Tun Dr. Mahathir: The importance of proper survey to determine borders






ON 18TH JUNE 2009




1.         I would like to thank Institution of Surveyors Malaysia for the invitation to this 11th International Surveyors Congress.

 2.         When I was invited to speak at the 11th International Surveyors’ Congress 2009, I was reminded that I am an Honorary member of your esteemed institution.  I was made to understand that I have to pay my dues.  Well, I will.  But as an old man and a Malay, I forget easily.  I am now about to forget to pay my dues again.

 3.         I am of course a surveyor of sorts because very often when I was the Prime Minister I thought I was the lord of all I surveyed.   But now no more.  I suspect others in power consider that they are the Lord.  They would be doing the surveying.

 4.         It is a fascinating profession, surveying.  The surveyors determine the limit of our fiefdom.  Long ago the Malay States had no surveyors, qualified ones, that is.  And so the Malay Sultans of old did not quite know the boundaries of their fiefdom.  Because they didn’t, they lost much of their land to neighbours.

 5.         We only realize this now when we find the people living across our borders are Malays who speak the Malay language with Kedah accent and practice Malay customs and traditions.   But of course it is too late to bring in professional surveyors to stake out our old borders.  We would not do that because we want to live in peace and friendship with our neighbours.  In other parts of the world endless wars are fought because of the borders not being delineated and agreed to by neighbours.

 6.         When the British acquired Penang and Province Wellesley the boundaries were not properly surveyed.  Actually, the Sultan of Kedah did not know where the boundary between Kedah and Perak was.  Since the surveyor and cartographers were in the employment of the British Colonial Government in Penang, the border between the Southern Province Wellesley was shifted with Kedah losing some land.  But that was not a big issue.  Land was cheap.  Kedah did not lose much money.  But today in Ringgit terms what was lost was quite considerable.  Even tiny rocks in the sea are valuable.

 7.         But the British did a good job of surveying the land and they employed surveyors who demarcated the boundaries between the lots granted to individuals in all the Malay states.  It is amazing how detailed and accurate were the boundary marks.  Every lot, big or small or tiny even would be drawn on land grant document in the name of the owner.  The grants are impressive.  They not only register the names of the owners but have plans which show the boundary stones clearly as well as those of the neighbour’s holdings.  The owner thus feels confident that his ownership of the land is clearly demarcated and would stand any challenge in a court of law.

 8.         I had great faith in the system and the clarity of the positions of the boundary stones and the lines connecting them.  I thought that every surveyor would draw correctly the boundaries of the survey.

 9.         But now I am not so sure.  I had decided to build a fence between my land and that of my neighbour in Titi Gajah, Alor Star.  In order that I could go outside my fence when clearing the grass and the creepers without actually encroaching on my neighbours, I decided to build the fence about 1 ½ foot inside my land.  The boundary stone were therefore outside the fence.

 10.       For some reason my land had to be resurveyed.  Instead of drawing the boundary by drawing a straight line joining the boundary stones, the surveyor took my fence as the boundary for the new drawing.

 11.       I only realized this after I received the new grant.  By then it was too late.  I had lost quite a bit of my land and the neighbour quickly planted bushes right up to my fence.

 12.       Subsequently when I was Prime Minister it was decided that we must build a fence at the border with Thailand.  There was a lot of smuggling going on and the smugglers had built huge stores to hold contraband goods on the Thai side.

 13.       The border had been demarcated and the boundary stones were in place.  But there were earth roads crossing at a number of points on the border and lorries were carrying contraband items into Malaysia and into Thailand.

 14.       There were border guards but somehow they were not able to put a stop to the smuggling.  So a high fence covered with barb wire might prevent the smugglers’ lorry from getting across.

 15.       Again I decided that the fence be built within Malaysia, about two meters from the border.  It would enable our border patrol to inspect the fence from outside and also the border stones.  If we have to arrest the smugglers it would be within our territory.  But this time I was determined that the real borders would remain and not be shifted along the lines of the fence.  I was not going to lose Malaysian land with this exercise.

 16.       Building the fence was a good investment because the Malaysian customs were able later to collect more import taxes than the cost of building the fence.  But we had to maintain border guards to patrol the road running alongside the fence on the Malaysian side.  Even the cost to this border patrol was covered by the extra income from taxing goods which otherwise would have been smuggled.

 17.       Surveys to demarcate the borders had been carried out with Indonesia and Thailand.  It was a tedious process as both countries had to verify the location of the border markers.

 18.       For the most part it was easy to agree as to the line forming our borders.  But because the surveys were long delayed, the neighbours had encroached on Malaysian territory.

 19.       In Perak the Thais had actually developed rubber plantations in Malaysian territory claiming the land was part of Thailand.  It was difficult to settle this problem as the planters demanded to be paid compensation.

 20.       In Kelantan the border is represented by the bed of a small stream.  Unfortunately the river bed shifts when it rained.  I don’t know whether agreement has been reached between Thailand and Malaysia.

 21.       There is also an overlapping area of sea off the East Coast where the land border between Kelantan and Thailand meets the sea.  Tun Hussein solved this by agreeing on joint development – perhaps a unique way for settling border disputes.

 22.       The border between Indonesia and Malaysia involves Sarawak and Sabah.  We are still having problems especially offshore.  It is the same with Brunei.  I am afraid our people are not good at negotiations and I think we lost a lot.

 23.       Among the first thing I settled with Lee Kuan Yew when I met him after I became Prime Minister was the border between Singapore and Malaysia in the Tebrau Strait.  It was agreed that the deepest trench in the strait would be taken as the maritime border.  Once surveyed and marked it should be regarded as the permanent border.  Reclamations may cause the deepest points to shift but the border would remain.  It turned out that the deepest points were about midway between Singapore and Johore.  This was also regarded as the border on the causeway.  The northern half of the causeway workers is therefore Malaysian’s. 

 24.       It is not so easy with the concept of continental shelf.  Yet because of the possibility of finding oil the demarcation of the continental shelf is very important.  We are still faced with conflicting claims with neighbouring countries.

 25.       My experience with surveying and surveyors is as you can see limited mostly to determining the borders of our country.  Surveyors play a very important role in this matter. 

 26.       Today many new equipment and instruments have been invented to make surveying more precise.  I am sure that one day you will be surveying from outer space.  Already we have Google Maps.  In time I am sure all our maps will be through this frightening new technology.  The surveyors’ theodolite may get out of date.

 27.       Now I take great pleasure in declaring the 11th International Surveyor’s Congress Open.




Published in: on June 18, 2009 at 10:58  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] Tun Dr. Mahathir: The importance of proper survey to determine …I am sure that one day you will be surveying from outer space. Already we have Google Maps. In time I am sure all our maps will be through this frightening new technology. The surveyors‘ theodolite may get out of date. … […]

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