By Joseph Tawie
A Sarawak opposition leader has slammed the state Land Development Minister James Masing for his callous call to landowners not to renege on their agreement with Boustead Holding and Land Development Custody Authority or Pelita.
State PKR vice-chairman See Chee How said Masing lacked understanding of the problems faced by the landowners in Kanowit.
“Masing should go to the ground more to understand the problems faced by the landowners.
“He cannot see those problems if he sits in his office,” said See, who is also a leading native customary rights (NCR) lawyer.
Last Monday Masing told landowners of NCR land not to renege on their agreement they signed in 1996 with Boustead and Pelita.
They agreement would allow the companies and native landowners to jointly develop their land for commercial oil palm cultivations.
He said that the agreement they signed was legally binding.
“The story about some landowners wanting out (of the agreement) is just a rumour at the moment.
“But if there are landowners who want to quit we must find out the cause of their dissatisfaction,” said Masing, who is president of Parti Rakyat Sarawak.
According to the landowners, they were promised to be given dividends after four years of planting, but they have never received any dividends to date and it’s been eight or nine years since.
Commenting on Masing’s remarks, See, who is the Batu Lintang assemblyman said: “The (state) minister should step into the shoes of the land owners.
“There are some promises made by the state government, and based on those promises, the landowners entered into agreement and yet their interest is not protected.
“They were deprived of the use of their land. And if Masing is sincere he will also go to the court to nullify the agreement.
“I suggest Masing should go more to the ground to study the problems faced by the landowners.
“He cannot see those problems, if he sits in his office.
“Nothing is so rosy about NCR land development, because from what we know the landowners do not benefit from all these,” he said.
“The landowners have the right to nullify the agreement,” he stressed.
The 14,000-hectare plantation at Kelimut and Maong in Kanowit was personally launched by Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud as a model project for the development of NCR land under the new concept.
Boustead has invested RM400 million in the project, and has so far planted 10,000 hectares with oil palm.
A group of 163 landowners are now suing Boustead and Pelita for non-payment of the dividends they promised to the landowners.
They are also seeking to nullify the agreement and have engaged the services of Baru Bian as their counsel.
When the company heard that the landowners are seeing their lawyers, the company immediately released an interim dividend of RM29 per hectare to the landowners. – FMT