I am not an expert in Sarawak land matters and what I expressed here are mostly confined to my Sabah experience. However, Sabah and Sarawak seemed to share similar problem when it comes to Native Customary Rights(NCR) land.
Land have always been a sensitive issue in rural areas when big tract of land are given out for agricultural development or logging activities.There would be protests, objections and confrontations with the indigenous people who claim that those land belong to their ancestors and rightfully belong to them.
Unlike in some parts of Sarawak, in Sabah the native villagers do not totally live off the forests. Most live along rivers and tributaries and eke out their daily lives from subsistence farming by shifting cultivation. Here, they are appropriately called Orang Sungei and are scattered along the rivers in pockets of small villages.
In Sarawak the Penans are probably the true people of the forest.Most are hunter-gatherers and used the forest as their source of food, medicine and clothing.Although, they take everything from the forest they pose no strain on the forest because of their minimalist attitude, not taking more than enough.
As a logger working in the Sugut/Paitan area in Sabah in the 70s and 80s I have a fair share of problematic villagers who claimed customary rights mostly as an excuse to squeeze money out of you to pay for wild fruit trees they claimed to have been planted by their forefathers and non-existence graves of their forefathers they claimed to have been mowed down by our tractors.Dealing with this kind of situation needs a lot of diplomacy, patience and understanding.To brush aside their claims would be inviting more troubles.We always get away with paying a few hundred ringgit making them happy and our work uninterrupted.
The best solution to the problem is to wise up and not be arrogant. Most of these poor villagers are reasonable and do not come as often.Paying few thousands ringgit a year to keep the peace is worth it. Those were 20 to 30 years ago when land and forests were still aplenty.Today, things have changed and land are becoming scarce and expensive and politics playing a big role in turning it into a sensitive and troubling issue.
The kampong folks are not as innocent as many would have thought them to be.Many have been given lands but sold it for quick money even before the titles for the land have been issued by the government.Under the Berjaya government thousand of acres of land were given to so-called landless villagers and all those lands are now owned by big plantation companies.Every where you go the story is the same, even land applied for homestead are sold immediately upon getting approval.
All the hue and cry about NCR land falling into the wrong hands are mostly politically motivated, at least in Sabah it is.Most issues are raised by politicians with vested interest.When they can't get what they wanted from the government instigating the people would put pressure on the government to consider their requests.This tactics are use by both oppositions and elected representatives of ruling parties.
In Sabah, the giving away of huge tract of land to Peninsula-based plantation companies were mostly done under the PBS government and this is the same people who are trying to stir up villagers about NCR lands that they have given away more than any other state government.PKR Vice-President Jefferey Kitingan was a big player in this scheme when his brother was Chief Minister of Sabah and he Director of Sabah Foundation.
Some politicians have short memory. They conveniently forgot what they did yesterday.