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A bold leap by Perak
20/05/08 NST Salleh Buang

Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Nizar Jamaluddin’s pledge to issue permanent land titles to some 10,000 TOL (Temporary Occupation License) holders in 134 new villages has not gone down well with his political opponents.

While I am personally very happy with his wonderful announcement, the negative reaction from certain parties does not surprise me: It isn’t natural to expect support from those who were wrested of their powers not that long ago.

One federal minister was quoted as saying “numerous technical and legal aspects” had to be sorted out before permanent land titles could be issued to all new villages. If the Perak government could really pull off “such a logistical nightmare”, he said, he would “not hesitate” to congratulate it. For the moment, though, he said he would rather “wait and see”.

The federal minister was also quoted as saying that one reason the previous state government had not issued land titles to the new villagers was that “it needed the source of revenue to govern the state”. To me, this statement makes no sense at all.

Criticisms also came from the youth wing of an opposition political party in Perak, whose spokesperson challenged the new state administration to prove that “the 134 planned and new villages in the state only had temporary occupation licences”.

He went on to claim that the state under Barisan Nasional had issued 48,183 land titles, and added that the people “have a right to know the true story”. Indeed, the common folk must be told the true story.

They must also be told the whole truth about that piece of land in Pasir Pinji, Ipoh, occupied by a soy sauce factory operator since pre- Merdeka.

The factory operator had been applying for the plot all these years, but for reasons the general public is not told, his application was always rejected.

Finally, just before the March 8 general election, the state government alienated the plot to a member of the ruling party. And more recently, this lucky recipient asked the soy sauce factory operator if he would like to purchase the land he had been occupying the last 50 years!

Yes, the common folk in Perak would like to know the details of this story as well. Perhaps they can then understand what had been going on all these years.

Many experts feel the alienation of land in the 134 new villages will bring about “a sea change”, and create a “measure of wealth” for the 10,000 families.

The issuance of titles will mean they will be able to enjoy security of tenure and have easier access to credit, should they be in need of it.

Perak Local Government Committee chairman Nga Kor Ming added that, “We will guarantee them proprietary rights ... the new titles will last 999 years (which will allow) their land values to increase manifold”.

However, assuming the above news report is correct, the question that must be asked is, “Can all this be validly done?”

The power of the State Authority to alienate state land is clearly spelt out in the National Land Code 1965 (NLC). The NLC describes the procedures and sets out the limits as to what the State Authority can and cannot do.

If the State Authority exceeds its statutory powers, its actions will be ultra vires the law and if the matter is taken to court the land alienation exercise can be declared null and void. Good intentions alone are not enough: They must conform to the law.

Section 76 of the NLC clearly states that state land can be alienated, leasehold for a term not exceeding 99 years; or in perpetuity, which is better known as “freehold”. The State Authority cannot alienate land for a term of 999 years. This was possible in the distant past, but not any more. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or daydreaming.

The chances of a private citizen getting land in perpetuity are very slim, because under Section 76(aa) of the NLC, alienation in perpetuity is possible only under three sets of circumstances.

First, freehold land can be given only to the Federal Government or a public authority. Second, it can be alienated for a public purpose and third, “if the State Authority is satisfied that there are special circumstances which render it appropriate to do so”.

I cannot imagine Mohamed Nizar giving land to new villagers without first asking the advice of the State Legal Adviser, but I can quite understand if he feels the plight of the new villagers falls within the “special circumstances” envisaged by the NLC.

You cannot cross a wide ravine in several steps. You have to make it in one leap.


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