KOTA KINABALU: Is it wrong of me to give to villagers land they had lived and toiled on for decades?
Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal posed this question in response to criticism that he was trying to bail out his deputy Datuk Christina Liew over the Bagahak land dispute.
Without going too much into the details, he rubbished the accusations, saying he was helping the Bagahak smallholders in Lahad Datu and not Liew.
“I can’t say much because it could be in contempt of court but there are people who assumed I was looking after Liew, that is not true,” he said, during a working visit to Keningau today.
“That is because we gave the land to some 2,000 plantation smallholders.
“Actually they came to my house in Semporna before the last general election and asked help from me over the land they had lived on for so long, saying it is their right.
“I didn’t give to Liew but to the villagers. Is it wrong for me to do so if it is a way to solve their problems?”
The 12-year-long land tussle between the smallholders and Sawit Kinabalu is heading to a resolution after Shafie last week announced the land would be given to them.
He said Sawit Kinabalu had agreed to return the 6,800 ha of land they have been on for the past 40 to 50 years.
The smallholders will also be given their individual titles to the land when the matter is settled.
The giving of the land to the smallholders sparked controversy after critics claimed it was meant to bail out Liew who along with two others were ordered by the Tawau High Court to pay RM577 million in damages in 2014.
The court had ruled that Liew and two others had unlawfully induced a group of smallholders to breach their joint venture agreement with Borneo Samudera, a subsidiary of Sawit Kinabalu.
She is appealing the case at the Federal Court.
Meanwhile, residents from 101 villages in Keningau and Sook also received some good news today after Shafie handed over to them individual titles to their land, which they have been fighting for the last 40 years.
In total, Shafie presented 2,300 titles involving land measuring 6,425.51 ha.
“As promised, we want to hand over the land titles and also to gazette several villages. I managed to speak to one recipient who has been waiting for over 40 years for the title.
“This is the state government’s efforts to ensure residents who have long stayed at the villages get their titles.
“Today was Sook and Keningau … previously we’ve also given the same in Sandakan. And there will be other places given native land status,” he said.
Towards this end, Shafie advised the recipients to continue developing and working on their land and not to sell it to ensure they can pass it down to their children.
He said the state Agriculture and Food Industry Ministry will devise several packages as well as assistance to help the people especially in the interior areas venture into agriculture and generate income.