LegCo: Questions posed over the law of the land

National 4 minutes, 7 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

THE department's budget of $12,179,000 for 2010-2011 was approved by the council yesterday during the seventh day of LegCo's sixth session.

Lengthy processes involved in changing the registered intended use of land and transfer of ownership of land to heirs were among the top topics of debate when the Land Department came under review by the State Legislative Council (LegCo) on Saturday.

Prominent architect and LegCo member Dato Paduka Hj Idris Hj Abas remarked that applications for changing the registered use of land was too slow, often taking years to process. Even after such a long wait, some applications were not even approved, he added.

The Brunei Times notes that the Land Department says on its website that the "changing of land conditions" should take about six months.

"I don't have to go further into this because such cases exist and can be proven. I only seek the relevant authorities for their attention to expedite this process," Dato Paduka Hj Idris said.

"I would also like to know whether the delays due to insufficient manpower?" he asked.

The Development Minister Pehin Orang Kaya Hamzah Pahlawan Dato Seri Setia Hj Abdullah Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar replied that the ministry was aware of the delays.

He acknowledged that not enough staff was among the causes for delay, but also shared that it was also due to the fact that the changing of land conditions had to comply with the use of the land in question in accordance with the masterplan.

"This is what is currently being studied by the ministry," Pehin Dato Hj Abdullah said.

However, Pehin Kapitan Lela Diraja Dato Paduka Goh King Chin, a LegCo member representing the business community, highlighted the lengthy delays involved in registering a change in the land conditions with regards to zoning.

In that respect, he asked for "proper guidelines" to help the public understand the procedures better.

In response, the Development Minister said, "This matter is known and it is hoped that in the future, that the changing of land conditions will be carried out faster."

He added that the matter is being looked at from a "masterplan perspective" and that the ministry is working towards having the masterplan being ratified as a statute. This would mean that any changes made to facilitate the process of registering changes in land use will come with statutory strength.

"Once it has (statutory strength), the planning or use of land in areas already designated for commercial use is hoped to be made easier, depending on the existing land conditions," Pehin Dato Hj Abdullah said.

Pehin Dato Goh also asked the ministry to consider allowing Permanent Residents (PR) who are married to own "landed property".

"We are aware that the Strata Title Act was implemented last year, but most local PRs still prefer 'landed property' (properties sold including the land underneath the building)," he said.

"There are many housing development projects now. Local PRs can increase the demand for landed property, so the property industry will grow," he added.

To this, the minister said that the introduction of the strata title was aimed at helping PRs own their own homes. He pointed out that PRs in Singapore were not allowed to own landed property. "Over here, we are already being very flexible," Pehin Dato Hj Abdullah said.

LegCo member Orang Kaya Maha Bijaya Hj Othman Uking raised the issue of the length of time it takes to transfer ownership of land to an heir.

He said that under the current system, a change of name takes "too long", sometimes more than a year.

OKMB Hj Othman pointed out that civil servants who had inherited land faced problems in securing government loans since they did not have the title of the land they had legally inherited in their own name to use as collateral.

He suggested that registering the change of ownership could be made easier and faster if done through the Internet.

The LegCo member also suggested that district land officers be vested with the authority to register the change of ownership, which he said was possible in the past.

However, Minister Pehin Dato Hj Abdullah said that bequeathing land was not as simple as passing it down to an heir. The transfer had to abide by the land conditions set.

In some cases, the minister noted, the land cannot be handed down because the heir no longer held the status of rakyat jati ("indigenous citizen") due to marriage or other reasons.

These types of issues had to be looked at first, he added.

Pehin Dato Hj Abdullah also clarified that district land officers never had the authority to approve change of ownership, and that this power was held by a "much higher authority".

The Brunei Times