Minister refutes ‘automatic renewal’ claims

Penang and Selangor landowners have to apply; comparatively, Sarawak’s rates still the lowest – Awg Tengah

MIRI: The peninsular states of Penang and Selangor do not practise automatic land lease renewals as claimed by the opposition, Second Minister of Planning and Resource Management Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan said.

Quoting from a detailed study by the Sarawak Land and Survey Department (SLSD), he said landowners in these two states had to apply, and ex-proprietors there who submitted their applications later than expiry date are slapped with a penalty.

“Sarawak does not impose such penalty,” he stressed.

The SLSD study scrutinises the modes of land lease renewals in Sarawak, Penang and Selangor and from the data obtained, makes a comparison of the difference in premium payments between Sarawak and the two peninsular states.

According to Tengah who is also Public Utilities Minister, the study has also concluded that both Penang and Selangor impose premiums many times higher than Sarawak’s for land titles that will expire in 20 years and but have been submitted for renewal over a 99-year lease period.

“Sarawak imposes only RM1,000 for a terrace house, RM3,000 for semi-detached and RM6,000 for detached house respectively under the 60-year-lease category — and RM1,300, RM3,900 and RM7,800 respectively for the 99-year-lease category,” he said.

Tengah was fielding questions on current issues raised in a recent interview on Bicara Rakyat programme over RTM. The issues included land premium, power tariffs, development projects and Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) NCR land new initiatives, National Key Results Areas (NKRAs), housing assistance programme and Gambier Street.

He said comparatively, for the area of Gelugor in Penang, owners have to pay RM12,000, RM36,000 and RM61,000 respectively for terraced, semi-detached and detached houses in the 99-year category.

“Penang house owners have to pay renewal premium eight times higher than Sarawak’s, clearly indicating that the rates in Sarawak are much cheaper and not burdening the people.

“Additionally, the Sarawak government is also considering lower premium rates based on merit for certain cases,” he added.

The SLSD study has also made the following conclusions:

• In Shah Alam in Selangor, the rates for 99-year lease renewal are RM25,000, RM55,000 and RM 1,000 for terraced, semi-detached and detached houses. This translates to 19, 14 and nine times higher for the respective categories.

• Shophouses under 60 years lease in Sarawak are charged RM40,000 and RM20,000 in primary and secondary towns while those in rural towns are charged RM10,000. For 99-year lease, the rates are RM52,000, RM26,000 and RM13,000. Comparatively, for 99-year lease in Georgetown and Sungai Nibong in Penang under primary towns, the rates are three times higher at RM204,000 and RM150,000 respectively.

• Likewise in Selangor, owners of double-storey shophouses have to pay RM 150,000 per unit at Section 17 of Shah Alam while owners in primary towns of Kuching, Miri, Sibu and Bintulu pay only a flat rate of RM52,000 for 99-year lease.

• Owners in Damansara will have to fork out RM234,000 per unit, and this shows Sarawak impose much cheaper renewal premiums.

NCR land equity

Tengah also touched on the land issues and steps taken with regard to private sector proposal to take over the shares of Syarikat Sarawak Tetangga Akrab Pelita.

This could affect 700 landowners in Pantu District.

Tengah said the state government introduced the NCR land development programme to raise the living standards of landowners who are land-rich but remain poor due to lack of capital to develop their lands.

The concept involves joint-venture of private sector as the developer in bringing in the needed capital for 60 per cent equity — landowners getting 30 per cent share and the remaining 10 per cent share for cash payment taken up by Pelita as managing agent in the company.

The minister said Pelita undertakes to look after the interest of NCR landowners and ensure their 30 per cent shares are transferred to only relatives upon consent.

“Only the 60 per cent equity of the investor can be transferred while the NCR landowners and Pelita’s portions are unaffected as in the case of Syarikat Tetangga Akrab Pelita Pantu.”

According to him, the Sarawak government has approved for surveys and gazetted 27 locations with an area of 21,286 hectares as bumiputera communal reserves in 2010. These reserves involve 10,880 NCR land claimants from 16 villages and 68 longhouses of various races throughout the state.

