DAP Calls for a new National and State Land Policy to give land to the landless

Speech by Opposition leader and DAP Secretary-General, Mr. Lim Kit Siang to members and supporters at Tanjong Rambutan, Perak, on Friday, 5th October, 1973, at 8 p.m. during the formation of the DAP Tanjong Rambutan Protem Committee

DAP Calls for a new National and State Land Policy to give land to the landless

Malaysia is primarily an agricultural country, and we are still rich in undeveloped land resources. According to one official estimate, there are still 30000000 acres of land suitable for development in Malaysia.

We should make full use of our land resources to improve the lot of the poor. Unfortunately, the Alliance policy is not very different from the old colonial policy which uses land as an instrument to benefit the landed interests and the foreign and local monopoly capitalist class – which the mass of the poor are left destitute and landless.

The authorities concerned have no second thoughts about alienating hundreds and even thousands of acres of land each to the genuine landless, all sorts of noble reasons are found against it.

This is why in the rice bowls of Malaysia, Kedah for instance, more and more padi Malay peasants become landless and indebted. In the same way, while the populations of the country’s 450 new villages have doubled in the last 20 years, the government has hardly alienated new land to keep pace with this population increase. In fact, the authorities concerned are still bogged down with the problem of giving titles to new villages land first occupied 20 years ago. This also explains why the government, despite the MIC’s participation in the Cabinet, has over the years refused to grant land to retrenched estate labourers to eke out a living for the rest of their lives.

In fact, the problem of landlessness has become more and more acute with the passage of years as the prestigious and expensive FELDA development schemes could not touch the surface of this problem. This in turn has forced the landless to become illegal squatters, creating a great socio-economical problem throughout the country.

The squatters are not criminals or crooks, but just Malaysians too poor to find any other means of livelihood. As such, they should be assisted by the government to stand on their own feet economically, and not treated as criminals or anti-social elements to be prosecuted and persecuted.

The DAP calls for a new national and state land policy, guided by the objective of creating a ‘Masyarakat Adil’ as laid down in the Rukunegara which uses our national resources to directly benefit the landless and poor and not as of now to enrich the foreign and local monopoly capitalists and landed interests.

DAP proposes halt to the eviction exercise of illegal vegetable cultivation in Cameron Highlands and the formation of an expert committee to ascertain to what extent such illegal cultivation should be legalized.

It is in the light of this understanding of the socio-economic background to squatters and illegal cultivation that the authorities concerned should approach the question of illegal vegetable cultivation in the Cameron Highlands.

A week ago, we read in the press of a special task force headed by the District Officer of Tanah Rata to combat illegal clearing and occupation of land in Cameron Highlands and the eviction of several vegetable gardeners.

The District Officer, Encik Jallaluddin bin Haji Mohammed, said that the main reason for the eviction of these squatters is that the National Electricity Board had called for action against silting and erosion which would ultimately damage the hydro-electric scheme nearby.

The NEB is justifiably concerned with the continued serviceability of their extensive hydro-electric complex in the highlands. However, the NEB view that silting and erosion are mainly caused by clearing of primary vegetation by the Chinese vegetable gardeners has been challenged by experts.

An expert who had studied the matter came to the conclusion that vegetable farming is only a minor factor in the total amount of man-induced erosion. Two much more important matters are government activities like road-cuts, government building sites and the other by privates, non-agricultural individual activities such as site clearing for dwellings.

Of cause, as far as the NEB is concerned, they would like to forbid all man-made activities in the highlands but the livelihood of tens of thousands of people are affected and a just and considerate government must take into account the socio-economic and human problems involved. To show the gravity of the socio-economic problem involved, it has been estimated that illegally cleared vegetable cultivation amount to some 500 acres in the Cameron Highlands.

Experts are of the view that it is possible for vegetable gardeners to take silting and erosion control measures. Such control measures however, will only be taken by vegetable gardeners with some form of legal tenure. Illegal gardeners, anticipating the possibility of being forced from the land in the immediate future spend little time in building retaining walls or artificially reinforced waterworks and other controlled measures.

The DAP therefore calls on the authorities concerned to halt the eviction exercise of illegal vegetable cultivation in Cameron Highlands and the formation of an expert committee with representatives from the universities in the fields of geography and erosion specialists to ascertain to what extent such illegal vegetable cultivation should be legalized without jeopardizing the hydro-electric complex while at the same looking after the socio-economic needs of the legal and illegal vegetable gardeners.