Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Govt has legal right to convert - The Star

Jun 3, 2008

A senior lawyer in his 80s said all land matters came under the purview of the state government – including conver-sion.

“Allowing conversion would ensure that property remained in the family,” he opined, adding that once converted to freehold status, the government could only compel the landowners to sell the property under the Land Acquisi-tion Act if certain conditions were met.

“Among these requirements are that the state would need to acquire the land for some public purpose and even then, compensation according to mar-ket value must be made,” he said.

Lawyer Goh Kok Thye said the Federal Constitution and National Land Code (NLC) clearly empo-wered the state to convert the land’s status.

“Although there is no specific provision under the NLC for land conversion, the law clearly allows it,” he said.

Another lawyer, Geeta Suresh Chand said state-owned land could be alienated through free-hold or leasehold grants and the government was well within its rights to facilitate any conversion it deemed fit.

“All conversion premiums will go to the state’s coffers which can then be used to further develop Penang,” she said.

However, lawyer Eugene Cheong said a systematic conver-sion application mechanism must be developed.

“Normally, the state alienates its land to the Penang Deve- lopment Corporation (PDC). The majority of those who will bene- fit from this policy are low and medium cost leasehold home-owners who may not have access to legal representation and are not well-versed in procedural land matters.

“Lim’s announcement is timely and much welcomed but now that the floodgates are open, we must make sure that the layman is able to benefit,” he said, adding that to convert the property’s status, a formal appli-cation must be made to the Land Office which will then forward the application to the state land executive commit- tee.

“Usually, it is the developer who will apply for the conversion on behalf of the home owners but if the property has already been transferred to the individual, he or she will have to do it,” he said.

Cheong noted that the NLC did not specify the premium payment but the state should consider lowering the sum for low-income earners.

Describing the conversion poli-cy as creating a “win-win situa-tion” for everyone, he said an individual would benefit as free-hold property was more valuable and the state would increase its funds.

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