SHAH ALAM: The Ijok land controversy in Selangor has highlighted an important national issue affecting thousands of rural and urban Malaysians.
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) adviser Kua Kia Soong said the case had warranted voters to demand a clear stance from the opposition pact Pakatan Harapan, on the need to safeguard state lands for public housing, sustainable farming and other public purposes instead of selling them off “for a song” to private developers.
In a statement today, Kua elaborated what the Ijok land controversy had revealed, in which former Selangor menteri besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim explained that it was part of a plan involving 1,141ha of forest reserves in 1973 to provide opportunities for the people to own lands.
Kua said the forest reserves were then approved to become an agricultural zone where each recipient was allocated 1.2ha of land to be managed by the Selangor Agricultural Development Corporation in a similar fashion by Felda.
Years later, Kua said some developers bought the land from these settlers, promising compensation in the form of money and houses as their land would be used for housing projects and not agricultural activities.
In 1998, the settlers had agreed to allow several companies including Mujur Zaman and LBCN Development to develop the land in Ijok after the companies agreed to fork out compensation.
However, a decade later the settlers were still waiting for their compensation and houses, said Kua.
“When (now-defunct opposition pact) Pakatan Rakyat took over Selangor after the 2008 general election, Khalid’s administration seized the land by utilising the National Land Code after both developers had failed to meet certain conditions that included failing to pay the land premium, failing to change the land’s status from agricultural land to residential land, and failing to pay the premium to change the land status.
“According to Khalid, the state paid more than RM160 million in compensation to all stakeholders including banks, companies, and settlers in 2009. Khalid had claimed that when he took over as menteri besar in 2008, there were at least 20 such abandoned projects.
Kua also referred to excerpts in New Straits Times Press’ recent interview with Khalid over the matter.
“Khalid’s justification for the state takeover of the land is perhaps most telling (where he was quoted as saying) - ‘But I saw that they only prioritised profit. As such, it was better for the government to take over the land (and project) and if we make a profit, it can be returned to the people… I thought that if I could solve the Ijok issue in such a manner, it can then be adopted by the Selangor Planning Unit and local governments, among others, for other similar cases."
Kua also questioned the current state government's decision to return the land to developers despite a ruling by the High Court which sided with Khalid's administration.
“Both developers then sued the Selangor government at the High Court to acquire their land. But on Oct 22, 2013, Khalid won the case and it was pending at the Federal Court. However, after Khalid was deposed, the current Selangor menteri besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali’s administration returned the land to the developers, despite the High Court and Appeal Court’s decision which had agreed with Khalid’s administration.
“The controversial settlement reached between the Selangor state government and housing developers Mujur Zaman and LBCN Development is apparently a bailout of the developers by the state government. Why?
“The Azmin administration claimed it is a win-win situation. But is the RM180,000 compensation per settler fair considering the property’s value is far higher? Do the developers need to be compensated so handsomely?” asked Kua.
Kua said Khalid had maintained his stance by saying: “If we are responsible and transparent, we cannot hold negotiations. A just state government will only allow business opportunities through open tender… Through an open tender, we can reduce abuse of power and corruption. (That is why) we brought the case to the Federal Court to ensure that there were no negotiations, corruption and abuse.”
“Was the Azmin’s administration not confident of winning the case against the developers at the Federal Court? If so, why? This must be explained to the people,” Kua said.
Similar concerns were also cited in Penang, where Kua said the state had sold land reclamation rights to private developers to pay for mega projects that have adverse social and irreversible environmental costs affecting its people.
“The 2016 Auditor-General’s Report revealed that the lion’s share of the Penang state government’s income was derived from the proceeds of selling state land, where the state government had sold or transacted at least RM37 billion worth of state land, land rights and assets since 2008.