FOOTBALL, football and more football. This is the most talked-about topic at work places, coffee shops and homes as the Fifa World Cup fever hits the globe.
But at home ground, there is another topic that has gotten quite a lot of people talking – the new land lease renewal premium rates.
This topic, although affecting a handful of people who have paid their land premiums before the new policy was announced on May 14, can be a flash point for the ruling government in the next state election.
Datuk Amar Morshidi Abdul Ghani
At the height of the Sibu by-election, Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud announced the new flat rates to take effect on June 1.
The Barisan had hoped that the announcement would swing the votes in their favour.
For residential properties, it was RM1,000 for a terraced house, RM3,000 (semi-detached) and RM6,000 (detached). For shophouses, the rates were RM40,000 per unit in Kuching, Sibu, Miri and Bintulu, RM20,000 for Sarikei, Sri Aman, Kapit, Limbang, Mukah, Betong and Samarahan, and RM10,000 per unit at for the rural towns of Lundu, Asajaya, Niah, Marudi and their likes.
The rates for agricultural land was RM5,000 per acre for town land, RM2,500 per acre for suburban land and RM200 per acre for country land.
They are the lowest premiums in the country. The previous premiums were calculated based on a formula which included the market value of the land. When the state’s plan to introduce the old formula was made known in the 2006 state election, it became a huge issue.
The Land and Survey Department took pains to explain the formula to the public. It was even said that the premium was among the lowest in the country.
The people might have never fully agreed with it but they eventually grew to accept it. So, when the flat rates were announced, there was as much a feeling of relief as there was dissatisfaction.
The calls for refunds should have been expected by the state.
If the refunds were not given, the party most likely to feel the brunt of it is the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP).
After all, the land premium was one of the issues that contributed to the party’s defeat in the eight constituencies it contested in the 2006 state election. If this is not ironed out soon, the party will definitely face an uphill battle in the state election.
How SUPP responded to the call for refunds is questionable. It set up counters to register landowners who had paid their premium, and this was met with stinging criticism from its nemesis, the DAP.
Talking point: Customers choosing football merchandise at a shop in Kuching as the Fifa World Cup fever hits the globe.
“If SUPP is in the state government, why did it need to set up those counters? Can’t it just go to the Land and Survey Department to get the records?” asked the Opposition party.
Recently, however, the State Cabinet agreed to consider refunding landowners who face hardship.
Announcing the Cabinet decision on Friday, State Secretary Datuk Amar Morshidi Abdul Ghani said in a statement: “If it is a matter of helping those who had suffered due to the payment of their old rates of renewal for lease, the state is ready to alleviate their hardship.”
This is quite a grey area because people naturally want what they feel is rightly theirs.
Some shopkeepers in Siburan are asking for refunds amounting to about RM40,000 each. But then again, another side of the argument is that if a person can afford to own a house, shop or land, or more than one property, surely he or she can afford the premiums, so why the fuss?
So, how does the state plan to quantify “hardship” before giving out refunds?
Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Alfred Jabu said on Saturday that the refunds would be considered case by case.
But in Miri on that same day, SUPP president Tan Sri Dr George Chan, who is also a Deputy Chief Minister, said that refunds were possible for property owners who were in debt and those whose businesses were suffering.
But what if one used one’s life savings to pay the premium and had no money to feed the family. Wouldn’t that also qualify as “hardship”?