As early as August 2017, the then-Opposition Warisan party led by Shafie Apdal promised to abolish “Sabah Communal Land Title”, if they win the election in Sabah.
But the then Chief Minister Musa Aman Khan immediately rejected the idea.
Claiming that scrapping the communal land titles would cripple development for the rural population, Musa Aman Khan argued “the issuing of communal land titles is aimed at looking after the interest of Sabahans and to ensure that their native customary rights land titles are not wantonly sold or leased out”.
Musa Aman Khan had even accused Warisan of wanting the rural people to remain poor with the pledge to cancel the communal land titles, first introduced in 2010.
Of course, he lied.
Under the terms of the Sabah Land Ordinance, Indigenous people (the three largest groups in Sabah being Kadazan-Dusun, Bajau and Murut) are deemed to be “beneficiaries” of communal native title, not owners.
Communal titles are defined as land held in trust by the district office or the assistant collector of land revenue, who, surprisingly, have power over what crops are cultivated and whether or not land can be given to the next of kin.
To make matters worse, communal land titles also included outsiders, but amazingly, the names of the native Sabahans living in the area are not included.
In a nutshell, the Indigenous people of Sabah are merely “squatters” in their own land.
There were reasons why Musa Aman Khan, the 14th Chief Minister of Sabah from March 2003 to May 2018 for 15 years, introduced the communal land titles.
His corrupt government wanted the land for joint ventures with private companies or developers, without having to seek consent from native communities.
After becoming the new Sabah Chief Minister, Shafie Apdal announced in July 2018 that the unfair communal land titles would be scrapped, so that native land rights could be better protected.
For years, the Sabahan natives had been losing their land, either through dubious joint ventures which they had no control, or through sale of land title to outsiders without their knowledge.
Since 2010, a whopping 96 communal titles were issued by the Musa Aman Khan regime, involving 152,268 acres in 271 villages throughout in Sabah.
While some joint ventures were legit, most of them used “unscrupulous tactics” that resulted in irreversible destruction of the village’s only source of water or pollution of their river.
The “poverty eradication” excuse trumpeted by the previous Musa Aman Khan administration was for profit and nothing else. It was in short, land grabbing in disguise.
To fulfill Warisan Sabah’s election manifesto, Shafie announced in November 2018 that the Communal Titles would be cancelled in stages, and to be replaced with “Native Title” that comes with very strict conditions.
The conditions state that the Native Title grants cannot be transferred except through next of kin. It annot be sub-divided, it cannot be made as collateral or pawned and it cannot be subleased. It is strictly for the use of its owners.
Even the use of the Power of Attorney is not allowed for the Native Title lands. In case of a joint venture development, the landowners must be employed as workers while enjoying profit sharing.
To date, thousands of Native Titles have been presented to the legitimate Sabah people.
Of course, Musa’s camp is terribly upset! They accused Shafie fishing votes!
But here are the facts.
As of July 10, some 20 days before Musa Aman with the blessing of the backdoor Muhyiddin government tried to topple Shafie’s legitimite Sabah Government by offering up to RM50 million bribes in hard cold cash, Shafie had already handed over 2,300 individual Native Title to Indigeneous Sabahans in 101 villages, involving a total of 6,425.51 hectares of land.
Hence, it’s absolutely untrue and ridiculous to say Shafie is using the land titles to buy votes, as the practice of handing over the grants is an ongoing process which begun much earlier.
According to the caretaker Chief Minister, more than 10,000 land titles have been prepared for the villagers.
Thanks to Musa’s minions who are making a big issue of Shafie’s ongoing roadshow presenting land titles for native Sabahans, it has also been exposed that the Native Titles being issued by the caretaker Chief MInister Shafie were also meant to reverse the previous Musa’s government evil attempts to gazette native land as forest reserves.
Warisan’s Kalabakan MP Ma’mun Sulaiman mocked one of Musa’s minions, Tamparuli state assemblyperson Jahid Jahim, say “now, they are questioning the sincerity of the Chief Minister Shafie), who is returning the land to the rakyat (people). Perhaps it is because Musa’s cronies can no longer log the timber!”
Apparently, Sabah has up to “7 classes” of Forest Reserves but only “Class 1” is strictly protected.
Class 2, for example, is a commercial forest reserve while Class 3 is mainly to provide forest areas for natives living nearby to hunt, fish and take minor forest produce for their own domestic use, subject to permits.
So, not only the corrupt Musa Aman Khan regime tried to scam Indigenous Sabahans by exploiting their land through the introduction of Communal Titles since 2010, but he also quietly converted native land as forest reserves while declassified first-class forest reserves for the purpose of deforestation, stealing the timber on the land for profits.
Shafie when asked about some delay in getting native titles, said “this is why it has taken decades, in some cases half a century, for the rightful owners to be awarded with native titles. This is what happened to some villages in Tongod, Ranau and Kota Marudu. We do not only want to award them with native titles, but also gazette the villages.”
Arguably, the issue of native land titles is a very sensitive one that could either make or break a government.
If Shafie drags his feet and do nothing while he has the chance now to return the land back to the Sabah people, allies of Muhyiddin’s camp would not think twice about raping and selling off those native lands again, if they win the election.
The more Native Titles Shafie Apdal gives away to the deserving Sabah people, the less chance Musa Aman could plunder the native land.
More importantly, the strategy would potentially crush Muhyiddin-Musa’s chance of winning the Sabah election.
In fact, Shafie could win big and return as the Sabah Chief Minister again.
It is indeed very clever of Shafie to play the native land title card to boost his popularity, even before the failed coup to snatch power from him.
Unlike the Peninsular Malaysia, it is all about local factors and state nationalism in Sabah that will decide the outcome of the state election.