Open the book on land deals

By R. Nadeswaran, The Sun

NOT a week goes by without someone complaining about “cheap sale” of land in Selangor. The emails, some accompanied by documents, are testimony that many prime pieces of land owned by the state have fallen into private hands through secret deals. In one case, the owner of one plot was ordered to surrender a large parcel of land for public utilities only for the plot to be alienated to a developer.

Although the alienation of land is nothing new as it has always been accepted policy for land to be made available for agriculture. Tun Abdul Razak’s Green Book plan saw land come into the possession of genuine farmers. But how things have changed over three decades?

Nothing is sacred anymore, not even graveyards. Over the past 10 years, thousands of hectares in Selangor have ended up in the hands of cronies of politicians, who then re-sell the land to developers. It is now evident that the state’s land bank in urban areas has shrunk to an all-time low.

We have been told that the mentri besar has ordered an investigation into a large parcel of land which was surrendered for use as a cemetery but subsequently ended up in the hands of developers. Obviously, some middle man has made a small fortune.

While the state government and the mentri besar can pick and choose the land transfers that ought to be investigated, wouldn’t it be incumbent upon them to open the files on land alienation of say, the past 10 years. Don’t forget, the wife of the late Zakaria Mat Deros was alienated land which was meant for low-cost housing. Similarly, reports had then been made to the Anti-Corruption Agency that land had been alienated to teenagers.

With all the hullabaloo over boasts that Selangor is the first to introduce the “Freedom of Information Act”, can the state act on its own to de-classify all documents related to the alienation of state land? We are told that land meant for playing fields, parking lots, buffer zones and even road reserves have ended up in private hands at a fraction of the market price. Surely, the state owes a duty to its citizens to take the necessary steps to recoup its losses because of these “cheap sale” policies of the past.

Besides, the state has to come out with clear policies as to who can apply and get land. If the aim of the state is to help the poor, it is ridiculous that more land is ending up in the hands of those who have made their millions in property development.

If land has to be sold, shouldn’t it be sold by the proper process to the highest bidder? Look at Hongkong and Singapore where plots go for millions of ringgit. Wouldn’t the state coffers be richer through this process? Wouldn’t this mean there will be more money for better facilities which would benefit the entire community? Why then is the government closing an eye to the abang-adik deals perpetuated by a handful, who then it is rumoured, get loads of money for their political activities?

For a start, there should be a policy on land alienation which should incorporate answers to the following questions:

On what basis is state land alienated? Can anyone apply for such land?

Is Joe Public eligible for state land if he wants a piece of land to build a small house for himself? And how does he go about making an application?

What are the decisive factors used in the selection of people who are alienated land? If prefixes to their names are a prerequisite, then, perhaps, several thousands are eligible.

Shouldn’t such land, a scarcity in city centres, be sold to the highest bidder instead of arbitrarily fixing the price at a ridiculously low figure of 71 sen per sq ft in Petaling Jaya?

The time has come for the state government to make public such alienation. It is not a difficult or time consuming process. A perusal of past state exco meetings will show the amount of land that was sold via cheap sale and the amounts collected in premium.

Such information does not affect the security of the state or the country and hence, there are no compelling reasons to treat it as secret as defined in the Official Secrets Act. The mentri besar and his government promised an “open policy” when they took office almost three years ago giving them enough time to live up to their promises.