Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, in the Penang State Assembly on the 1995 Development Estimates on Friday. 9th December, 1994
The Penang state government should make public the Land Acquisition Guideline formulated after the 1991 Land Acquisition Amendment Act to prevent land acquisition abuses and injustices
In reply to my speech on the 1995 Budget calling for a totally new policy and approach by the state government on land acquisition cases, the Deputy Chief Minister Dr. Ibrahim Saad said that my proposal that land owners affected by land acquisition should be given the option to participate in joint-venture development has always been part of the government policy.
I find this most surprising as it must be the only government policy in the country which nobody knows about
The Penang Chief Minister Dr. Koh Tsu Koon interrupted my speech yesterday to say that the Batu Kawan estate owners, which comprised the overwhelming majority of the land acquired by the state government in Batu Kawan, has been invited to participate in the development of Bandar Kawan new township. However, when I asked whether the smallholders also affected by the acquisition have been given the similar opportunity to participate in the joint-venture development of their land in the Bandar Kawan new township, Tsu Koon became very equivocal and uncertain claiming that they could if they wish to do so.
This could only mean one of two things: either that he knows nothing about the Batu Kawan land acquisition or he has information but is trying to hide the fact that the smallholders have not been given the option of participating in the joint- venture development of their land.
Or is there special treatment for large estate companies as compared to smallholders in land acquisitions?
Of course, Dr. Ibrahim Saad may have no choice but to say that it is part of government policy to offer landowners affected by land acquisitions the option of participating in the joint-venture development of their land, as it was none other than Ghafar Baha, then Deputy Prime Minister who gave such a solemn undertaking in 1991 to allay nation-wide objections to the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill.
However, for more than three years since the passage or the Land Acquisition Amendment Act, this Ghafar Baba promise has been observed only in the breach.
I call on Ibrahim Saad to cite all the cases where affected landowners have been offered the option of participating in the joint-venture development of their land and the result of such offers. If Ibrahim Saad is unable to cite the cases, then we can only conclude that the Penang state government is no different from other state governments in completely violating the Ghafar Baba promise.
If Ibrahim Saad now claims that it is part of government policy to give landowners affected by land acquisition the option of joint-venture development of their land, then the Chief Minister Dr. Koh Tsu Koon has clearly been remiss in the discharge of his duty as not to implement such a policy in the past three years.
I for one am not satisfied with the answer given by Koh Tsu Koon and Ibrahim Saad despite the claim that my proposal is already part of government policy.
Before the passage of the 1991 Land Acquisition Amendment Act, Ghafar Baba as Deputy Prime Minister guaranteed that there would be no laud acquisition abuses and injustices and towards this end, he announced that a guideline had been agreed to by the National Land Council which roust be followed by all state governments when they wish to acquire land to ensure that everything went well and smoothly. Ghafar also announced that the original landowners could take part in developing their land.
In view of the wide-spread objection and grievances against land acquisitions by the Penang state government., the time has come for the Penang state government to make public this Land Acquisition Guideline to prevent land acquisition abuses and injustices and to ensure that the smallholders and ordinary landowners are not robbed of their property right by the state government through the legal process.
Between June 1991 to April 1994, 139 cases have been referred to the courts against the quantum of compensation in government land acquisitions. I have no daubt that if landowners are permitted to challenge the acquisition process itself, and not just merely the quantum of compensation, there would have been many more such cases.
Dr. Koh Tsu Koon should be aware of the wide-spread objection to the unfettered land acquisition powers of the state government as it was only last Friday that he officiated at the opening of the 48th Annual General Meeting of the Associations of Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ACCCIM) in Penang which adopted a motion calling for a comprehensive government guideline on land acquisition which will curb abuses and clearly define the criteria for fair and just acquisition and providing for compensation no less than the market price as well as allowing the affected landowners the opportunity to participate in joint venture development.
Although the state government claims that it has never abused the 1991 Land Acquisition Amendment Act and up to now, it has not acquired land for development by private companies or individuals, this is open to challenge. For instance, since the Land Acquisition Amendment Act, there had been 30 cases of land acquisitions in the state.
Out of these 30 land acquisitions, ten were for PERDA projects and five for UDA projects.
Although it is stated that all these PERDA and UDA projects are for public purpose, it is clear that roost of them will eventually end up for the benefit of private companies and individuals.
Six-point principle to ensure transparency, accountability, justice and fair play in land acquisition cases in Penang
This is why there is a need for greater transparency and accountability for the entire land acquisition process and the DAP reiterate that the state government should adopt new attitudes and approaches on land acquisition issues incorporating the following six points:
* The publication of the state government guideline on land acquisition to prevent abuses, and injustices to the people;
* Giving aggrieved landowners the right to challenge land acquisitions which violate the state government guideline on land acquisition;
* A clear distinction between land acquisition for public purpose like the building of schools hospitals and government complexes and land acquisition for development by private companies or individuals whereby higher compensations would be given in the latter case, based on the intended development potential of the land;
* In cases of acquisition for private development, the affected landowners, whether large estate companies or smallholders should also be given the first option of participating in joint venture development of the land so that they could share in the profits of development.
* Land acquisitions by government agencies like Penang Development Corporation, PERDA and UDA should not be classified as for ‘public purpose’ if they are meant for development which would eventually benefit private companies and individuals;
* The establishment of a Land Acquisition Arbitration Tribunal to arbitrate and resolve land acquisition controversies under the above principles.
It is not only the Association of Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry but all Malaysians regardless of race who want greater transparency, accountability, justice and fair play in land acquisition cases.