Survey works on 28 locations started in September 2010, and a total of 18 has been completed while another five are expected to follow suit by February 2011. Another five have been excluded as the boundaries are adjacent to titled lands.

Nine of the locations have already been gazetted and published while another nine are in the final stages of publication. The gazetted areas include NCR lands which will be handed over to the community leaders as proof and guarantee of their indisputable ownership.

Meanwhile, 107 areas of NCR land totalling 3777,370.57 hectares have been approved to be surveyed and gazetted as Bumiputera Communal Reserves under Section 6 of the Land Code in 2011. About 57,061 claimants from various communities will benefit from this programme.

The government has allocated RM60 million for NCR land surveys for 2011-2012.

Developed state status

On SCORE, Tengah said it is about power and electricity generation but how will it help the rural people?

“The development of SCORE is an important initiative to develop the Central Region of Sarawak in order to achieve developed state status by 2020.

“It aims to accelerate economic growth and development and raise the quality of life of rural Sarawakians, particularly in the interior,” he added.

The Central Region spans an area of 70,000 sq km with a population of about 861,1000. The development of this corridor will indirectly open up the opportunity to develop the interior of Sibu, Bintulu, Mukah, Sarikei and Kapit Divisions.

Tengah said this could be realised as the Central Region is rich in natural resources such as coal, silica sand and petroleum.

“With SCORE, GDP will increase five-fold whereby per capital income is expected to rise from US$8,000 to US$29,0000 and employment opportunities to 1.6 million jobs by 2030.

“The energy sector will be the main thrust of SCORE development, covering energy-intensive heavy industries such as aluminium, glass and polysilicon, steel and petroleum-based industries.

“The development of energy sector will focus on development of hydro-electric dams and coal-fired power generation stations which have a potential power supply capacity of 28,000 MW by 2030.”

According to the Minister, Bakun HEP dam with 2,400 MW installed capacity is already completed and impoundment is expected to end by April this year.

Murum HEP (944 MW), currently under construction, is expected to be commissioned by 2013 while phase one of the coal-fired Mukah power plant (270 MW) has been operational since April 2009.

“SCORE development will encompass development of infrastructure such as road network, water and power supply, telecommunication facilities, port, airport, industrial park and halal hubs.

“An allocation of RM1.5 billion was approved under the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP) and RM0.3 billion under the first rolling plan of 10MP,” he said.

How can the rural population benefit?

Tengah explained that access roads to the rural areas have be built to reach the dam development site, and this will open up road communication networks for the rural population, thus enabling the government to channel basic amenities such as water and power supply and telecommunications along the route.

“Road infrastructure will become the catalyst for rural economic development as it opens up the opportunity for more productive economic activities such as oil palm or other commercial crop plantations.

“This will provide employment and business opportunities, particularly for the retail sector, while markets in town are accessible to them for their agriculture produce and handicrafts.”

He said eco-tourism will also generate revenue for the rural population as Culture, Adventure and Nature (CAN) and Homestay programmes are tourism products which also provide employment opportunities.

“Fish culture concept such as in Batang Ai hydro-electric dam can also be introduced in SCORE,” he added.

“In short, basic infrastructures will generate the economy of areas surrounding the hydro-electric dams, raising the incomes and quality of life of the local communities, particularly in the interior.”

Populist argument

Sarawak has delivered 4,003 projects for rural new and house rehabilitation (65.4 per cent) as of December last year and the remaining 2,114 are expected to be completed by 2012.

On the issue of oil and gas royalty to be raised from five to 20 per cent as suggested by the opposition, Tengah said it was a populist argument as this comes under the purview of the federal government.

“Based on the context of agreement between federal and state, Sarawak has appealed for higher royalty in periodic negotiations but under the system of federalism, what is important is for the federal government to allocate continuous funds in various forms such as under the Economic Stimulus packages and NKRAs,” he explained.

