The law’s stepchildren
By Salleh Buang
One of land law’s most important (for the squatter, the most awful)
decisions is none other than Sidek & 461 Ors v.Government of Perak 
1 MLJ 313, where Raja Azlan Shah J. (as he then was) said, in one of his
most-oft repeated judgments, that “squatters have no rights in law or
Echoing down the halls of justice over these past two decades, that
remarkable one-liner has become sweet music to Land Administrators out to
evict squatters within their domain. It has also become the most potent
sword and shield (depending on how you look at it) for the State Authority
each time it is locked in judicial combat with the squatters, despite
whatever assurance that might have been given by any person on its behalf
that land titles would be given in due course or that the squatters can
stay where they are “for as long as they like”- see Chong Wooi Leong & 29
Ors v.Lebbey Sdn Bhd  3 AMR 2053.
The judiciary is, of course, not to be blamed because its duty is merely
to interpret and declare “the law”. The law is none other than the
National Land Code 1965 (NLC), that bulky and, for the man on the street,
almost incomprehensible piece of legislation drafted just before Merdeka
and passed by Parliament soon thereafter.
Although amended on more than a dozen occasions since then, it has
remained true to its original form and content till today. Section 425 has
remained unchanged since the NLC came into force and it states: “Any
person who, without lawful authority, occupies or erects any building on
any State land, reserved land or mining land... shall be guilty of an
offence and liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding RM10,000 or
imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year.” For the purpose of this
section, the term “State land” is defined widely to include land held by
the federal government or a local authority.
Treated by the law and the courts as the nation’s step-child, devoid of
any legal status and denied any right of occupation on the land where they
are now living, ignored most of the time but tolerated occasionally by the
authorities and coddled by others during that short season known as
election time which comes once in five years, the city squatter usually
has nowhere to turn for help.
In a recent case, the Kuala Lumpur High Court held that a squatter’s
dwelling (called a “squatter hut” under a particular 1969 Regulation still
in force in Wilayah Persekutuan) can be demolished by DBKL without being
given any prior warning - see Shamsudin v. Datuk Bandar Kuala Lumpur
 4 AMR 4607.
But squatters are human beings, just like property owners. They have their
own dreams and expectations. They are also voters, if they are citizens
and have registered themselves with the Election Commission. Many among
them are government supporters, members of political parties now in power.
Since many also pay dues and taxes, they are also a source of government
revenue. They are also consumers, so they keep the wheels of economy
In the light of all this, many feel that squatters should not be treated
as the law’s step-children. In February, some 140 squatter houses at the
seventh kilometre of Jalan Kelang Lama were demolished by DBKL. Since that
dreadful day, the place has reportedly become a “health hazard” to
residents in the vicinity. Fate, however, sometimes smile on them,
although (judging from recent events) these glad tidings are usually
preceded by a short spell of human misery.
The Kampung Medan episode of last March is a case in point. In the
aftermath of that sorry episode, the Housing Minister announced that
squatters living in urban areas would be resettled. The resettlement
program is described as a priority agenda of the Housing Ministry under
the Eighth Malaysia Plan.
Under the program, the government “will ensure that each squatter will be
given an affordable home”, either to purchase or to rent. In the pipeline
are 34,000 units of affordable flats - some in the course of construction,
others to be built soon. These will be the new homes for squatters
presently living in the federal capital of Kuala Lumpur.
The objective of this crash program is to make Kuala Lumpur squatter-free
by 2005. The year 2005 has also been chosen by another two states -
Selangor and Perak - to eradicate their squatter settlements. The Selangor
state government has been saying this for the last couple of years. As for
Perak, its Menteri Besar, Datuk Seri Tajol Rosli said in mid-March that
the state would be free of squatters by that year. To achieve that, the
state will be building more low-cost homes in the coming years.
The question is, will the promise be kept? Or will the city squatters
continue to be the law’s step-children for the next couple of decades?