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Strange happenings in Sungai Siput
07/01/08 Property New Straits Times Salleh Buang

The procedure for applying for state land in this country is laid down clearly in the law – the National Land Code 1965. However, should you wish to learn more, detailed information is available in cyberspace, for example, in the Johor state government website.

Unfortunately for many of us, while the procedure itself has never been shrouded in uncertainty – and I am not saying it is easy – what is uncertain is whether an applicant will get what he has asked for.

In other words, applying for state land is not really difficult. What is difficult is finding out whether you will succeed. And you will not know when you can finally succeed in your quest. It can be 20 weeks down the line or It can be 20 years. Or as some land applicants have told me, "the wait can take eternity".

A long time ago, an Indian gentleman from Ipoh sent me an email about the difficulties his family had endured for several decades. His late grandfather had applied for a piece of state land. A decade later, his grandfather passed away. Since the application was still pending (it had not been officially rejected), his father took over the task. Lately, his father too passed away. At that point in time – more than two decades since his grandfather submitted his application – there was still no news about the application from the State Authority. What should he do, he asked.

I sympathised with him. I could only say, keep up with the effort; go and see some politicians and if possible, then pull some strings. I also told him that files, especially applications for state land, can sometimes "get lost" in the labyrinth of bureaucratic red tape, either by accident or by design. I told him I suspect that his file too had been lost or misplaced in the system.

I am not saying that every application for state land won’t be favourably considered. Under the law, the State Authority, being the absolute owner of state land, has the discretion – not obligation – to decide whether to give or not to give land to an applicant. And if it chooses to give, it also has the discretion to determine the size of the land and the terms and conditions of the alienation. If you are a small person, perhaps an acre or two, but for a giant investor, perhaps a thousand acres or two.

My thoughts turned to these things last Sunday morning when I read an amazing piece of news in a Malay language newspaper. What I read almost spoilt my mood for breakfast. In the news item titled Mohon tak dapat, tak mohon dapat lot tanah (Applicants do not get land lots, but nonapplicants do), I read about the predicament of several people living in Sungai Siput, Perak.

The story was about a project known as Taman Kampung Tersusun Sungai Buluh, launched by the Perak government. More than 100 housing lots were to be alienated to the poor in the Sungai Siput district to enable them to construct their own homes.

The problem is, according to 45-year-old Abdul Halil Zainal Abidin, land lots were given to some people who had not even applied for them in the first place, while the applicants (who, in his opinion, deserve the alienation) were not so lucky. "This is so unfair," he said.

Abdul Halil said the alienation exercise should have been carried out fairly. Those who had applied for the housing lots should "be given priority consideration", before others who had not applied could be considered.

He told reporters that he had checked the list of names of those who had been alienated housing lots, displayed at the Sungai Siput District and Land Office, and he noted with regret that it included names of people who had never applied for them.

I should mention here that these applications for state land were made more than 10 years ago. Sohibul Fazalah Abdul Aziz, 39, is among the unsuccessful applicants, and he is upset that he has "never been called for an interview".

Simple arithmetic tells us that when Sohibul made his application, he was a young man of 29. Now he is much older, married and with children. Without a housing lot to build his own home, he is forced to live in with his parents – a shameful state of affairs which we all would avoid, especially if we are married and have children of our own.

Another resident, Misbun Ahmad, has an equally strange tale to share. Some of his fellow applicants, he said, had earlier on been successful in their quest. They were offered housing lots in the scheme, but inexplicably, these offers were later withdrawn.

The names of the successful applicants, Misbun said, been put on display at the District Office. Suddenly, the offers made were withdrawn, without any explanation.

"We do not know who deleted our names and prevented us from getting our housing lots. We are most unhappy, because earlier on we were told that we were offered these housing lots."

If these strange events in Sungai Siput had occurred in the 60s, I would have been able to accept it as perhaps the result of a glitch somewhere in the system. But now, after 50 years of independence and with calls for transparency, accountability and speedy public service delivery system from our political leaders?

Let us all maintain a watch over this case.

Hopefully, all parties concerned in this puzzling affair will rebuild a "new commitment" and re-energise themselves to resolve the issue in 2008.

The affairs of these little people in Taman Kampung Tersusun Sungai Buluh need their urgent attention.


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