Sarawak was allocated RM22.76 billion under 9MP, including RM13.25 billion under the mid-term review, RM5.33 billion under NKRAs while the others were private sector funded initiative (RM1.85 billion) and Economic Stimulus package I & II (RM1.33 billion).

Tengah said under the NKRAs where projects are to be implemented in 2010-2012, a hefty RM2 billion has been allocated to build 787.25km of roads in rural Sarawak while rural water supply coverage will be raised from 57 per cent to 90 per cent, benefiting 92,380 households at the cost of RM1.5 billion.

“Under rural electricity supply, RM1.7 billion was allocated to light up 77,538 houses, bringing the extent of coverage from 64 per cent to 95 per cent.

“For construction of new houses and rehabilitation programme, RM0.5 billion was channelled to the state to benefit 16,744 households,” he added.

Open tender

On perceived lack of transparency and politically well-connected companies getting projects without open tender, Tengah said it is a wrong perception as most of the contracts are awarded through open tender.

“There are projects which are complex and need to be implemented quickly and under direct negotiations. These are offered to companies with the technical expertise, experience and sound financial standing but it does not mean there is no transparency,” he stressed.

Tengah said such contracts had to pass through the department and cost committee, chaired by the state secretary before reaching the state cabinet.

At the department and cost committee level, there were no cabinet ministers or politicians involved while at the cabinet level, members are required to declare any conflict of interest and

excused from the meetings accordingly, he added.

Gambier Street

Tengah said the allegation that this development project is a waste is totally untrue.

In the past, he added, Gambier Street was the section of old buildings and wet market for selling fish, vegetables and other products, and also notorious for traffic jams and a dirty image not resonant with the development of the surrounding prime area of Kuching city.

Based on these factors, the state government decided to extend the Kuching Water Front along Gambier Street up to Brooke Dockyard, maintaining the established sturdy wharfs while replacing the old, unsafe buildings with a promenade.

“This project spruces up the city and boosts tourism and recreational activities such as regatta, river floats, jet-skies, exhibitions and others. This also has a ripple effect of benefiting traders in this areas.”

Power tariff the lowest

The average power tariff in Sarawak is lower compared to Semenanjung Malaysia. The rate in the state is 29 sen/kwh compared to 32 sen/kwh in the peninsula although the distribution cost is higher due to the scattered population.

The SEB (Sarawak Energy Berhad) also offers discount of 10 sen per kwh for usage below 100 units. Consumers who use below RM20 monthly have been exempted from payment since two years ago.

“This scheme has benefitted 70,000 to 80,000 consumers (about 300,000 people) throughout Sarawak at the cost of RM9.6 million annually,” Tengah said.

“With power supply from Bakun and Murum HEP in future, the tariff rates for domestic and commercial users will be stable while industrial consumers will get more competitive tariffs.

“The connection of power supply in rural Sarawak is under Rural Electrification Scheme (RES) programme. The cost of connection has been incorporated into project cost, and consumers will have to pay only internal wiring costs and deposit amounting to RM580.

“Consumers can apply for wiring assistance scheme where payment could be staggered over three years,” he said.

Reshuffle of community leaders

Community leaders in Sarawak comprise village chief (ketua kaum), longhouse chiefs (tuai rumah) and Kapitans who are appointed based on experience and knowledge of traditions and culture of their respective communities.

“The state government realises most are in the 46-75 year-old category. But the question of their education standing is not an issue in the context of rural and interior Sarawak. What is more important is they have the leadership capacity and ability to resolve local community problems,” Tengah noted.
Open door development

Sarawak practises the ‘open door’ development concept and this will continue. Development of SCORE and provision of infrastructures throughout the state will enable Sarawak to become a well-known and attractive tourism and investment destination in this region.

According to Tengah, new growth areas will be set up throughout the state based on the approach of a critical mass population of 5,000 in every new growth area.

“Infrastructure progress has reduced the digital gap not only between urban and rural areas but also Sarawak with the outside world,” he said.