The Land and Mines Department is tightening up loose ends to give better protection for genuine land owners from fraudsters.
In an exclusive interview with The Malay Mail recently, the department's senior officials said the changes were part of their proposal to amend the National Land Code (NLC) 1965.
Land and Mines director-general Datuk Azemi Kassim said the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry was eager to see a new set of rules to better protect property owners from unscrupulous syndicates.
"We are aware of land scams in the country. We are now trying to minimise such scams and this can be done with an amended NLC."
He said the department was in the midst of consulting relevant parties before drawing up the final paperwork by year-end.
Upon getting the Cabinet's green light, the department hopes the proposal will be tabled in Parliament by the middle of next year.
Azemi said about 75 per cent of the NLC needed to be amended. Among the proposed changes are the introduction of the Certificate of Correctness as an additional document when transferring land to another person and to implement the biometric system to ensure authenticity of a seller's identity.
The Malay Mail had reported on syndicates obtaining original land titles by forging documents, such as identity cards, letter of undertaking and signatures, and selling the land without property owners' knowledge.
Our probe on fake document-producing syndicates was made following our July 26 expose on a land grab case in Shah Alam involving Datin Murnina Sujak, whose four plots of land in Bukit Jelutong was sold by an impostor without her knowledge.
In the case, a woman named "Elizabeth George" managed to execute the deal using a fake MyKad and driving licence that bore her face but Murnina's personal details.
Land offices need to subscribe to NRD online service
Our investigation led to the admission by Selangor Land Office assistant director Nazrul Shukri Ali that they did not have an infallible method to ensure land titles were granted to rightful owners.
He also admitted thumbprint scanners in the State land offices were offline as their system was not linked with the National Registration Department (NRD). This was clarified by the NRD in our Aug 2 report.
On this, Azemi said thumbprint scanners distributed to the land offices were in working order, just that some of them had not subscribed to the NRD's online service.
"NRD handed us 180 units of scanners which we handed to the states. To have real-time details of the persons intending to transfer land ownership, land offices need to subscribe to the NRD's online service.
"With the introduction of the biometrics system, states will have no choice but to go online."
He said biometrics were already being used at the Federal Territory Land Office and the Temerloh District Office in which RM97,000 was spent to introduce the system in the latter office.
He said the Petaling district office, and two offices in Perak and Kelantan would have the system in place by early November.
"The Perak Land Office held a meeting a few weeks ago and they plan to introduce a similar system at the Kampar and Teluk Intan district offices."
Azemi also stressed land grab scams had been gradually reduced over the years.
"We have had cases where several land officers were involved with syndicates, including in Perak and Selangor. In 2009, a clerk from the FT office was arrested. We have not heard of any other case since."
Meanwhile, Land and Mines Office research and development director Mohd Shukri Ismail said the Certificate of Correctness would ensure lawyers' responsibility when dealing with land and property transfers.
"It will be part of the memorandum of transfer document. We will also conduct checks on the law firm and lawyers dealing with us.
"It is something practised in New Zealand and we feel it is high time to introduce it here. But we would like to know the Bar Council's stand before introducing it."
Also present in our discussion with Azemi and Mohd Shukri in Putrajaya were land management and legislation director Kamaruddin Mohd Taib, computerised land management director Mohamed Kamil Mohamed and computerised land management deputy director Ruhaimi Che Jusoh.
Certificate of Correctness
ACCORDING to the "Registrar-General of Land, Information Paper 2000/01: The certificate of correctness under the Land Transfer Act" by BE Hayes, the Certificate of Correctness was first seen in the New Zealand land system in 1870.
Here, a lawyer (when a lawyer is acting) has to sign a Certificate of Correctness. To give this certificate, the lawyer must be satisfied (among other conditions) with the identity of the person who has signed the instrument.
Hayes had illustrated the Basis of the Practitioner's Certificate of Correctness. (see graph above)
The article "Identity Fraud" published on lawlink.co.nz, stated: "It is important for lawyers to check on the identity of new clients.
Lawyers also have an obligation to check on a client's identity under the Financial Transactions Reporting Act 1996 (which is aimed at detecting money laundering).
In the future, lawyers are therefore more likely to request clients to produce original identification, and may ask for a second document to confirm identification."
Changes to deter land scams
● SUBSCRIPTION to National Registration Department (NRD): State and district land offices are advised to subscribe to the online NRD services to check the details of parties involved in transactions.
● Upgrade computer land registration system to version 2.8.4: Thirty of the 101 land offices in the country use the new system. Among the features include a "push email" feature where, once a land is registered, a copy of the transaction will be emailed to the law firm. There are also better firewalls to avoid hacking.
● Bar codes on original land titles.
● Checks at counter: Experienced land officers will be placed at the counters to vet documents before proceeding with transfer application.
● Cooperation with police: Police to conduct audit trails if required to help investigations. This will enable cops and the Land and Mines Department to pin point officers involved in the transaction.
● Advertisements: The Land and Mines Department, in collaboration with the National Film Department, have produced and aired several advertisements advising property owners to pay their assessment to encourage them to check their land ownership status.
● Data cleaning: About RM5 million was spent to clean the records and data system for several States including Negri Sembilan, Selangor, Pahang, Kuala Lumpur, Terengganu and Putrajaya.
This was done to ensure records were updated while irrelevant files were deleted from the system.
History of the NLC
THE National Land Code (NLC) 1965 is the highest law related to land matters in Peninsular Malaysia. The NLC does not apply to Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan.
The Acts embedded in the NLC, however, does not and cannot override any prior law or decisions made before the NLC was fully implemented.
Nevertheless, the NLC has come under fi re for failing to protect property owners from losing their properties through land scams.
In the Adorna Properties Sdn Bhd vs Boonsom Boonyanit case in 2001, the Federal Court protected the buyer of such properties, leaving the real owner with little recourse. This decision was overturned by the same court last year, plugging a loophole in the law and now allowing owners who lost their land to fraudsters to redeem their right to their property.
In 2007, the MCA Public Services And Complaints Department recorded 16 cases of land scams with a total worth of RM20 million.