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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Xavier: Task force on gov't land to present findings in a month



INTERVIEW | A task force set up by the Water, Land and Natural Resources Ministry to look into federal land given out to third parties over the last 20 years is expected to present its findings in a month's time.
Xavier Jayakumar said the task force was formed soon after he took over the ministry following Pakatan Harapan's election victory last year.
In an interview ahead of the coalition's first anniversary in power on May 9, the minister said that the long process is expected to be completed soon.
"They are still compiling the necessary data that I have asked for. 
"Within the next month, I will have the full data of how much land has been given out, for what purpose, where, and what was the value.
"I will bring this information to the cabinet for them to decide what to do next," he said.
Among others, Xavier said, the task force aims to identify wastage of government resources under the previous BN administration.
He added that in the meantime, no new approvals have been granted for the sale or rental of any government land.
"At present, we have put a stop to giving out land to anybody, unless and until there is a cabinet directive.
"If any transaction needs to be done for lease or purchase of federal land, it will be at the current market rate," he said, adding that the value will be as determined by the Valuation and Property Services Department.
"We want to make sure what belongs to the federal government – be it land, natural resources or water – is used in the best manner possible.
"We don't have any 'under table' dealings anymore in the ministry, as far as I'm concerned," he stressed.
'Exploring underground water'
Beyond land resources, Xavier said the Water, Land and Natural Resources Ministry has also focused on issues related to water supply over the past year.
He identified his main challenge as the long-standing problem of bringing down non-revenue water (NRW) across the country, while listing the conclusion of the Air Selangor Bhd's takeover of water companies in the state as among his ministry's successes.
In order to ensure a constant supply of water nationwide, Xavier said his ministry has collaborated with experts from Japan to map out underground water sources, which is targeted for completion by the end of the year.
"We have a huge amount of underground water which has not been tapped," he said, noting that groundwater only makes up about five percent of the country's total raw water supply.
The minister said that the discovery of new underground water sources could assist states – including Johor and Kedah, both of which are currently facing a shortage of raw water supply.
Establishing boundaries
Beyond domestic engagements, Xavier also revealed that his ministry is involved in the process of establishing land and maritime boundaries – particularly overlapping claims involving the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and China.
"Countries as far as China are encroaching into our waters and saying that it is part of international waters," he explained.
"So what we are doing now, with the mapping that we have done, we will register these with the United Nations.
"If there is a difference of opinion then that can be taken up at another level. But before that, we would like to register our interests with the UN on maritime borders," he further explained.
Earlier this month, the Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) denied Indonesian media reports that its vessel – along with a Malaysian fishing boat detained by Indonesian authorities – had encroached into the republic's waters near Medan.
At the time, MMEA director-general Admiral Zulkifli Abu Bakar said that contrary to media reports, the area's maritime boundaries – located 15 nautical miles south-east of Pulau Jarak – were subject to a dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia. - Mkini

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