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‘Cheated’ natives baying for blood

By Luke Rintod of FMT
Barisan Nasional partner in Sabah, Upko,
is in a spot over a land deal involving
one of their MPs.
KOTA KINABALU: Something is going on in the centre of Sabah that has got the communities residing there hot under the collar.

As is usually the case in this vast state, the matter comes down to land and who has the right to it.

The issue is threatening to deliver a black eye to a local Sabah Barisan Nasional party that has been trumpeting its determination to fight for the well-being of the native people and to champion their rights.

The way things stand now is that hundreds of families in at least four kampungs in Tongod have been displaced in order to push through an oil palm plantation deal that was crafted more than a decade ago and they are baying for blood.

In their path is the BN coalition partner, United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko).

A senior Upko leader, who is also an MP, is a director of the company that was ‘granted’ the oil palm plantation project on a huge tract of land in central Sabah.

The company was granted the deal during party chief, Bernard Dompok’s tenure as chief minister more than a decade ago.

But now the resident communities in four kampungs there feel they have been given a raw deal.

They are now surrounded by the oil palm plantation which has reduced them to eking a living from small plots of lands along a main road.

Selangor-based company

The four kampungs affected are Napagang, Maragatan, Lumingkau and Tongodon.

The older villagers who have always depended on farming are worried for the future of their children who they say will be left without land to till.

About 20,000 acres were initially allocated in a tripartite joint-venture palm oil plantation between three chambers of commerce representing the major communities in Sabah – Kadazandusun, Bumiputera (Islam) and Chinese.

They selected a Selangor-based company to undertake the work while the three chambers held nominal shares in the company.

The Dusun-Sungei communities there had always been against the project and even went to court in 2004 to plead for their native customary rights (NCR) to the land, but lost and were given small pockets of land along a road.

Ironically, Upko just last week at its triennial general meeting which was officiated by deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, adopted a resolution calling for a “more transparent procedure in processing and approving land applications”.

One after another, Upko leaders “urged the government to cancel the approvals for lands that have been given to companies in order to give the natives a fair opportunity to practice their right to own land … and ensure the ratio of native title lands remain more that other type of lands”.

However, the situation of the villagers has remained bleak and they recently turned to the United Borneo Front (UBF) for help in addressing their concerns when the NGO leaders held a awareness talk during what it calls “Borneo tea party” sessions in Tongod on Malaysia Day (Sept 16).

Rights denied

Lawyer Peter Marajin, who was presenting a talk on NCR and land issues to the local villagers there said, he was told that about 482 villagers from the four kampungs lost their NCR land to the said company.

Marajin, who is also a Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) senior member, said he was shocked to hear the stories from the native Dusun and Sungei folks who were denied rights to the land in their own backyards they had been toiling for years on.

“Some of them confided to me that their fruit trees and even burial sites were razed and dug up to pave for the tripartite joint-venture project.

“I don’t know yet the details but it saddened us to hear this…there are many similar cases in various places in Sabah.”

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