Mismanagement of land in Perak

Kinding Maju Sdn Bhd’s (KMSB) case to evict 9 farmers from a plot of land acquired by KMSB commenced in the Ipoh High Court today, the 13th of May 2024. KMSB is seeking a Court Order to obtain vacant possession of the 47 acre plot near Chemor, Perak that it was awarded by the Perak State Government in April 2020. The fate of 9 vegetable farmers whose families have been tilling that land since before World War II is at stake.

Several interesting, even disturbing, facts were exposed in today’s hearing in Ipoh High Court 1. The first was that KMSB, a subsidiary of Liew Yin Yin Land Sdn Bhd, only put in the official forms applying for this 47 acre plot on 5th May 2020. But the decision to alienate the land had already been made by the then Menteri Besar (MB) of Perak, Dato’ Seri Faizal Azumu on 13th April 2020.  

According to evidence presented in court, the current director of KMSB, Dato’ Sri Dr Ir Liew Mun Hon (DSL), had written to the MB of Perak on the 6th of April 2020 asking for this 47 acre plot. He received a letter dated 14th April 2020 from the Perak Pengarah Tanah dan Galian (PTG) informing him that the Perak MB had approved his application on the 13th of April 2020. The farmers who are currently on the land were amazed to hear this, as some among them had been applying for Temporary Occupation Licenses to this land since the 1980s, but with scant response from the State.

The lawyer for the 9 farmers, the defendants, then asked Dato’ Sri Dr Ir Liew (DSL) whether his application for land had gone through the proper procedures such as presentation to and approval by the Perak Land EXCO, but DSL said that he did not know about that.

The other interesting aspect to this approval was that Dato’ Ruzaimi b Baharin, the person who signed the 14/4/2020 letter informing DSL, had been transferred to the post of Mayor of Ipoh on 1st April 2020. He was no longer the PTG at the time the letter awarding the 47 acres was issued. This fact was pointed out by the farmers’ lawyer to DSL who replied that perhaps this is why the new PTG, Dato’ Mohamad Fariz b Mohamad Hanip had re-issued the approval letter on 16th June 2020.

The other interesting points that were established in Court today were – 

  • KMSB was only set up on 2nd April 2020, less than 2 weeks before it was awarded the 47 acre plot of land.
  • Dato Sri Liew said that when he visited the land before applying for it, he noted that it was cultivated farm land
  • KMSB paid RM 17,521 as premium to the State Government for this plot of land. This works out to about RM 373 per acre, far below the price of agricultural land in the vicinity of Ipoh which is about RM 400,000 per acre. 

The farmers’ lawyer then asked DSL whether he knew the MB personally, as DSL had been MCA’s parliamentary candidate for Ipoh Timor in 2008, at a time when Dato’ Seri Faizal Azumu was the UMNO Youth Chief in Perak. Dato Sri Liew said that he did not know the Faizal Azumu from before.

The lawyers for the farmers have subpoenaed the previous as well as the present PTG and the current Menteri Besar to come to court to shed light on how and why this 47 acre plot was alienated to KMSB in the manner it was. They, or their representatives are supposed to appear in Court tomorrow (14/5/24).

The disturbing picture that has emerged today is that the State Authority, which had ignored the repeated applications from the long-term farmers in that region, had fast tracked the application of a millionaire developer even though the State Authority was well aware that 9 farmers depended on this land for their livelihood and that these farmers were producing vegetables for the Malaysian people. And further, the alienation of this strategically situated land was at a very generous premium rate!

Land Law in Malaysia does empower the “State Authority” to alienate state land to whoever the State Authority chooses. But surely that power must be tempered by considerations of justice for the small farmers who have been on the land for generations, as well as considerations related to food security for the nation.

The land that KMSB acquired in 2020 is part of 2900 acres of farmland in Ulu Kinta that have been, over the past 20 years, alienated to developers for housing or industrial projects. Ulu Kinta had 3000 acres of land under vegetable and fruit cultivation 20 years ago. 2900 of that has since been alienated for “development”, and in around 500 acres of this, the farmers have already been evicted. It appears quite likely that in the next few years large portions of still producing vegetable farms will be demolished. 

This is why 8 groups of vegetable farmers in Ulu Kinta who are now facing attempts to evict them from their small farms have appealed to their Member of Parliament, who also happens to be the Prime Minister, to intervene and help resolve their issue. Their request is that, in the interest of food security of the nation, the government should reverse the ill-considered decisions taken by the Peral Government to alienate such a large tract of food producing land to developers. They are asking the Federal Government to provide the funds necessary for the Perak State Government to reacquire the land using the Land Acquisition Act, so that the land can be leased out for suitably long periods (10 to 20 years) for the cultivation of vegetables and fruits.

Unfortunately, up till now, despite numerous letters and requests to meet, PMX has not responded. He has not even once invited these farmers for a discussion. Well, what can one say when a leader who has struggled long and hard for power, is reluctant to use that power to do the right thing?

Jeyakumar Devaraj
Parti Sosialis Malaysia