‘Malay Reservation Land’ refers to a special category of land confined within the boundaries of a state which can only be owned and dealt over by Malays or persons deemed native residents of the state. Article 89(6) of the Federal Constitution 1957 defines “Malay Reservation” as land reserved for alienation to Malays or to natives of the State in which it lies. The same provision also states that "Malay” includes any person who under the law of the state in which he is resident is treated as a Malay for the purpose of the reservation land.
The first legislation which introduced on Malay Reservation was the Federation Malay State, FMS 1913 Enactment for the Federated Malay States of Pahang, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Selangor with main purpose to control power of land alienation by the state and to protect the Malay land owners from selling their lands to non-Malays. After 20 years in force, it was further amended as FMS Enactment No. 30 in 1933 and later amended in 1928 as FMC Cap142 which is still in force till today.
On a Conference of the Residents of the four Federated Malay States held in 1908, the issue on the sale of Malay land was addressed for the first time. Due to poverty, the Malays sold or leased their lands to Non-Malays. The British representatives were alerted to the drastic increase of land sales initiated by Malay land owners to foreign immigrants. It was anticipated that such acts would inevitability affects the political power of the Malays. The British officials claimed that the declaration of Malay reservation land was aimed at protecting and preserving the right to land ownership of the Malays in Peninsular Malaysia.
Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur
The declaration and reservation was not confined to the Malay reservation land but included several types of land which could only be owner or dealt over by Malays such as the Malay holdings, sultanate land, Malacca customary land, Malay agricultural settlements, the customary tenure of Negeri Sembilan and its Lengkongan. A proposal from R.J.B. Clayton, the then District Officer of Ulu Langat suggested that only the Malays were likely to form a permanent agricultural population and labour force in the Federated Malay States, thus their rights to the land should be protected. If not, it would defeat the main objective of the British policy to create a permanent agriculture population. The issues of Malay ancestral land sales reappeared at the Conference of Residents in November 1911. The four British Residents, the Chief Secretary and the High Commissioner unanimously agreed to pass a common Enactment applicable to all four Malay states. The enactment aimed at protecting Malay rights and ensures that they would not become homeless in their own country. The Enactment was passed and came into force on January 1st 1913.
According to a data, there were 3.0 million hectares of Malay Reservation Land when the country became free of the British yoke in 1957. Now some 54 years down the road, the figure has been almost halved to 1.7 million hectares. Reports on the land ‘lost’ through land acquisition were disturbing. In Selangor for example, some 9,000 hectares of MRL were ‘lost’ through compulsory acquisition. Although the Federal Constitution requires State Authorities to replace every acre of MRL taken away through compulsory land acquisition, only about one – third of the 9,000 hectares have been replaced. In Kedah the 80 MRL owners have lost their land in Pantai Chenang Langkawi through compulsory acquisition in 1990 for the Pelangi Beach Resort.
Pelangi Beach Resort
The same goes to some 167 lots totaling 1,000 acres in Kerpan to give way for aquaculture project with a group from Saudi Arabia. In Negeri Sembilan in 1994, more than 600 MRL owners in Rasah, lost 930 hectares to compulsory land acquisition for a massive development of Seremban 2. In Johor some 26,000 acres of MRL in Tanjung Langsat – Tanjung Piai were acquired by the state authority for a project developed by Kuok Brothers in collaboration with UEM Group. In Malacca some 300 acres of MRL in Kampung Pantai Kundur and Tanah Merah were acquired for ‘buffer zone’ of Petronas and in Terengganu some 300 acres of land were acquired for the developments of a resort. The big question now is has it been replaced as required by the law??
Table 1: Malay Reservation Area and Population in Kuala Lumpur/Selangor, 2000
Source: Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan
The Malay Reservation Areas (MRA) in Klang valley were created under the Malay Reservation Enactment of 1913 and the Land Enactment of 1987. The objective of the legislation was to ensure that the Malays would be able to own land, especially in urban areas, and a provision of the enactment is that an MRA may not, either through sale or lease, be transferred to non-Malays.