Modernising Malay reserve law in Kedah
Kedah MB says the law should facilitate, not hinder development of reserve land
THE Kedah Department of Lands and Mines organised a one-day convention on Malay reserve land on Sunday, March 26, 2017. It was attended by some 300 people, comprising senior government officials from the northern states of Kedah, Penang and Perak, members of the local and national housing industry, and several leading politicians in the state.
It is a follow-up of a national seminar on Malay reserve land held some two years ago. What distinguishes this event from the earlier seminar is the plan by the department to get the participants’ active and direct discussion in three simultaneously-held workshops (held in the afternoon) to draw a road-map on what further steps should be taken to modernise the Malay reservation law in the state.
The morning session began with a historical survey of the law by an academician from Universiti Teknologi Mara Perak, Dr Mohd Hasrol Haffiz Aliasak. This was immediately followed by Professor Datuk Dr Nik Mohd Zain Nik Yusof (former secretary-general of the then Land and Cooperatives Development Ministry), who spoke on the need for high commitment and integrity on the part of officials in implementing and enforcing the law.
The high point in the morning session was a forum titled “Transformasi Tanah Rizab Melayu: Isu dan Cabaran”, moderated by Mohd Shahadan Abdullah, deputy to the state director of the department.
The forum focused on legal and policy issues affecting Malay reserve land, as well as the socioeconomic and valuation aspects pertaining to it. I was invited to speak on the former, while my colleague from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia days, Professor Dr Ismail Omar (currently at Universiti Tun Hussein Onn) spoke on the latter.
At the conclusion of the forum, the moderator told the participants to ponder further on several issues and challenges raised at the forum during their lunchbreak and when they meet separately in the three workshops in the afternoon, they should then put forward their detailed suggestions on how Kedah should take the next step in this initiative to modernise its 80-year-old law.
In the afternoon, the participants were divided into three groups for the three workshops held simultaneously. The participants were free to choose which of the three groups they would like to attend, but the organisers ensured that almost an equal number attended each workshop. The first workshop focused on legal issues, the second on administration and management, and the third on socio-economic and valuation issues. The workshop sessions began at 2pm and lasted until 5pm. At the end of the workshop sessions, the convention went in plenary again to enable the representatives of these three workshops to present their resolutions and recommendations. At the conclusion of this plenary session, Shahadan told the gathering that further action would be taken by his department to fine-tune these resolutions before they were submitted to the state government.
It was late in the evening, almost 7pm, when the Kedah menteri besar arrived at the hall to officially close the convention. In his short address, he said his administration was committed and serious in reforming and modernising the state law on Malay reservation.
He acknowledged several times that the state law on Malay reservation contained fundamental differences when compared with the law prevailing in the other states. The important point remained that the law should facilitate and not hinder the development of Malay reserve land in the state, he added.
During the afternoon coffeebreak, two gentlemen (housing developers), sought my views on the impact of the recent decision in Jamaluddin Jaafar v Affin Bank Berhad (delivered by the Federal Court on Sept 30, 2016), now pending appeal to the Federal Court. In that case, the court had held that a Malay reserve land in Kedah cannot be charged to Affin Bank as it is not a “Malay” as defined in the Kedah Malay Reserve Enactment.
Following that decision, the Kedah government invoked Section 19 to declare all banks established in Malaysia as a “Malay” for the purpose of accepting a land charge over Malay reserve land. In short, the problem resulting from the Court of Appeal’s decision was quickly resolved by administrative action under Section 19.
I told the two gentlemen that as the case was still sub judice until it was finally disposed of by the Federal Court, I could not speak on it in public. The two gentlemen then told me that they were now facing a dilemma because their banks (lenders / charges) wanted a new charge to be registered on their land, as the existing charge had been declared void by the Court of Appeal. I told them that the banks were being prudent, because after the existing charge had been declared void by the Court of Appeal, it was no longer good security for the loan they granted to their customers. Now that administrative action had been taken by the Kedah state to declare them as “Malay” under section 19, the banks wish to avail the security now being available. As the registration of a new charge will incur costs (which the developers wish to avoid), I told the two gentlemen to explore further avenues to resolve their predicament.
As we were walking out of the Convention hall, an old friend, Abdul Aziz Mohd Johdi (under secretary from the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry), who chaired one of the afternoon workshops, whispered to me that as a next step the department should take was to arrange a “briefing session” with the entire state executive council members and assemblymen so that as the political leaders of the state, they would be on the same page as the department in this initiative to reform the state Malay reserve law. I told him “I absolutely agree”.