The long and the short of it

by Sidi Munan
April 25, 2010, Sunday
Source: Sunday Post

APRIL, for several hundred longhouse and village chiefs from all districts, has been a busy month indeed.

The seminars organised by the Housing and Urban Development Ministry to discuss the proposed New Longhouse Concept have kept them occupied in town.

However, for the many townies — those with close connections with the longhouses or villages, some even owning a room (bilik) or house there — the whole exercise was a curiosity.

While they did not expect to be invited to the seminars because there wouldn’t have been enough room for everybody, they would have liked to learn about the new concept if only they had the chance to attend, say, a public forum on it.

They only read about it in the media; even the statements from several political personalities who should have known better were not helpful to their understanding of the concept.

Not that their city cousins underrate the ability and the intelligence of their respective Tuai Rumah who attended those talks but that they — working, studying or living in the city — could have contributed new ideas too.

Those working for insurance companies may have ideas about fire cover; the architects or engineers have some comments on the model of the new longhouse. Those from the Fire Department may also have advice on fire prevention.

Some members of the local Advocates Association may be interested in the technicalities of the registration of title.

Among the Dayak Community there are a number of these people — professionals as well as individuals with vast experience of life in the longhouse as well as outside it.

As a result of the scarcity of information available to them, the curiosity has developed into an anxiety, raising more questions than answers.

The architecture

Even without the benefit of seeing the actual model, there will be no disagreement over the new concept if most of the security and health features and are provided for — the firebreaks, fire extinguishers, fire resistant materials, ventilation, etc.

That the new longhouse will be fitted with modern facilities is not in doubt, if the ministry of housing is involved in its supervision and loan processing.

The title

What requires further clarification, however, is in respect of the issuance of the title to land on which the longhouse stands.

Questions range from:

  • Which is which — brand new longhouse or existing ones or both?
  • Is the title issued to the longhouse as one entity with all the residents as co-proprietors?
  • Does the title include the Payong Rumah? This is an area of land ranging from 20 to 40 yards around the longhouse reserved for animals and fowls.
  • Is the land under title confined to the space occupied by each and every bilik (‘apartment’)? In this case, the title excludes the Payong Rumah altogether, but the customary rights remain with the eligible residents.
  • Will the new longhouse based on the model have a Payong Rumah at all?
  • Is it the policy to disallow construction of single dwelling houses within the payong rumah?
  • What kind of title is it going to be: Mixed Zone or NAL (Native Area Land)?
  • How long is the lease — 60, 90 years or is it in perpetuity?
  • Any premium?

The anxiety

The proposal has got mixed reactions. One Penghulu, Michael Derin, was reported to have expressed his reservation to The Borneo Post (April 9). In his own words, “For example, some people might mortgage their land. If it is for a good cause such as paying for their children’s education, it is okay. But what about those who don’t manage their money well? If they fail to pay back their loans, their land could be taken from them.”

In a worse case scenario like this, is there any mechanism — an insurance device — whereby the debt in respect of the particular bilik is underwritten through something like First Premium payment should something dreadful happen (death, incapacity, loss of earning) to the loanee within the next five to 10 years? This is to avoid legal complications such as the foreclosure.

Are the insurers prepared to cover fire risks?

The bilik rights

In the existing longhouse there exist the bilik rights enjoyed by the owner(s) of the bilik.

What happens if the ownership changes hands as in the case of a foreclosure by a financial institution, or an attachment by a private moneylender?

Is there a mechanism, a deal of sorts, in this worse case scenario whereby the debt is somehow written off so that the bilik rights are intact?

Otherwise, the bilik owner loses all his or her rights and interests in that property. To that extent the power of the TR as custodian of land is being undermined; worse the house may literally break up. The new owner may be somebody else or a body corporate.

In the case of several people in the bilik, under whose name shall the property be registered?

Ownership of the certificate of title to land is always one of the most valuable possessions anyone is proud to keep. It is a property registered in   your name. Under the provisions of the Land Code 1958, as a registered proprietor, you can do what you like with it, subject to the conditions of the title — Mixed Zone (MZ) or Native Area Land (NAL) or any other restrictions imposed by the issuing authority.

It is normal for the issuing authority to impose certain restrictions on dealings with land: no transfer within a specified time without the consent of the Director of Land and Survey.

It appears that only the dwellers of the new longhouse with the title in hand are eligible to participate in the Rumah Mesra Rakyat programme, a scheme to solve housing problems for the poor members of the country. If this condition is not relaxed, this particular programme is not for them. There must be devised some other scheme to cater for their needs, just so that they have a decent roof above their heads.

Title to land in traditional villages

One ketua masyarakat, such as KK Jiku Nader of Entingan, would welcome the issuance of title to land on which individual house stands, as well; in fact hundreds of titles have been issued to villagers in the Kampung Tradisi in Kuching and elsewhere.

His proposal merits consideration but the main discussions at the seminars revolved around the brand new longhouses.

Individual homes around longhouses

I have seen these in many longhouses around their compounds. They are owned by the extended families or even by newcomers. Are they to be given title in respect of their land too?

Pilot projects

The long and the short of it is that the new concept of the longhouse should be further discussed by as many people as possible so that some kind of consensus is arrived at.

Over any new idea, expect no 100 per cent agreement on all aspects of it; so it is with the concept in question.

Accept criticisms as a fact of life and recognise scepticism as part of human nature.

Since ‘Seeing is Believing’, a couple of model longhouses should be built somewhere to prove that the concept works.

Try one on alienated land (government given) and the other on land claimed by native owners and see what happens.

Nothing succeeds like success.

Personal preference

My position on the longhouse concept, old or new, remains that I prefer individual or single houses. The longhouse fires happening with regular frequencies have a major bearing on my choice of houses.