KUCHING: Sarawak forests, gazetted or not, are free to be logged. At least that was the impression Second Resources, Planning and Environment Minister Awang Tengah Ali Hassan left listeners with yesterday.
According to Awang Tengah, who many here consider to be Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s key “henchman”, permanent forest estates, water catchment areas, alienated lands, native communal reserves or native customary lands “can be harvested” for timber.
All one needs is a licence or permit, which is not difficult to come by if you’re a Sarawak Barisan Nasional crony.
It puts into perspective the massive deforestation that has and is taking place in Sarawak, in the name of development, which Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) has been fiercely opposing.
BMF has put the blame squarely on Taib’s 30-odd-year leadership and accused him and his cronies of stripping Sarawak of its rainforests and amassing billions of ringgit in wealth.
But, according to Awang Tengah, everything is legit and the law permits such harvesting of timber.
“Those interested must apply for a permit or licence to harvest the timber,” he said.
Citing water catchment areas as an example, he said: “Logging is one of the prescribed activities under the First Schedule of the Natural Resources and Environment (Prescribed Activities) (Amendment) Order, 1997 related to Water Catchment Areas.”
He said all recipients of the timber licence or permit needed to do was to submit a report to the board of Natural Resources and Environment.
“The licensees have to comply with the requirements to mitigate the impact on the surrounding area before they can embark on logging operation,” Awang Tengah said.
He was replying to reporters who asked him about the two timber licences issued by the State Forestry Department to log an area identified as a resettlement scheme for natives who are displaced by the Bengoh dam.
The licences were issued to leaders in Taib’s Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB) and to BN crony, Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) president William Mawan Ikom.
Some 140 angry settlers from Kampung Semadang, Kampung Giam, Kampung Taba Sait, Pain Bojong, Rejoi and Semban had last Sunday gone to the logging site to protest against the exploitation of the area.
Yesterday, Awang Tengah confirmed that the licences were issued and that the Land and Survey Department had verified the veracity of the state land.
“But if the area is found to be within the approved resettlement area for the Bengoh communities, the Forestry Department will be directed to exclude it from the licence,” Awang Tengah said.
His comment is not likely to improve the situation with the natives who have refused to move out of the Bengoh dam reserve and into the resettlement area.
They are alleging that logging activities on their proposed resettlement scheme have damaged the land and made it unfit for farming and had caused massive environmental degradation.
The stand-off is now likely to further disrupt the dam’s construction schedule and costs the government additional millions.
Said Mambong MP James Dawos Mamit, who is also the Bengoh resettlement scheme committee chairman: “All our efforts [since 1997] are wasted… it was not easy to convince them [natives] to leave their homes.
“Now because of the Forestry Department, the government is going to waste time and money if the people refuse to move out… the government will lose millions of ringgit.”