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Squatters – to be or not to be?

(Kampung Baru – 100 year old village in middle of KL is now a tourist spot instead of being labeled as squatter area – picture: Wikipedia)

It seems like, in this country, the skyline of a town, city or even country changes depending on which side of the bed the government wakes up in the morning.

I was driving this morning when I heard a news snippet over the radio that Pak Lah asked the KL City to be clean and squatter free. What a timely statement – after the eviction of “squatters” from Kampung Berembang. To tell you the truth, I do not know the details of things happened in Kampung Berembang – the government says that the villagers are on private land and as such they are squatters but the villagers says that they are not. To understand the background story behind Kampung Berembang, read here. Somewhere in the middle, Tian Chuan (damn, what he was thinking he was doing!) tried to be a hero and ended up being arrested for attempted murder.

I have seen some squatter areas and things are not looking too good down there – in terms of facilities, health and basic needs. So, if the government is trying to relocate these people to a better location, by all means, they should be commended and supported. Basically this is what the Selangor Government’s “Zero Squatter” policy is trying to achieve but after reading the story behind this fiasco, getting people to move out without any compensation or alternative housing is grossly unfair. Agree that the “squatters” had ample notice to move out (almost a year!) but the right alternative arrangements must be made in the background as well.

Then again, the problem is this…

How do you define squatter area? Part II of an article at GRDC tries to define what will amount to a squatter and the definition given covers most of the things that we will normally call as squatter area. In the case of Kampung Berembang, the government argues that the people are living on land that does not belong to them and the Government has exhausted all necessary legal avenues. What if the “squatters” been living there for the past 50 years. What about if the “so-called illegal” building been on the land for the past 100 years? Would that make a big difference in the government’s decision to evict the squatters?

In the case of Indian temples which have been standing for more than 100 years, the government was quick to label it as “squatters” despite clear objection from the many people and numerous appeals to gazette the land. There is little compensation or in most situations, the temple committee is left high and dry. In case of Kampung Berembang, it is sitting on prime land – so is there a reasonable cause to evict the people to develop the land?

The solution is define what amount to “squatter” clearly – what is deemed as squatters now may not be so 30 – 100 years ago. And if the government or the legal owner wants to take over the property, what is the alternatives for the people who been on the land for years. Surely, asking them to buzz off is unfair especially when the government or the legal owner had been closing one eye on the squatter for years. If they wanted to act, they should have done so 30 – 100 years ago. Or take into consideration when the development plans were drawn up.

Will the government come clean on this? Tag: Law

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