Questions over land
alienation in the Klang Valley
By Salleh Buang
Thanks to the power of the Press, investigative journalism and increasing
awareness of the laws of the nation among people, public horror has
rightly been expressed over the ecological destruction - carried out in
the name of development - that Shah Alam has suffered.
Selangor has been under the nation’s spotlight since last month for the
extensive damage that has been caused to the Bukit Cahaya Seri Alam
Agriculture Park. Proudly calling itself “the most developed State in the
nation” all these years, Selangor has now fallen from grace, earning the
reputation of being the most ineffective State in environmental
All the national newspapers as well as electronic media had something to
say about it, and a flurry of questions were asked by several quarters. No
doubt, some of these were rhetorical, but the majority demanded full and
Regrettably, so far, full and frank disclosure has not been forthcoming.
Polite answers were given by senior State officials; some were evasive,
while others fuelled even more questions.
The State Government has sent a preliminary report on the affair to the
Prime Minister, soon after the matter became national news.
We have been told that the PM rejected the report as inadequate, and a
senior Cabinet minister has confirmed that a more factual explanation was
Just as the Cabinet wants, members of the general public too want to be
given the full picture.
The national daily that first broke the story of this tragic environmental
catastrophe in Shah Alam posed several tough questions in its continuing
reports. However, I shall focus on only three issues:
First, is it really possible that in this age of instant communication,
every member of the State Government machinery is ignorant about an area
as large as 1,200ha being felled and cleared, day in and day out, with the
use of bulldozers?
This is not an area several hundred kilometres away in deep, impenetrable
jungle. It is practically next door to the Menteri Besar’s Office and
close to the State Mosque.
Second, out of the 35 development companies that were alienated plots of
the land by the Selangor State Authority, 19 had carried out earthworks
even before planning permission was granted. If this is true, were these
companies given special dispensation? Were they exempted from the
requirements of the law? If they were not, why was no action taken against
A statement, purportedly issued by the Permanent Committee on Housing,
Building Management and Squatters (Jawatankuasa Tetap Perumahan,
Pengurusan Bangunan dan Setinggan), is really perplexing, if not outright
ridiculous and silly.
The committee said that it “is not sure about the names of the companies”
that were alienated these lands, and added, “we need more time to find out
who was given which lot”. Unbelievable!
The third question concerns the substantive environmental law of the
nation. The Environmental Quality Act 1974 clearly stipulates that only
housing projects covering more than 50ha are required to furnish
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports.
Therefore, the alienation of State land in lots smaller than 50ha must
have clearly been aimed at “protecting and shielding” these lucky
developers from having to comply with the Act.
Who orchestrated all this? Who devised the strategy? Was this alienation
exercise done in good faith? Did it ever take into consideration public
interest and the maintenance of sustainable development?
No one questions the discretionary power of State Authorities to alienate
“State land”, a term clearly defined in Section 5 of the National Land
Code 1965 (NLC). After all, it is also spelt out clearly in Section 42,
when read together with Section 76.
Section 42 deals with “powers of disposal” while Section 76 explains the
“meaning of alienation”. Section 43 then goes on to describe “the persons
and bodies” to whom alienation can be done.
Individuals come under paragraph (a), while companies fall under paragraph
The companies that benefited from the land alienation exercise in Shah
Alam recently fall under Section 43(b) of the NLC. They, the favoured few,
now have to face the public’s wrath.
The question that must be asked is this: Was the selection of these lucky
35 companies done openly and fairly? Members of the public would certainly
like to know more about the identity and background of these lucky
corporations that, having received precious bounties from the State,
immediately thumbed their corporate noses at the law and began their
criminal assault on the frail environment.
It is indeed a pity that the NLC has never seen fit to impose a limit on
the size of land a State Authority can alienate. Everything is left to its
discretion. The State Authority decides who shall receive, how large an
area it shall be, what terms and conditions are to be imposed and even the
category of use the land will be subject to. Even the Federal Government
cannot interfere - at least as far as the text of the NLC goes.
While Section 5 of the NLC simply defines the term “State Authority” to
mean “the Ruler or Governor of the State”, in practical terms it refers to
the State Executive Council (Exco). In simple language, land alienation is
solely within the discretion of the Menteri Besar and his Exco members -
people who collectively wield political power in the State.
It needs to be emphasised, and these political leaders need to be
reminded, that this “discretionary power” of the State Authority is not
absolute. Like all discretionary power, it is “fettered” or limited, and
one of these fetters is the principle of bona fide.
Land alienation must be for the general good of the people, the citizens.
It should never serve as a tool or an instrument to enrich just a few,
more so if its exercise results in causing misery and heartache to the
public at large.
A good friend of mine, a seasoned land surveyor and one-time president of
the Association of Land Surveyors Malaysia (Pejuta), once said at a forum
I attended that “land is not the absolute property of the State Authority.
It belongs to God, and the State Authority is merely a Trustee. So,
fulfill the trust properly and honestly, for you will surely be held
accountable, if not later in your lifetime, then in the Hereafter”.
These memorable words were said more than a decade ago, but I still
remember them clearly, as if they were spoken only yesterday. In uttering
them, this gentleman echoed a truth etched in all our hearts. The sad
thing is that simple, honest truth carries no premium today.
Salleh Buang is senior advisor of a company specialising in competitive
intelligence. He is also active in training and public speaking and can be