Nov 13 Land Rally! This Cannot Be The Sarawak That We Want To Live In

Peter John with Calvin Bill Jugah and Nicholas Mujah, right, preparing posters for the Nov 13, 2017 rally.

COMMENT: The land issues in the state are every Sarawakian’s problem – it is our ‘Ibu Pertiwiku, tanah airku’ – (re – state anthem).

This is why SADIA (Sarawak Dayak Iban Association) and S4S (Sarawak 4 Sarawakians) is calling on all concerned citizens of Sarawak to come out for a rally on November13, 2017 held concurrently at the new courthouse and the Waterfront, to press the State Government for an immediate and wide-ranging solution to the problem.

Land resource development in the state needs to be rethought entirely, both in the urban areas and the rural, to provide a reasonable and sustainable income for our rural residents, and certainty for all landowners, regardless of race and religion. Procedures for renewing land leases and for proper distribution of land for public purposes in the urban centres must also be reviewed.


This gathering has been notified to the police, who are providing their full assistance in accordance with the Peaceful Assembly Act. We thank the Police for their support in allowing us to use two different locations for this gathering; support given to keep the peace and respect the rights of the people, without fear or favour.

It is our chance, as citizens, to make sure the State government fully understands that the wishes of the people of Sarawak are not necessarily the same as that of the mega-developers, oil palm and timber giants who are enriching themselves on the resources of ordinary landowners. Land must increase the economy of the entire state, from the grassroots, and not just a select few.

Land development has been used as a tool for many years and not always for the benefit of the people. Douglas Uggah, a deputy Chief Minister is asking us to be patient and stating that street protests will never solve this problem. However, we have been patient and the problems remain unsolved.

The NCR cases have been ongoing for over 20 years and there has been no sign from the State government that they are changing their policies in favour of the community landowners, either rural or urban. Instead, they continue to appeal all the way up to the Federal Court, losing consistently in the lower courts until last year’s landmark ruling against the communities in the Tuai Rumah Sandah case under a panel of judges with no experience in NCR issues.

Only now are we seeing the culmination of this policy with 14 cases lost by the rural communities in a two-week period earlier this year. One oil palm giant in Melikin, who won his case as co-defendant with the State government in the wake of the Tuai Rumah Sandah ruling, is now even suing a poor kampung resident for RM397,625!

They have been given his land and now they want to take the tiny amount he has left and drive his family into bankruptcy. This cannot be the Sarawak that we want to live in. A gathering of this kind is our democratic right under the Federal Constitution, as recognized by the police, to show the State government our feelings about the situation with land tenure in Sarawak.

Attending a seminar in the Philippines.

The issues on NCR and the policies surrounding land resource development are driving massive rural to urban migration as the rural people are unable to make ends meet with the loss of their ancestral lands. They are pouring into the urban centres, putting resources here under great strain.

On top of this, playing fast and loose with land rights even has direct impact in the urban centres where Section 47 is used to seize land for commercial or high-end residential development instead of for public purposes. Anyone who has tried to park at the Sarawak General Hospital must wonder why state land behind the old nurses’ quarters was diverted to build three luxury houses, instead of a much-needed multi-storey car park.

The residents of historic Kampung Boyan across the river in Kuching are also facing relocation, presumably to make way for commercial development, they proceeds of which they are unlikely to share in.

All landowners face the regular spectre of having to renew their land leases and the uncertainty of whether this will be granted. Ordinary citizens of Sarawak deserve to feel that their lifetime investment will be safe and that land will be used for the betterment of the public as a whole.

Do we want to live in a State where our urban landowners are facing the uncertainty of the current development policy which puts commercial gain over public good?

Do we want to live in a state where the most marginalized and impoverished members of society are being systematically divested of their last remaining source of income, often without any form of compensation, in favour of huge plantation owners and West Malaysian groups like FELDA and Tabung Haji?

Soon we will see our rural Sarawak entirely occupied by these giants and their overseas workforce while our urban centres are swamped by rural migrants, putting a strain on resources and consigning our rural folks’ enormous expertise in land tenure to the dustbin of history.

International research evidence shows that rural smallholders are better custodians of the environment and, even more importantly, obtain better yield from their land. Countries like South Korea built their early economic development in their post-war years on a restructuring of rural landownership to ensure an income for smallholders that would be spent at home instead of being siphoned off by the mega-wealthy for investment abroad.

Sarawak could learn many lessons from their economic growth model. Sarawak must also heed the warning words of Rajah Charles Brooke:


“Unless you follow this advice you will lose your birth right, which will be taken from you by strangers and speculators who will in their turn become masters and owners, whilst you yourselves, you people of the soil, will be thrown aside, and become nothing but coolies and outcasts of the island.”

If we want to live in a state where landowners can feel secure in their homes, if we want to live in a state where land is provided for genuine public facilities, if we want to live in a state which promotes the incomes of the most needy among us, then it is your duty to come out to show your support.

This is not just a Dayak issue. This is not just a rural issue.

This is an issue for all bangsa Sarawak. Join the gathering at either the new Courthouse or the Waterfront at the Old Courthouse at 9am on 13 November. The gathering will continue until 2pm when a memorandum will be sent to Douglas Uggah by 12 Paramount Chiefs representing different indigenous groups. Make sure your voice is heard, whether you have land issues of not.

Let us show the international media and NGOs expected to attend that the people of Sarawak are prepared to stand up for each other and that the words of our State anthem really mean something to all of us. We must build the Sarawak we all want to live in – a Sarawak of harmony, fairness, solidarity and economic certainty for all the people, whatever their race, religion or background.

We are all equally Anak Sarawak.

• Peter John Jaban is a human rights activist and the coordinator for the November 13 rally and a member of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Network on Extractive Industries and Energy, as well as founding member of BIPP – Borneo Indigenous People Pack