What are the options now for the PR Government on the Kampong Buah Pala issue?

I see a piece of land lying seemingly unattended and then I work out a scam to sell it. I disguise myself as a buyer and I then buy the land from my undisguised self who is selling the land. How is that for disingenuity.

By Naragan N

Well, this is more or less what seems to have transpired in the case of the land on which sits Kampong Buah Pala.

Let me lay out the facts for all to know. All of these facts and associated arguments can be corroborated with documentary evidence and be supported by appropriate Acts of Parliament.

The land known as Lot 698 Bandar Gelugor, Daerah Timur Laut, Pulau Pinang, was once owned by Helen Margaret Brown in the 1930s. The tenants of the land at that time were the forefathers of the current residents. This piece of land was surrendered to the then Governor of the Straits Settlement, Sir Thomas Whittaker on 23rd Dec 1937. It was not surrendered to the Governor of Penang but to the Governor of the Straits Settlement. This point is of fundamental significance to the issue of who is the owner of the land.

The Government Gazette of the 27th of Aug 1953 clearly recorded that the said land “is needed for a public purpose, namely for the Housing Trust”. The land then came under the purview of the Housing Trust Act. This also clearly establishes that the land was a Trust land, meaning the owner of the land was the Trust. Then with the introduction of the Housing Trust Dissolution Act of 1976, the Trust was dissolved. According to Section 5(1) of this 1976 Act:

“5(1) All lands that immediately before the commencement of this Act were vested in, or reserved under any written law relating to land for the purposes of, the Trust shall upon that commencement vest in the federal lands Commissioner for the purpose of the Government”.

“Government” here is defined in the Title section of the Act to mean the Federal Government.

This makes the Federal Government the owner of the land.

Here then is an important fact – there is no document transferring this land to the Penang State Government from the Federal Government.  The Penang State Government is not the owner of this land, yet it  sold the land to Nusmetro Ventures. Per the National land Code (Act No 56 of 1965) Division V – Alienated Lands, Section 340

“Registration to confer indefeasible title or interest, except in certain circumstances:

Subsection 2(b) The title or interest of any such person or body shall not be indefeasible where registration was obtained by forgery, or by means of an insufficient or void instrument.”

When one does not possess documents to show one is the owner then it becomes a sale by a void instrument. The sale therefore is not legitimate in law.

According to all of the above the sale becomes null and void.

But the sale was made anyway. This could have happened only through devious collusion of several parties over a period of time and by fraudulent transactions. All this was transacted by the then Gerakan/UMNO State Government, Senior Members of the Koperasi Pegawai Kerajaan Pulau Pinang, Senior Officers of  the Land and Mines Department, the State Legal Department, The State Secretariat , the State Economic Planning unit and probably others too.

They were the ones that moved the documents, they were the ones that prepared the documents, the various working papers to the EXCO of the Gerakan/UMNO State Government and they were the ones that approved everything. The Koperasi that was the beneficiary was the Koperasi of the State Administrators – the State Chief secretary was the Chief of the Koperasi when much of this transpired. This is exactly the corruption that we need to root out from our country. This is all just dignified usurpation.

The rights of the ground tenants just did not figure, but as an afterthought at the conclusion of the deal. Now that we have the approval, how do we deal with the troublesome squatters … bring in the gangsters, bring in the police, bring in the bulldozers. This rot in our system has to be eliminated. The laws of the country cannot be violated willy-nilly by those in power. Our system needs to be strengthened.

What Options for the PR Government

The present PR Government must give up its intransigent position, understand time is running out and take positive actions to sort this mess out. It does not matter now that it did not create the problem. It is an opportunity to catapult into the Federal Government in the next General Election if it plays its cards well on this and other similarly challenging issues in the future. This is truly a test of its competency.

The steps it needs to take:

1)      Use the provisions under the law that empowers the State Government to acquire land. It is indefensible to say that it is going to cost this much or that much. The land is leasehold, ownership is in dispute, and it was just sold 15 months ago for RM 3.2million, it represents a heritage that could be lost for all posterity. Anything short of acquiring the land immediately will render this whole issue academic. It will become something else altogether after the bulldozers come in.

2)      Stop trying to tease the villagers into accepting compensation. They do not want any compensation, they just want to retain their village.

3)      Begin a process immediately to identify all the miscreants in this story and all the irregular and fraudulent acts and begin legal proceedings against them.

4)      Establish the lack of legitimacy of the sale and then maybe the State Government may not have to pay a penny at all to the developer.

5)      Use independent lawyers. How can the State Legal Advisor give advice against the  Koperasi Pegawai Kerajaan Pulau Pinang in which he is a senior member? There is clearly a conflict of interest. It will be naïve on the part of the PR State Government to continue using his advice on this matter.

6)      The PR government, by doing all of this, can redeem its moral high ground, something that has slipped significantly in the past few weeks. See how the situation is evolving – the case against Anwar has just begun, Najib is out wooing with his pack of goodies and who knows what else, the Penang State government’s image has taken a serious beating. Time is not on PR’s side; move fast to do this before much more damage is done.

7)      Section 116,1(d) may not help, check it out quickly as valuable time is passing and it may be too late, if we find out that it does not apply.

We have a very significant opportunity on our hands to move democracy up one notch in Penang. We have to necessarily see bold steps being taken. Truth must prevail and all those who want to maintain an old, rotten and corrupt system have to be dealt with summarily and clearly.

Can the Pakatan Rakyat Government provide the leadership to move forward and on?