In fact, by not announcing the Land Acquisition Guideline that it is using, the Penang Chief Minister Dr Koh Tsu Koon has violated the stand of the 20th Gerakan Annual Delegates Conference in 1991. It was the Gerakan President Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik who announced the Gerakan call to the government to announce its guideline on the implementation of the Land Acquisition Amendment Act 1991 after the two-day conference on 4th August, 1991
Furthermore, Lim Keng Yaik also announced the establishment of a Gerakan committee comprising lawyers from the party to monitor the implementation of Land Acquisition Act.
This committee, headed by Gerakan Secretary General Chan Choong Tak who was then Senate President, was to look into land acquisition abuses and injustices.
Has Gerakan forgotten or abandoned its pledges in 1991 to check land acquisition abuses and injustices by demanding publication of Land Acquisition guideline as well as a special committee to monitor land acquisition
I believe everybody, including the Penang Chief Minister Dr. Koh Tsu Koon, has forgotten about the Gerakan pledge to check land acquisition abuses and injustices and even forgotten about the existence of the Chart Choong Tak Committee to monitor land acquisition abuses, as the Penang Gerakan state government is now one of the perpetrators of such land acquisition abuses and injustices. The case of Batu Kawan land acquisition is one such example.
Before the land acquisition of Batu Kawan by the Penang state government, the land was being transacted at RM25, 000 per acre, but the state government was only offering compensation at the rate of RM8, 000 per acre. The affected landowners cannot be blamed if they feel that what is happening to them is not land acquisition but ‘daylight robbery’.
I have here a case where 16 acres of land in Batu Kawan were bought in 1985 at RM16, 000 per acre but the Land Office and the Valuation Department assessed the value of the land at RM27,000 per acre for purposes of stamp duties. This piece of land has been acquired by the Penang state government for the Batu Kawan new township project and the owners are offered compensation of RM8000 per acre.
This is most ridiculous, scandalous as well as outrageous. It is a blatant injustice that land bought at RM118, 000 per acre ten years ago, a price which the Valuation Department at that time refused to accept as being too low and revaluing it at RM27, 000 per acre, is now acquired by the state government at the compensation rate of RM8, 000 per acre.
There can be no justification for such ‘day-light robbery’ of the property rights of the people and anyone who claims that those aggrieved can seek legal redress as well as giving other reasons is only offering the ‘robber’s’ justification and logic.
This was why in the debate on the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill in Parliament in July 1991, I had called for more safeguards and protection to be given to the individual landowner under the law.
Before any major project involving acquisition of land is implemented, there should be a public enquiry to hear objections from interested and affected parties. Such objections should not be restricted to the inadequacy but also as to the social, economic, cultural and ecological loss to the community caused by such an acquisition.
As an example, before the Penang state government acquisition of Batu Kawan estate, the workers there were supplied with about 12 hours of electricity power a day. After acquisition by the Penang state government, electricity supply for the workers and their family in that area has been reduced to a mere three-and-a -half hours to four-and-a-half hours a day.
The Penang state government prides itself with the slogan ‘Penang Leads’ and being the most developed state in the country – but this is one example where Penang should not be ‘leading’ with the workers in the state getting even worse facilities than before acquisition.
We must ask whether the Gerakan leadership has forgotten or abandoned its pledges in 1991 to cheek land acquisition abuses and injustices by demanding publication of Land Acquisition guideline as well as a special committee to monitor J.md cc1uisition as otherwise the Gerakan leaders themselves would have intervene to get justice and fair play of the smallholder whose rights have been adversely affected by the Batu Kawan land acquisition.
Furthermore, the state government should be more sympathetic and responsible in its reply to the land acquisition scandal which I raised yesterday.
This was in regard to the case in Seberanq Prai Tengah, Mukim 6, Lot 580, where the landowners only discovered after more than three years that their land had been acquired by the state government. On 2lst June 1990 the section 4 notice to acquire was gazzetted while on 28th March, 1991 the section 8 notice of acquisition was gazzetted. On 19th December, 1992 compensation was deposited in the High Court.
However throughout these period, the landowners were kept in the dark and they continued to pay quit rent and the Land Office also continued to collect quit rent from them from 1990 until 1993.
Dr. Ibrahim Saad in his reply expressed surprise as to how the landowners were not aware of the acquisition and gave excuses as to why the Land Office continued to collect quit rent from 1990 to 1993.
Adding insult to injury, Dr. Ibrahim Saad said that the landowners could get a refund of their 1993 quit rent which amounted to RM3.80.
This cavalier attitude shows that as far as Ibrahim Saad is concern, this issue concerns RM3.80 only when to the peoplke, it concerns their basic property rights which is actually priceless.
There has been no indication that the Chief Minister will take steps to cancel this improper and illegal acquisition, with compensation at ridiculously low level.
It is clear from this case, as well as in the Batu Kawan land acquisition issue that the state government of Koh Tsu Koon has lost all sympathies and feelings for the ordinary rakyat when faced with the juggernaut of the government bureaucracy.
A DAP state government will revise all pending land acquisition cases in Penang to ensure justice and fair play to affected landowners
I would urge the state government to review all current land acquisition cases, especially the Batu Kawan issue, to subject them to the six-point principle to ensure land acquisition justice and fair play which I had just elaborated.
If the Gerakan state government refuses to do this, then a DAP state government in Penang will, as one of its first decisions, review all pending land acquisition cases to stamp out abuses and injustices and ensure that all those affected by land acquisition eases get a fair, just and equitable deal.