Sarawak's 'native' status important for children to inherit native land

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© Provided by New Straits Times

KUCHING: Many children of mixed marriages in Sarawak have been denied their rights, especially when it comes to inheriting native title land or Native Customary Rights’ (NCR) land from their parents.

A Sarawakian lawyer, Simon Siah said this was a long standing issue, which has been brought up many times over the past few years.

He said the Federal Constitution Article 161A(6)(a) read together with Article 161A (7) as well as Section 3 of the Interpretation Ordinance of Sarawak 2005, stated that only children from marriages between natives of Sarawak are considered to be a native of the state.

“So, if one of the parents is a non-native, the children from such marriages will not be considered as native even if the father is one,” he told the New Straits Times.

He said though all natives of Sarawak are Bumiputera, not all Bumiputera are natives of Sarawak, including those from other parts of Malaysia.

He was commenting on the proposed amendments to Article 161A of the Federal Constitution, with regard to the definition of “native”, which is expected to be tabled in Parliament this week.

Siah said being officially considered as a native is most important when it comes to ownership of land in Sarawak as the state has native title land, mixed zone land and even NCR land without titles.

He said under the Sarawak Land Code, children of mixed marriages between a native and non-native cannot inherit native title land or NCR land from their parents. Only children with both native parents can have the interest over these lands.

“Such a situation will lead to the land having to be sold to another native as their own children cannot even have rights over the land.”

“Although they can apply to the Native Court to be gazetted as a native, the process is not easy and could take up to six years or more,” he added.

Siah said the applicants will be called for interview after the application is submitted to the Native court and vetted by the Sarawak State Attorney General’s Chambers.

“I was told that the applicants have to be able to speak their respective native tongues like Iban, Bidayuh or Melanau while some were asked to do traditional dances and have their knowledge regarding certain native customs and traditions tested,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dayak Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) secretary general Libat Langub said a few native tribes in Sarawak are also left out in the definition of “native” of Sarawak in the said provisions of the law and are therefore legally not natives of Sarawak.

He said the present state of the law is out of sync with the times as inter-marriages between natives and non-natives have become very common.

He said the effect of the said law has brought serious and dire legal predicaments to many children of mixed-native and non-native parents in the area of inheritance and transfer of native lands.

Although at present such children of mixed marriages may apply to the Native Court for a native status for the purpose of the Sarawak Land Code to deal with native land, many have not done so.

“This is because of the cumbersome, lengthy administrative processes and procedures involved due to unnecessary government bureaucracy causing unreasonably long delays for decisions on their applications” he said.

The Federation of Orang Ulu Associations Malaysia (Forum) has pledged its full support for the proposed amendments to Article 161A of the Federal Constitution and the consequent amendments to state laws, upon them being passed in Parliament.

It said this would “restore, heal, recognise, entitle and transform the lives of children of mixed marriages between natives and non-native individuals”.

Murum assemblyman Kennedy Chukpai Ugon, who is also Forum president, said Bagatan, Bakong, Bemali, Berawan, Dali, Lakiput, Miriek, Narom, Saban, Tatau and Tring as among the ethnic groups in Sarawak who had never been listed as “natives” under the law.

Last week, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Parliament) Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the Bill will be tabled in Parliament for first reading on Oct 25 and to be debated on Oct 28.

He said once the amendment is passed and approved, children of mixed marriages will be recognised as natives as long as one of their parents is a Sarawak native. It is expected to affect more than 30 per cent of children of such marriages.

© New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd

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