The Oil Palm

New NCR land law to boost investor confidence

KUALA LUMPUR: The recent change in laws governing native customary rights (NCR) land should help boost investor confidence, said Sarawak’s Land Development Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing.

“We still have plantation companies coming in to invest. The amendment was to plug some loopholes and provide certainty to investors,” he told Business Times in a telephone interview yesterday.

Last month, Sarawak’s state legislature amended the Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA) ordinance to accord new definitions to the terms “development agreement”, “government” and “owner”.

Masing explained that the amended law now empowers the state-owned LCDA agency to be the sole trustee or managing agent for landowners within a development area.

“We’ve seen, while court cases are still pending judgements, rampant illegal harvesting of fresh fruit bunches and blockades. Some NCR landowners have even been hoodwinked by people with ulterior motives into withdrawing from the projects altogether. These problems have undermined investor confidence in NCR land development. Hopefully, the amended laws will help to quickly resolve such destructive situations,” he said.

Among plantation companies that have invested in Sarawak’s NCR land development are IOI Corp Bhd, Boustead Holdings Bhd, TH Plantations Bhd, Tradewinds Plantation Bhd, Sarawak Oil Palms Bhd, Ta Ann Holdings Bhd, WTK Holdings Bhd, BLD Plantation Bhd and Rimbunan Hijau Group.

“My ministry will also seek closer co-operation from the police and the enforcement division of the Malaysian Palm Oil Board to clamp down on theft of oil palm fruits,” he said.

Masing went on to elaborate that the new law provides for Section 29 of the Government Proceedings Act 1956 to be applicable to LCDA. This means, where public interests is at stake, the courts are prohibited from granting injunction or orders of possession against the government, its officers or agents. “Basically, disputes or differences concerning any development agreement will first be referred to mediation and if that fails, to arbitration,” he said.

Todate, the minister said the LCDA has developed 34 projects covering of 412,219ha. A total of 31 joint-venture companies had been formed to develop NCR land. As at June 2011, close to 56,000ha of NCR land is already planted with oil palms.

Since the start of the year, the Sarawak Land and Survey Department had started to gazette plots of NCR land under Section 6 of the Sarawak Land Code, after perimeter surveys. This will help to determine the boundaries and size of land to rightful owners.

After the lands are surveyed for individual plots under Section 18, the NCR landowners will be accorded their individual titles.

Masing said, “we’ve seen many disputes arise and become controversial when boundaries of NCR and state land is not easily determined. With these surveys, we’ll be able to establish the boundaries and rightful owners of NCR land in Sarawak. We want to expedite NCR land development to enhance the socio-economic wellbeing of landowners.”