Don’t turn Sabah into another Zimbabwe

By Queville To, Free Malaysia Today

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)?