No provisional lease, no rights : Bateman

By: Philip Q

Extracted from Borneo Post

Publishing Date: 29/11/2000

MIRI, Tues. - The former Miri Divisional Superintendent of Land and Survey Charles Arthur Bateman disclosed that Lot 75 of Sawai Land District has yet to be issued with the provisional lease to successful applicant Sarawak Oil Palm (SOP).

Legal rights for surveys or preparatory works of successful applicants can commence only when the provisional lease has been registered with the Land and Survey Department even though land premium are paid and approval from headquarters had been obtained.

Lot 75 is a subject matter in the trial of the 19 persons charged for the murders of four sub-contractor workers on September 1, last year in a land dispute.

The accused persons included two headmen (Tuai Rumah (TR)) Busang ak Nyandang, 62, TR Bali ak Belukun, 54, a 17 year-old juvenile and 16 others.

The group were charged for the murders of Ling Chien Fung, 29, Tiong Ing Seng, 26, Liaw Teck Kong, 38 and Wong Kok Seng, 25 at Lot 75 Sawai Land District in Ulu Niah - one of the nine pieces of land alienated to SOP.

Cross-examined by leading counsel M.S. Sandhu for the second day, Bateman said direct application was made by Sarawak Oil Palm (SOP) for Lot 75 to the Kuching headquarters which gave its approval of which he was notified.

In a letter dated 24 Sept 1997, the company had accepted the offer by the department and paid the first of the five proposed instalments of the land premium but it has yet to be issued the provisional lease under Form C of the Land Code.

Asked if this means that the company does not have any rights over the land pending the issuance of the provisional lease, Bateman replied: "Yes".

He is the first witness called by the persecuting officer, Deputy Public Persecutor Julia Ibrahim and pleaded inability to recall on most matters related to Lot 75 due to long lapse of time on the first day of trial yesterday.

Sandhu called for the dossier to be produced in court to help refresh his memory and the court this morning allowed Bateman to go through the dossier before the onset of today's hearing.

Continuing from yesterday, the former superintendent said SOP's application was directly forwarded to Kuching headquarters which subsequently approved it and accepted by the company in a letter dated September 24th, 1997.

Bateman confirmed that under section 28(1) of the Land Code, the issuance of provisional lease in Form C applies for land which has yet to be properly surveyed.

Form B refers to titled land with specified boundary and surveys which has already been carried out.

The provisional lease applies in the case of Lot 75 but it was yet to be issued to the company as no survey had been made to on the exact extend of the land which is not known.

The responsibility of survey starts only after the provisional lease has been secured from the Land and Survey Department, and Bateman agreed with Sandhu's contention that SOP does not have rights over Lot 75 since it did not secure either Form B or C.

On guidelines attached to PL holders, the department does not attach any time frame for surveys to be carried out but they are required to do so and deal with any persons occupying or cultivating the said land.

There was no record of SOP referring "difficulties" dealing with occupants there to the Land and Survey Department.

Meanwhile, records of the department confirmed that headman (TR) Busang ak Nyandang and TR Bali, on behalf of their communities, have made several applications to the department since 1994 for the alienation of lands farmed or occupied in Lot 75.

This included five letters by TR Busang or his representatives between November 7th, 1994 and April 13th, 1998 but no decision was made on their applications which included maps and sketch plans.

Bateman said he wrote a letter to Miri District Office seeking details of the applicants upon receiving the first letter but there was no reply but no decision was made on all the letters.

On the letter dated April 13th, 1998 was appended with area applied and photograph of oil palms planted by the local community there.

Meanwhile, when cross-examined by Davis Lim this afternoon, he confirmed that the applications by TR Busang were most likely within the area of Lot 75.

In re-examination by the DPP, the witness said no specific request for native communal reserve was made in the applications by TR Busang and others from the area.

He said their applications were subjected to the same process as other applicants.

Bateman confirmed that the department had received the first instalment of land premium payment from SOP but it did not constitute legal rights without the registration of the provisional lease.

 As the land superintendent, his comment was required in the application by SOP for Lot 75 but Sandhu objected to the move by the DPP to adduce the document as evidence, saying it was not tendered during examination-in-chief.

The presiding Judicial Commissioner Dato Sulaiman Daud called for submission to be made by both parties on the matter after the DPP and counsel clashed over the propriety of invoking section 138 (4) of the Evidence Act.

She had intended for the witness to be recalled and the document be tendered but Sandhu argued that it was abnormal and the witness has still to step down from the dock.

The document containing his comments also included aerial photographs in 1947, 1962, 1963 and 1982 which the defence counsel said it would be prejudice and put the accused persons at a disadvantage.

There are 19 defence lawyers representing each of the accused person and Sandhu is leading the cross-examination of the witnesses.

Meanwhile, the court will rule on the matter when it resumes tomorrow. - BP

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