000 per acre or 64 sen per sqe ft, far below the then market value of RM100,000 per acre for agricultural land.
In a subsequent civil suit by one of the affected landowners against the government of Johor in 1995, it was revealed that a subsidiary of Renong was offering the intended development for sale at RM17 per sq ft, a whopping 28 times more than what the original landowners got!
For a glimpse into some of the backroom wheeling and dealing that went on with these deals, one should read the court papers of cases like “Honan Plantations vs Govt of Johor’; and “Stamford Holdings vs Govt of Johor”. Names of notable personalities like Muhyiddin Yassin, Syed Mokhtar Albukhary and Yahya Talib in secret meetings were mentioned.
For the Second Link and the highway that linked it to the North-South Expressway to be built, the Land Acquisition Act was necessary. To be fair, compensation had to not only take into account the then prevailing market value but also the loss of livelihood for the people who used to live off the land.
With Act A804, the government seized a lot more land than was required for the custom and immigration complex and the highway. We can safely say it seized almost 24,000 acres more for a private corporation, UEM, albeit it is a GLC (government-linked corporation).
Today, UEM Land, as the master developer of the 23,875-acre Nusajaya (as the acquired land is now called) boasts of its enormous landbank and potential billions in profit from its development. We want to ask this simple poignant question: whose lands were these originally, and what about the 10,000 over affected villagers? Shouldn’t these people be beneficiaries of development and not its victims? Perhaps some of the villagers are now working in Legoland, who knows?
While some of the people behind the scenes went on to achieve high office and some made it to the top 10 billionaires list, thousands of other nameless Malaysians are without land and opportunities.
Land grab is non-discriminatory: Malaysians from all racial, religious and social strata are affected.
Gelang Patah was just the precursor to a new ball game called Land Grab and the same modus operandi was used for Seremban 2, Bandar Aman Jaya in Sungai Petani, Pantai Kundor/Pantai Tanah Merah and Paya Mengkuang in Melaka, Kerpan in Kedah, Sepang in Selangor, lands acquired for the MRT project, Jalan Sultan, native customary lands in the Peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak, and many, many more.
Of course, not all compulsory acquisitions are unjust or not justifiable; but there should be a fair and unskewed avenue for aggrieved landowners through the justice system to question certain acquisitions.
The courts now are somewhat constrained by Act A804, and in almost all cases such acquisitions are not reversed.
The Pengerang grab
Twenty years on, the same script is being acted out in Johor again (a BN stronghold), this time to the east in Pengerang.
A total of 22,500 acres of land are being acquired for the development of the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex (PIPC). The anchor project in this proposal is Petronas’ RAPID project which requires a sizeable 6,424 acres.
Smallholders and plantations are being offered between RM1.80 psf and RM8 psf for their land.
Can Pengerang be called Gelang Patah 2.0 where again, on the pretext of development, a huge tract of land is being taken from their original landowners and placed in the hands of one or a few wealthy individuals and corporations? Is the PIPC the main play or is property speculation the main play?
Would the same prime minister who mooted the Third Link to Singapore in 2009 make the announcement again after all the land has been acquired? Who are the direct beneficiaries of such development?
All these are so “legal” that one government official after another is spewing out that it is done properly under the terms of the Land Acquisition Act 1960. It may be legal, but is it moral?
Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak made a statement during the launch of the sixth International Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities Conference in Kuala Lumpur on the Oct 4, 2012: “Is the unbridled and ruthless pursuit of extraordinary profits a form of corruption? I believe that if we see corruption as fundamentally a moral problem, therefore anything that promotes selfish interest at the expense of the well-being of others is morally wrong. It was vapid [tasteless] self-interest and greed that was truly at the heart of corruption. ”
Mr Prime Minister, I could not agree with you more.
How much is enough for the greedy? How many more poor and defenseless villagers must be forcibly displaced and robbed of the fruits of development to satisfy the insatiable appetites of the greedy who uses the Land Acquisition Act to enrich themselves? Who will speak up for the thousands who will be landless and many without a means of livelihood?
It is evil when a law is crafted to take away land from the poor without their consent, fair compensation or share in its benefits so that a few might make it to Forbes’ list of billionaires. We should all be foaming at our mouth with anger at this injustice but instead we just thank God daily that it is not our land they have come to take, at least not yet.
Thomas Fann blogs at www.newmalaysia.org