DAP wants a public commission of inquiry into land acquisition by state governments to stamp out corruption practice and abuses of power

Speech by DAP Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on the National Land Code (Amendment) Bill 1974 on 26th July 1974

1. DAP wants a public commission of inquiry into land acquisition by state governments to stamp out corruption practice and abuses of power and to ensure that the poor and the low-income groups do not pay the price of national development and the further enrichment of the wealthy

This Amendment Bill to the National Land Code seeks to tighten the provisions relating to unlawful occupation of State land and to provide better machinery for enforcement.

Section 425 of the National Land Code is now emended to widen the scope of offence of unlawful occupation of State land, so that unlawful occupation of State land now covers the following:

“Any person who, without lawful authority –
(a) Occupies, or erects any building on, any State; and, reserved land or mining land, or
(b) Clears, ploughs, digs, encloses, or cultivates any such land or part thereof; or
(c) Cuts or removed any timber or produce on or from such land.”

The punishment of such offences have been increased 20 times, from $500 or six months’ imprisonment to a fine of $10,000 or one year’s imprisonment.

Unlawful occupation of state land can come about in two manners. It is not merely through persons occupying state land without lawful authority.

There is now an increasing category of persons, who started off as lawful occupants of private land, suddenly finding themselves becoming unlawful occupants of those land because the land had been compulsorily acquired by the State authorities.

There is a lot of corrupt practices and abuse of power in the acquisition of land, and I call on the Ministry of Land Development to institute a public inquiry to investigate into all these abuses of power and corruption and stamp out these anti-social activities.

For instance, in Machap Umboo new village, 18 miles from Malacca Town, the whole village involving some 1,500, is being totally acquired by the State Government for the Durian Tunggal water scheme.

When I visit the Machap Umboo new villagers were ignorant of their rights. As a result, they were taken advantage of by a racket which were out to swindle them.

Some persons, claiming to be from the Land Office, would go to their houses to make a survey and valuation of their houses, and would inform the house-owners a ridiculously low sum, which he would insist is all that the house is worth. He would dismiss all protestations from the people. However, a few days later, a contact men would inform the houseowner that he has ‘ways’ with the District Office, and could get the valuation raised upwards, provided he is paid 10% of the total compensation that is finally arrived at.

There had been cases where after the intervention of such ‘middle men’, the villagers were told that they had their original offers of compensation raised by over $10,000. The middle men would profit in the region of $1,500 in each such case. This money rightfully belonged to the house owners who face eviction and disruption of life,

It is clear that this racket cannot operate without inside links and contacts with the Land Office. The Malacca National Bureau of Investigation is aware of these malpractices, but they are powerless to do anything about it.

On Monday, I saw the Prime Minister, Tun Razak, and reported to him the Machap Umboo land corruption practices, and he has promised to look into them.

However, these corrupt practices do not only take place in the case of Machap Umboo land acquisition, but also in connection with other land acquisitions, for instance, in Tanjong Kling and Bukit Rambai in Malacca. Sometimes, very sophisticated subterfuges and methods were used to make a few become rich out of the hardship of these who already had their land compulsorily acquired.

There should therefore be a nation-wide commission of inquiry into inquire and stamp out all these abuses and corrupt practices surrounding government land acquisition deals.

The state government should be sympathetic when they acquire land, to ensure that ample compensation is paid to the persons affected. For instance, in the case of Machap Umboo new village, although the government had concluded compensation terms with 50 per cent of the people there as far back as 1972, the money has not been paid.

Since the last two years, building materials have shot up in prices, some by 100, 200 per cent. The Ministry should use its good offices to persuade the Malacca State Government in increase all its compensation terms by at least 50 per cent to cover up the fall in the purchasing power of the Malaysian dollar since 1972, and to ensure that the people of Machap Umboo do not suffer from seeing their compensation eaten by inflation.

2. The compulsory acquisition of eight acres of Kampong Bukit China, Malacca, without proper regard being given to the poor who will be hit

Such a Land Commission should not look into corrupt practices only, but also to devise guidelines to ensure that in all land acquisitions, the poor are properly looked after, and not made to pay the price for national development and the further enrichment of the rich in the country.

A good case in point is the proposed government acquisition of eight acres of Kampong Bukit China in Bandar Melaka, which will displace some 1,500 persons who are presently staying there as tenants and owner-occupiers, some for decades and others for generations.

The Chief Minister, Haji Abdul Ghani Ali, has said that the government would use only a small part of the eight acres to be requisitioned by the government for government purpose, and the rest would be for private purpose.

This is indeed shocking for it is clearly wrong in principle and highly improper that the government should a compulsorily acquire land at low prices, only to re-sell them later to private individuals or groups for private development. This itself will give room for considerable abuse of power, corruption and malpractices in public life.

Private land should only be acquired by the government for a public purpose, and only when there are specific development projects, details of which should be made public and subjects to public scrutiny.

Private land acquired by government should never be resold to private persons. If for special reasons, land acquired compulsorily by the government from private persons are no more required by the government, the original owner should be given the first choice to re-purchase back the land at the price requisitioned by the government. This will be a sure deterrent and safeguard against indiscriminate acquisition of private and by government to resell to private syndicates.

Furthermore, before the tenants and owner-occupiers are forced to vacate land compulsorily requisitioned by the government, the government should pay them adequate compensation and get them re-housed, so that they would not suffer from such governmental acquisitions.

This is all the more important because, like the case of the Kampong Bukit China in Bandar Melaka, the majority of the tenants and owner-occupiers are hawkers, petty traders, workers, and others form low-income groups.

In the case of Kampong Bukit China, the Malacca Chie Minister, Haji Abdul Ghani Ali, said that the people of Kampong Bukit China and other areas affected by government developments can apply for low-cost housing flats, as in Mata Kuching, Malacca.

This is not a solution of the problems of the people who will be affected by the government land acquisition, but in fact an evasion by the Malacca State government of its responsibility to them.

The Mata Kuching low-cost housing project is still very much in the air, and ground clearance for the project has not even started.

In the interests of ensuring a clean and honest government, and in the interests of the poor and low-income groups who need special government protection and assistance, the State Government should draw up clear-cut guidelines in all cases of government acquisition of land, which should include the following:

Firstly, the government should acquire land only for government developmental proposes, and only in cases where specific public development projects are finalised and details made available to the public for examination and scrutiny.

Secondly, the government should pay adequate compensation and provided alternative low-cost housing in the vicinity so that the livelihood of the tenants and owner-occupiers would not be greatly disrupted and dislocated. In other words, the government should not evict tenants or owner-occupiers from land it had acquired unless it has built low-cost housing flats to offer them accommodation.

Thirdly, to cushion their disruption and dislocation of life of tenants and owner-occupiers who come from the low-income groups, the State government or land-acquiring agencies should provide low-cost housing free of rent for the first six months.