Xavier: No more ‘under the table’ land deals

03 May 2019

Published by https://www.thestar.com.my

MALAYSIA – PUTRAJAYA: There will be no more “under the table” dealings involving land, says the Water, Land and Natural Resources Ministry in vowing to keep everything transparent.

Minister Dr Xavier Jayakumar said they were doing an audit on all federal land that has been given out over the past 20 years.

“We want to know why, to whom and what rate was paid when the land was given to other parties.

“We are also reviewing some contracts that were given out. We have set up a task force so that if there are issues, we can report it to the Cabinet,” he said in an interview.

He also said the ministry has stopped giving out land unless there is a directive from the government.

“If it needs to be done, all transactions will be done at market value.

“Whether it’s outright sale or lease of land, they will have to pay the market price,” he said, adding that valuation would be done by the Valuation and Property Services Depart­ment.

Xavier said this was the best way to safeguard the interests of the people and ensure that government’s assets are given back to the public in the right manner.

He also said the ministry was looking at mineral exploration throughout the country, with the tin mining industry set to be revived.

“Malaysia was the largest tin mining country in the world. We stopped mining about 35 years ago, with the main reason being the price was not attractive enough.

“The price of tin is very attractive currently. We are going into tin mining again and giving interested parties the chance to go into it,” he said.

This also included bauxite mining and export, for which the standard operating procedure has been prepared by the ministry and will be implemented in due course.

The price of tin is about US$20,000 (RM82,650) a tonne and Malaysia could gain billions of ringgit in revenue as the country has huge tin deposits, said Xavier.

The Lands and Mines Department has mapped the nation to pinpoint the location of tin deposits.

“We have a list of minerals that we can mine in Malaysia. But at the same time, we will practise sustainable mining to ensure that the environment is taken care of.

The ministry is also embarking on new projects, namely the mapping of underground water in Malaysia and setting up of a SOP to combat forest and peat fires.

“We have huge reserves of underground water that have yet to be tapped. We’ve been using surface water, which is only 5%.

“We are working with Japan and other countries to map underground water, which can hopefully be done by the end of this year,” said Xavier.

This is aimed at overcoming water shortages in states like Johor and Kedah.

Within his first 30 days in office as minister, Xavier ensured that Selangor’s long-standing water issue was solved.

And within a year, the ministry had finalised 74% of the country’s international land border with Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei.

It had also constructed 35 tubular wells in water stress areas, activated 25 underground wells in nine locations nationwide to prevent peat fires and declared the Jerai and Lembah Kinta as geoparks.

There is one specific mission close to Xavier’s heart that he aims to achieve – saving the Malayan tigers from extinction.

“There are only about 180 of them left,” he said.

Thus, the ministry has declared war against poachers, with amendments to the Wildlife Conservation Act slated to be done by the end of the year.

“Under the new law, if you are caught poaching for animals, you can be imprisoned for more than 10 years and fined up to RM5mil. Presently, the maximum fine is RM500,000,” he said.

The harsher laws go hand-in-hand with the government’s “Save Our Malaysian Tiger” campaign, a tiger conservation programme launched in March.

The ministry is also planning to introduce three laws namely the Foresters Act, Land Consultants Act and Water Resources Act.

By the end of the 11th Malaysia Plan next year, Xavier also wants to achieve the target of reducing the average non-revenue water (NRW) to 31%, with the aim to eliminate wastage and loss of treated water.

“Within the next 15 years, we will bring down the NRW to manageable levels in the country,” he said.

Asked to name the things he was most satisfied with in the past year, the discussions on new water tariffs with state governments topped the list.

“Most states are satisfied with my reasoning on why water tariffs must go up to strengthen the water industry,” said Xavier, adding that rationalisation of the water industry will be announced by year end.

On the resumption of the East Coast Rail Link project, Xavier voiced his concerns on how the rail link connecting Selangor and Kelantan would affect the environment.

“We have a committee that will discuss it all together. We have very strict rules. For example, if we have to go to the extent of removing trees, those trees would have to be transplanted elsewhere,” he said.

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