KOTA KINABALU: A land dispute that has lasted for over a decade for a group of oil palm smallholders in Lahad Datu ended on a joyful note today, thanks to intervention by the state government.
About 2,000 smallholders from the Bagahak plantation can finally heave a sigh of relief after Sawit Kinabalu agreed to return the 6,800 ha of land they have toiled and lived on for the past 40 to 50 years.
The smallholders, who have been fighting for the land for 12 years now, will also be happy to note that they will legally be able to call the land their own.
“This is what we want to fulfill, that is for the people to get what they longed for, such as this claim and we will give every smallholder their land title in Bagahak,” said Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal.
“We are giving all the residents their rights, which we have looked after. After the discussions, what is important is that we can fulfill what the smallholders have claimed, I am very happy and I congratulate Sawit Kinabalu for this.”
He said the smallholders have been claiming the land since the time of previous governments but were not successful, thus, the state cabinet decided to grant the land to them, in line with the state’s aim of ensuring the people owned land.
At the same time, he said Sawit Kinabalu will be compensated with 18,000 ha of land in another area to be developed to ensure the state’s investment arm in the oil palm industry can continue to generate income.
Shafie said he was made to understand the smallholders had started in 1996 when the villagers sought assistance from Sawit Kinabalu to develop the land but that they have been there since the 1970s and 1980s.
Towards this end, he said the state government will deal with the private firms involved in the land as well, adding he hoped to settle it soon and urged the firms not to drag the matter to court as it will delay the return of the land to the claimants.
The Semporna MP said there were companies who have spent nearly RM5 million on the land.
“What is important is that we solve the issue and not just to the extent of knowing about the problem but not doing anything about it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Shafie said Sawit Kinabalu had been instructed to diversify its crops besides oil palm oil the land compensated to them including venturing into pandan due to high market demand.