Abuse of TOL sparks land rights review

National 3 minutes, 42 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

THE government is currently reviewing its policies on the distribution of state-owned land to the public through the TOL (Temporary Occupation Licence) and is in the process of drafting new policies to ensure that TOL land will not be "misused", the Minister of Development announced yesterday.

Speaking briefly to The Brunei Times at the sidelines of yesterday's State Legislative Council (LegCo) meeting, Pehin Orang Kaya Hamzah Pahlawan Dato Seri Setia Hj Abdullah Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar said that his ministry was trying to find another way to give land other than through TOL.

"What we are trying to do is to assess what are the real requirements for a TOL. Basically, there are three: housing, agriculture and industrial (use)," the minister said.

"What we are trying to see is how can we give away land for these three purposes without going through the Temporary Occupation Licence (TOL). In other words, even looking at TOL land that has been provided to see whether it has been used properly," he added.

During the morning session at LegCo yesterday, Pehin Dato Hj Abdullah told the assembly that most of the land that TOLs had been issued for since the 1950s, when the TOL system of granting use of government land was introduced, had not been developed.

Citing the Land Code, the minister said that TOL, among other things, "provides for the occupation and cultivation of state land by natives of the state under temporary licences".

"Sometimes TOL land is sold. Just three days ago, I heard that one TOL plot of three acres was even diwaqafkan (donated for an auspicious cause)! From there, it can be seen that TOL land is being misused," he told the council.

"Because of this, the government, through the Ministry of Development, is thinking up a new way so that TOL land can be given but not misused. Therefore, new approaches will be made, but it will not be like how the TOL is now," he added.

The minister's announcement came in response to remarks by the Brunei-Muara District Representative Hj Bakar Mansor, who said people were no longer being granted TOLs and called on the ministry to "rethink" this policy and allow people to be granted TOLs so they can develop the land.

As part of his reply, the minister said, "Insyallah, when these (new) policies are formulated and approved, it (TOLs) will be granted. But for now, I feel that the status of TOL is no longer sustainable. Under the TOL that exists now, a lot of the land is used for purposes other than those prescribed in the TOLs."

Pehin Dato Hj Abdullah was also subject to queries from LegCo members about the high number of 55-year leases on government land that are currently expiring.

Although the leases were issued for 55 years, they include a provision that require the leaseholders to pay the government six per cent of the land value in order to secure the right to renew the lease.

During the morning session, Hj Bakar asked the Development Minister to consider exempting the leaseholders who had built their homes on the land from paying the premium, or to reduce the amount of the premium.

However, the minister rejected the proposal as he said this would encourage the attitude of receiving things from the government for free, which he said was not sustainable.

LegCo member Dato Paduka Hj Idris Hj Abas asked for the minister to consider "flexibility" of the premium payment for leaseholders if certain conditions were met.

He suggested that flexibility should shown to leaseholders who occupy only one plot of land. Leaseholders occupying several plots could be shown "flexibility" for only one of the plots he occupied, Dato Paduka Hj Idris suggested.

Defining a third condition, Dato Paduka Hj Idris said, "He is not allowed to sell (sic) this land and can only bequeath it to his heir."

However, the Development Minister noted that the premium was part of the "legacy" of an old policy drawn up some 50 years ago."The time has come for this ministry to review this and it is hoped a number of new policies will be formulated as a way forward in attending to issues relating to land," he said.

The Brunei Times