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Friday, May 31, 2019

Plot valued at RM23m in 2005, settlement offer just RM5k per family


A legal battle is set to take place on June 3 involving another case which saw Orang Asli interests being pitted against that of a state government.
The case encompasses compensation for a parcel of prime land in Stulang Laut, Johor Bahru, where the shopping centre known as The Zon now stands.
The plot was estimated at RM23 million in a 2005 valuation, yet the compensation offered by the Johor government stands at a paltry RM5,000 per family.
Given that there are 51 families involved, the total amount is just RM255,000.
In 1993, the Orang Laut Selatar community in Stulang Laut were forced to relocate from the land they had lived for decades.
The Orang Laut Selatar are one of the smaller of the 18 Orang Asli tribes in Malaysia. They are located in both southern Johor and Singapore, but are believed to have a combined population of less than 3,000, leaving their culture and language under threat.
Despite winning the court battle on Sept 22, 2010 in a case filed by Khalip Bachik representing the community against the Johor director-general of the Department of Land and Mines, among others, the authorities have refused to conduct an assessment.
This assessment is critical to ascertain the amount of compensation to be paid as required by the court order.
‘Inadequate and unreasonable’
Lawyer for the plaintiffs, Tan Poh Lai, expressed deep concern that bureaucratic inertia was preventing justice because the authorities were blatantly disregarding a court order which they did not agree with.
"The state must have been paid tens of millions for the said land yet after the court ruled that the Orang Asli were now owners by way of native customary rights, they have not been compensated a single sen," said Tan.
"The court ordered compensation by ruling that the Orang Asli had native customary rights over the said land. As such, their forced relocation was tantamount to an acquisition according to the principles of the Land Acquisition Act, but the ‘pentadbir tanah daerah’ (land collector) refused to conduct an assessment so we can't move forward," she added.
Orang Asli community in the 1990s before eviction from their land in Stulang Laut.
Tan has now filed an action known as a mandamus order requiring the state government agencies to carry out the court's earlier order, but the state public prosecutor is believed to be objecting to it.
After losing in the Johor Bahru High Court in 2010, the defendants subsequently appealed against the High Court order but then withdrew its appeal at the Court of Appeal on Aug 6, 2012.
"In June 2018, Pasir Gudang MP Hassan Karim personally visited the Johor land office with our clients and requested for a date for an assessment as per the court order," said Tan.
"However, despite regular follow-ups on this matter and the press highlighting this issue, no progress was made on the assessment for compensation.
“Then on Nov 8, 2018, the ‘pentadbir tanah daerah’ made a verbal offer of RM5,000 to each of the families in the suit. We rejected this as grossly inadequate and unreasonable.
"There was also no mention of the assessment which we have repeatedly requested in accordance with the High Court judgment," she added.
Waytha’s office criticises paltry offer
When contacted, the office of Minister in the Prime Minister's Department P Waythamoorthy issued a statement criticising the delay in providing compensation to the Orang Asli community.
"Compensation is to be paid to them after the assessment of the land done in accordance with the principles of the Land Acquisition Act 1960.”
Waythamoorthy's ministry oversees the Jabatan Orang Asli (Jakoa). The ministry slammed the low offer and questioned why the case had dragged on for so long.
"We have been made to understand that there was an offer of just RM5,000 for each plaintiff that was justifiably refused when the assessed value of the land in 2005 was around RM23 million.
"It is unfortunate nothing has been done to resolve this matter since that time.
"What is also very concerning is that the plaintiffs are applying for a mandamus order for the related state government agencies to carry out the court order, and the state public prosecutor is purportedly objecting to it.
"Bearing in mind the victimised and vulnerable state of the Orang Asli community, we urge the state agencies to open a discussion session with the community to resolve this long-standing matter," said the statement.
Waythamoorthy's office said that Jakoa was willing to step in and assist a just settlement instead of the aggrieved party having to resort to further legal recourse. - Mkini

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