On 30 May 2022, IOI Pelita Plantation (IOI Pelita) and eight local communities from the Tinjar area of Sarawak signed a landmark final settlement agreement, ending a decades-long land dispute that started before IOI Corporation Berhad (IOI) acquired the joint venture company with the Sarawak State Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA) in 2007.
The signing ceremony was witnessed by officials from the Sarawak State Government, community leaders, and representatives from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
The final settlement agreement is unprecedented in its nature and significance. Pursuant to the agreement, IOI Pelita will relinquish or excise 4,615 hectares of land from its Provisional Lease, and the Sarawak State Government will subsequently gazette that excised land as Native Communal Reserve for agricultural use by the eight affected communities, effectively giving these communities an ownership title to the land. All the parties have agreed that any further division of the excised land among the eight communities, should that be their wish, must be in accordance with the native customary law.
Over the course of this land dispute, there have been many attempts to resolve the dispute, including through the court system and mediation. However, the dispute was complicated as it involves eight different communities comprising more than 3,500 settlers, with many of them having overlapping claims on the land. Furthermore, at the heart of the dispute was the issue of the correct interpretation of the state legal ownership versus native customary rights over the provisional lease land.
In 2018, a new attempt to resolve the dispute was launched by IOI Pelita, with guidance provided by RSPO and certain NGOs to ensure the resolution process is conducted transparently and follows the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) process.
This time around, emphasis has been placed on extensive stakeholder engagement and regular communication with all the affected parties. The resolution process started with the formulation of a resolution plan which was approved by RSPO. In the end, each stakeholder made its utmost effort to contribute to the success of the resolution plan. For IOI Pelita, it has agreed to excise more than half of its land to make it available to the local communities. The Sarawak State Government has agreed to provide the communities with a title to that land while the communities have agreed to divide the land among themselves according to native customary law. The civil society has contributed towards building the communities' awareness and conducted community participatory mapping to help them understand the complex land-related issues. Lawyers and government officials provided the communities with expertise on legal and native customary rights. The negotiation between IOI Pelita and the communities was facilitated by Dr Ramy Bulan, a renowned scholar, and expert on indigenous people’s customary rights.
IOI would like to express its sincere gratitude to all the above-mentioned stakeholders for their contribution toward the successful closing of this long-standing dispute. The company is looking forward to a new chapter in its relationship with the neighbouring communities and wishes them a prosperous future.