Malaysiakini Letter

S’wak indigenous civil society has failed to empower NCR land rights

Musa Ngog  |  Published:  |  Modified:

I attended the Dayak Native Customary Rights (NCR) Land Forum organised by the Dayak Intellectual Group on Jan 7, 2017 in Kuching. There was encouraging attendance, with enlightening speeches and papers presented by the panellists and followed by a question-and-answer session.

Among the attendees were former politicians, an MP and a few assemblypersons. At the end of the forum, resolutions were adopted which were quite interesting and crucial to move forward into empowering the NCR land rights.

On the other hand, there was one question asked, “Why did the ruling political party members, especially the Dayak, did not show up for the forum since the issue of NCR land disputes happens the most in Dayak areas?” It is said they were told that they should not attend the forum due to political conflict of interest toward the state government and the ruling party.

I have studied several criminal cases that happened in the state involving NCR land disputes. Numerus deaths had been recorded due to NCR land disputes, either on the side of the NCR land owners or the provisional lease holders. With hundreds of adjourned NCR land disputes in the courts of law, there will be no remedy to the status of ‘Pemakai Menoa’ and ‘Pulau Galau’ after the Federal Court’s ruling over the case of Tuai Rumah Sandah.

All the land ownership disputes happened due to two definition of Natives Right and the Sarawak Land Code. After 2000, when the state assembly amended the Pemakai Menoa and Pulau Galauto be excluded from Sarawak Land Code, the ownership of the NCR land lots become redundant. The natives still claim their rights over their Pemakai Menoa and Pulau Galau based on the ancestral inheritance in which is recognised by the Majlis Adat Istiadat.

Meanwhile, the same lots of land also given to companies and developer through provisional leases (PL) awarded by the state government.

Therefore, the conflict of interest is not on why assemblypersons should not attend the forum but the conflict of ownership of NCR land between the definition of customary rights (NCR) and legal rights (PL holders). Natives’ representatives should not fear to join the forum since the NCR land issue also affects themselves and their constituents.

It is a sad thing to hear and read in mainstream media that some of the ruling party members are even trying to hide the facts and understanding of NCR land rights by blaming the opposition party members for politicising the NCR land matter by representing the affected community and harping on the issue in the media and in speeches during political campaigns.

Political will needed

To me, the NCR land issue is not a political issue to either the ruling political party or the opposition parties. It covers the dimensions of political will to amend the Sarawak Land Code by reinstating Pemakai Menoa and Pulau Galau into the law. Thus, it (NCR Land Rights) will be firmly enforced by the law and not by the right of claim.

The current ruling by the Federal Court over Pemakai Menoa and Pulau Galau in the case of Tuai Rumah Sandah is an allegedly obvious action of discrimination towards the natives. And the absence of some leasers from NGOs and associations is allegedly due to the conflict of interest.

It is a flawed statement to say that the ruling government might stop the grants and financial support to the NGO’s should they join such forum and be included into signatories for the resolutions. This is a lame statement to me since NCR land rights affect the natives and those NGOs, associations and movements are registered and named after the natives themselves.

Why should there be an exclusion when they say and claim that they are representing the natives?
Political will is crucial to amend the law since the law is made, amended and enforced in the state assembly. In the subject of NCR land rights, all native civil societies should join hands to urge the ruling government to study the law and amend it. Otherwise, a change of government is extremely needed.

The absence of several crucial NGOs, community associations and local leaders during the forum is also a bad sign for the resolutions. I had assumed that I would be attending a historic forum attended by all Dayaks regardless of their political standings to discuss on one particular and crucial matter that affect them badly; the redundant claims of NCR lands.

There will be series of forums on NCR land matters by several organisations, social clubs and NGOs to find a remedy over the NCR land disputes. My question is, do they show any unity or political will to change the Sarawak Land Code? Politics does not respect thoughts, wisdom and ignorance. It goes after power and accessibility to corruption. That is the root cause of the failure to restore and reinstate NCR land right into the written law.

On the case of provisional lease holders, obviously, they are capitalists. Capitalism does not respect the poor. It goes after profit and nothing else.

Therefore, the only possible way to recognise and reinstate NCR land to become law is by amending the Sarawak Land Code. And the law is made in the house of the lawmakers (assemblypersons) and not inside the meetings of NGOs, community associations or social clubs.

The natives’ civil society should be strong, united and honest to stimulate the importance of native rights over their ancestral lands and belongings. Otherwise, the NGOs and associations that exist to be the proxy of allegedly corrupted parties and individuals don’t need to exist but should dissolve to open the way for their members to join a political struggle.


MUSA NGOG is PKR’s coordinator for the Tarat state assembly seat and an IT support engineer.

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