Little would the guileless young woman with a
haunting expression in the picture have known that her descendants
would one day have to fight a pitched battle to defend that very
ancestral land that she had toiled on.
Much has been said about
the Kampung Buah Pala crisis. But a problem in this whole affair is
that it is swamped in a morass of political chest-thumping and
technical legalese that it is difficult for the general public to
appreciate, let alone understand, the intrinsic dilemma of the
Those who have witnessed the audacious stance the
villagers put up to protect their homes may better perceive the impulse
that drives these descendants of planters and cowherds to literally
face death in such a manner.
Roots ... A young woman
who lived in Brown Estate
some 100 years ago. Her
Mahadevi Muthu, 51, faces
eviction from their
the Kampung Buah Pala villagers are no squatters. The land they grew up
is the only home they have known for at least five generations.
is well do*****ented, the villagers trace their ancestry to indentured
labourers brought in by the East India Company to work for the Brown
Estate in Penang more than 150 years ago. The land later became
categorised as a vested crown for housing trust.
life was, however, shaken in 2004 and 2005, when the previous Barisan
Nasional Penang government approved the sale of the land to a
cooperative for state government officers (Koperasi Pegawai Kerajaan
What made the deal controversial was that the
sale was passed at a discounted premium of RM3.2 million (or RM10 a sq
ft). The land is estimated to cost about RM100 a sq ft.
the BN is answerable as to why the fate of the land was decided on
without any consultation with the villagers. The cooperative needs to
account for why government servants who are entrusted to administer
over people’s welfare should take away people’s land for themselves for
private commercial profits.
But lost amid the headlines and
verbal diatribes is a critical turning point – one which the state
government under the Pakatan Rakyat itself failed to capitalise on to
save the village.
In March 21 last year, just two weeks after
Pakatan won the general election to take power of Penang, several
villagers met newly-minted Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng at his office,
getting assurances that he would help them.
Just a week later on March 28, the state land office issued the title for the land to the cooperative.
move effectively put the villagers under the mercy of the new owner and
its partner, Nusmetro Ventures (P) Sdn Bhd, the developer of a
Lim has since insisted that the title had to be issued because of an “administrative procedure”.
that now does not seem to be completely true. In fact, state opposition
leader Datuk Azhar Ibrahim pointed out in the last assembly sitting
that the premium’s final instalment had exceeded the time limit. Its
validity had expired.
The maximum time given for the purchaser
to settle the full amount was three months. The cooperative made its
first payment of RM963,000 on March 22, 2007. But the next payment, of
RM2.247 million, was collected a year later – after Pakatan took power
– on March 14, 2008.
Section 81 of the National Land Code
stipulates that “if any such sum is not so paid within the specified
time, the approval of the state authority to the alienation shall
In other words, the transaction would have
already been null and void – had the government not agreed to collect
the payment and revive the deal. That the land was taken away from the
villagers after the premium had lapsed, that the villagers lost their
homes after the transaction had already died, may well prove to be the
most stinging human rights blunder of the Pakatan government to date.
to this is another key factor that has emboldened the residents, making
them furiously indignant against any attempt to remove them from their
homes – that the High Court had ruled in their favour in October last
year. The Federal Court of Appeal, however, dismissed the villagers’
case on June 24, on grounds that they did not have legitimate standing
or locus standi.
Lim has since arm-twisted Nusmetro to offer a
double-storey link house to each household. What has put the residents
off is that the offer would be cancelled if the proposed project is not
approved by the authorities. They are also required to drop all legal
actions filed against the cooperative, Nusmetro and relevant parties,
and to refrain from filing any new suits.
Certainly, the issue
is mired in many other complications. But the great tragedy of Kampung
Buah Pala may just be how rhetoric and politics have distracted from a
genuine threat to the human rights of a people, and to a sole remaining
legacy of some of the early pioneers of our land.
Himanshu is theSun’s Penang bureau chief. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.