An Open Letter to Dato Mah Weng Kwai, Lawyer for PKNP

Dear Dato Mah Weng Kwai

The PSM HQ forwarded me the letter dated 1/11/2023 that your firm sent to our office in KL.

If I understand you correctly Dato, you are arguing that the Interim Stay that was ordered by the Ipoh High Court on 26/10/2023 restraining your client, PKNP (The Perak State Economic Development Corporation) only applies to court action pertaining to the penalties for not complying with the 425 Notice that PKNP served on the farmers on 13/10/2023. According to your interpretation, the Interim Stay does not restrain the PKNP from continuing to demolish the farms in the affected area.

This is a novel, though grotesquely warped, interpretation of the relevant law. And I am amazed that it has emanated from a senior member of the legal profession who at one point in time was an Appeal Court Judge, 2012 – 2015, I believe. Your interpretation, if accepted by the legal fraternity, means that there is no need to serve a 425 Notice before a government owned company demolishes farms on previously unused government land. Possession of the Land Title is sufficient. By extension this would also mean, that private companies too can dispense with Order 89 applications, as their ownership of the land gives them the right to evict anyone occupying it, without having to first acquire a Court Order. (This means that five Order 89 applications that farmers in the Kanthan- Changkat Kinding region are currently facing were unnecessarily filed by the legal firms representing the various developers.)

Dato, surely legal interpretations need to be based on the prevailing socio-economic context. In Malaysia today, farming and Orang Asli communities are often confronted by private corporations and/or GLCs who have somehow procured grants to the land that these communities have been tilling for decades. In this situation, the Courts offer an avenue for the affected communities to present their side of the story, query the awarding of grants to land that they have been using, and to argue for alternative land and/or reasonable compensation. They can get their voices heard. But if your interpretation of the law is accepted, then this avenue is closed. The new land owner can do just what he likes.

Surely this cannot be right. For democracy to function properly there needs to be effective check-and-balance mechanisms where the marginalized can speak up and the rich and the well-connected have to account for their actions. I hardly need to tell you all of this seeing that you have been a 2-term SUHAKAM Commissioner from 2016 – 2022.

We have had a discussion with the affected farmers and their lawyers. Our decision is to challenge your rather warped interpretation of the law. It is a dangerous view and needs to be comprehensively refuted. Otherwise, marginalized communities across the nation will be rendered even more precarious if your interpretation gains parlance.

With regards to PSM members refraining from “trespassing” on lands owned by PKNP, I just have this to say. We in the PSM have no pressing desire to go into the 3300 acres of farm lands in Kanthan that the Perak State Government so generously transferred to the PKNP 20 years ago. If the PKNP deals with the farmers in a humane manner instead of trying to intimidate and bully them, there would be no need for the PSM to intervene. However, if intimidation of farmers occur, and the farmers request our help, we will enter the affected farms. So please advise your client, PKNP, that the best way to keep the PSM out of “their” land is by dealing justly with the farmers who have been there for 80 or more years.

Finally, as a matter of courtesy I would like to inform you and your client that we – the farmers, PSM and concerned citizens – are now lobbying the government to take back all the vegetable and fruit producing land in Kanthan that was mistakenly awarded to the PKNP by previous State governments which did not sufficiently appreciate the importance of food security. Our proposal is that all food producing land must be gazetted as such, and leased out to capable farmers on 10 to 15 year leases. One of the conditions of the lease should be that they cannot plant cash crops like oil palm.

For the sake of food security and the future of our nation, lets hope that the government sees the merit in our proposal.

Jeyakumar Devaraj
Parti Sosialis Malaysia

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