Squatters and Affordable Houses in Urban Areas: Law and Policy in Malaysia

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The squatters' problems are still prevalent in few states such as in Selangor, Penang and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur. Among the issues are relocation of squatters, compensation to squatters upon their removal from the squatters' area, distribution of low cost houses and the criteria for the selection for low cost houses. There is an urgent need to address squatters' issues fairly and equitably as they may also be part of the underprivileged masses where the government has a major role to play in addressing their problems.

At present, Malaysia is working towards realising the vision of becoming a developed country by 2020 in which the development of urban areas has become the main agenda for development. The main challenge is to ensure that all peoples, irrespective of the income group level will be able to own a house or a place of shelter. Among the unfortunate are the squatters in the urban areas. In giving way for development, the government has in many occasions requested squatters to vacate the land they are illegally occupying and there were many cases where, the squatters were reluctant or refused to move out from the land, and instead, claiming that they have equitable or even proprietary interest over the land. This persistent attitude has certainly delayed the projects planned by the government or the private sectors. The authorities have carefully looked into this problem towards ensuring that squatters will enjoy an equal access to proper housing. The number of squatters in the state of Selangor and Kuala Lumpur are shown in Table 1 and 2 below:

The data shows that there is a sudden reduction in the number of squatters in Selangor from 2005-2007 and Kuala Lumpur from 1990-2003. This may be associated to the Zero Squatters Policy undertaken by both states. Under this policy, the states targeted the year 2005 as Zero Squatters year. Though the target was not achieved in 2005 but the governments have made serious efforts to clear squatters' areas by the end of 2006. In Selangor, this is in conjunction with the aim to make Selangor a Developed State in 2006. In Kuala Lumpur though, the objective was not fully achieved but to a certain extent, the government has managed to reduce the number of squatters in Kuala Lumpur. This has been done through various housing schemes which specially cater to the needs of the low income group.

2. A Brief View on the Historical Background of Illegal Settlement in Kuala Lumpur / Selangor

The history of the growth of squatter settlements in Kuala Lumpur can be divided into two historical periods; first, pre independence and second, post independence. Prior to the intervention of the colonial powers in Malaya, the system of land ownership was governed by customary laws. The customary land law is very much influenced by Islamic principles. In Islam proprietary rights over the land would subsist as long as the said land is cultivated and occupied. One of the principles of Islamic land law is 'ihya al mawat' where land is not owned by anybody, unoccupied land known as 'dead land' may be cultivated and the cultivator would entitled to possess it. The cultivator was required to pay 'ushr' to the state. This was practiced during the Caliphate of Umar where ushr is to be paid as tax. This concept however was replaced by a new system brought in by the British known as the Deed system where land belonged to the Crown. The same idea was introduced in Malaysia where land now belongs to the state. (1) Ownership of land is only recognised through land registration. Hence, whoever occupies state land without authorisation is considered as an illegal occupier and may be prosecuted as provides in section 425 of the National Land Code 1965.

Earlier, Peninsular Malaysia was regarded as a land of bounty by the British. Thus, during their occupation, their primary concern was to exploit the natural wealth and resources of the country and the economic policy was geared principally towards capitalist development of tin-mining and export-oriented agricultural industries. …