Instant Iban millionaires a nightmare for Taib

By Free Malaysia Today

KUCHING: If Pakatan Rakyat coalition comes to power, Ibans can become instant millionaires! And that will be Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s worst nightmare.

All this is possible if PKR’s plan to set up a Land Commission in Sarawak in its fight to return native customary rights (NCR) land to the people and compel oil palm giants to surrender the lands leased to them by the state to the natives materialises.

A small innocuous report headline “PKR to form Land Commission soon” in a local daily over the weekend has fired the imagination of locals.

Does a “millionaire Iban community” sound far-fetched?

Not if you read Sarawak PKR adviser Baru Bian’s plan for the Land Commission, the recent judicial reviews on NCR land, and how together it could translate into millions of ringit for native communities if the Pakatan Rakyat coalition is voted into power in Sarawak.

Bian, who mooted the idea, said the commission would “investigate claims over issuance of land titles and also gazette areas as the party (PKR) had all along been fighting for recognition of native rights.”

“We are offering the rural folks of Sarawak a solution to their NCR issues… We are not only looking at natives in rural areas but also at urban Chinese and the Malays in the coastal areas as well,” said Bian in Borneo Post on Saturday.

Explaining the role of a Land Commission, he said it would be a special body set up by the state government to look into matters and issues concerning land.

Will this body have the authority and power to act independently? According to Bian, it does.

“It is called a commission because it has been commissioned and empowered to do something about a problem,” said Bian.

Pakatan’s promise

If Bian is elected and Pakatan takes over power in Sarawak, replacing the current Barisan Nasional government, then the people, particularly the Dayaks, can look forward to a Land Commission and obtain direct benefits.

According to Bian, the Land Commission would survey whole areas of NCR lands in Sarawak, which incidentally is what Prime Minsiter Najib Tun Razak has instructed Chief Minister Taib Mahmud to do with the recent perimeter survey exercise.

However, will the BN government go one step further and issue titles (pala tanah) for these surveyed lands? And who decides the “garis menoa” or boundaries of these lands?

So far, the BN state regime has made no comments on this matter.

According to Bian, a PKR Land Commission will not only survey the NCR land but will also have the power to grant titles to the lands.

This means that the “pemakai menoa” (territory) and “pulau galau” (communal forests) claimed by the Ibans will be fully recognised by the Land Commission and given land titles.

Within these boundaries, especially within the temuda (farmed land or secondary forest) areas, individual, and not only communal, titles will also be granted.

If Bian’s Land Commission can implement all these measures, it will be a major breakthrough in efforts to empower the Ibans.

With their land recognised, the Ibans can finally go to banks and financial institutions to apply for loans with their land titles as collateral for mortgages.

Thus, the Ibans will have the same opportunities as other communities to start their own business with seed money from bank loans guaranteed with their land titles.

Ibans will have choices

But will this make Ibans instant millionaires overnight? Of course not, notes blogger antubederu.

“Business is always a risk, but the potential to reap huge rewards will be possible. Once landowners are granted titles, they can sell their land. This is how the Ibans can become rich.

“But if they are smart, they will not sell their land but develop it. This is how they can become millionaires,” said antubederu.

“They can invite oil palm plantation giants like Samling and WTK to form partnerships with them on their own terms,” the blogger added.

Currently, oil palm plantations call the shots and dictate to the Ibans how much they get paid for renting their land from them.

The Ibans do not have the bargaining power because Taib and his deputy Alfred Jabu refused to grant the Ibans land titles, which makes these natives no better than slaves on their own lands.

However, when the Land Commission is set up, the Ibans will have the solution to their land issues, which is exactly what Taib and Jabu are afraid of.

They are afraid that the Ibans will finally realise how much economic and political power lie in their own hands when they have titles to their lands.

Who owns the most tracks of land in Sarawak? The Ibans. Not the state.

But Taib has used his Land Code to convert many native lands into state lands. Then he gave these parcels of land to Samling and WTK to plant oil palm.

In reality, the Ibans, and not the state, are the largest landowners in Sarawak. But Taib changed it all. His Cabinet ministers, including Iban lawmakers, agreed to vote in the Land Code which stripped the Ibans of their rights to their own lands.