PRESS STATEMENT: COME CLEAN ON DEFORESTATION IN SARAWAK – YB BARU BIAN

PRESS STATEMENT 24 OCTOBER 2012

The Chief Minister’s statements on 21 October 2012 in the Star that ‘We have not cleared all of our jungles’ and that ‘Six million ha of our land mass are covered with forest’ are neither clear nor helpful. In an interview last year which can be seen in YouTube, he claimed that 70% of Sarawak’s forest was intact, which is equivalent to approx. 8.68 ha. This year the figure is 6 mil ha. This means that in the period of just over one year, 2.68 ha of our forest has been destroyed. Is the CM intending to continue clearing what is left? Will the figure next year be 5 mil ha? What about the disastrous consequences of the deforestation that has been carried out to date?

Sarawak’s land mass covers an area of 12.4 mil hectares. According to the CM’s latest figures, about 48% (6 mil ha) is still covered with forest. However, in February this year, Awang Tengah declared proudly at the World Wetlands Day celebrations that ‘In fact, the state is more than 80 per cent forest covered.’ (Borneo Post 26 Feb 2012) which would mean 9.92 mil hectares are covered with forest. He also declared that ‘the state has targeted to turn some one million hectares (ha) of its natural forest by the year 2020 into totally protected areas in the form of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. A further six million hectares will be left untouched to become permanent forest while another two million hectares has been approved for forest rehabilitation programme.’

If the CM says that there is only 6 mil ha of forest left and Awang Tengah says 1 million ha will be turned into totally protected areas and 6 mil ha will be left untouched, then all logging activities should stop immediately to preserve the 6 mil ha that is left, but that still leaves us with 1 mil ha short for the totally protected areas.

Clearly, the authorities do not wish to disclose the statistics to the public, judging from the conflicting figures presented to the public. Perhaps they do not know themselves how much of our forests is left. At the same time, they deny the claims of environmentalists that judging from satellite images, Sarawak has lost up to 90% of its primary forest cover. The land belongs to the people of Sarawak and the authorities have been entrusted to manage and protect this precious lifeline of the people. The least they can do is to disclose the accurate figures to the public instead of giving us such confusing and conflicting figures.

Amidst the tales of land grabbing and self-enrichment of those in power, these statements about how much land is still covered with forests do not serve to dispel the people’s distrust of the government. What about the countless number of people displaced and dispossessed by logging and plantation companies who are now fighting for their NCR lands? What about the destruction of the habitat of wildlife by these companies and the loss of the source of food and medicinal plants for the people who lived off the land? What about the pollution and siltation of the rivers caused by the logging activities and the resulting loss of fish and aquatic life, another mainstay of the people?

Of whatever area left of our forest, what is the quality of the forest? Do planted forests and plantations come under the government’s definition of ‘forest’? How much of the merchantable timber is left? In many areas, the natives are left with low grade timber which they cannot use for building their houses or boats.

The other burning issues for me are how much of the land in Sarawak are plantation land, and protected forests and how much of the protected areas have been excised for plantations by the government. I asked these questions in the last sitting of the State Assembly but have not received an answer to date despite the reminders I have sent. My law firm has handled at least 5 cases where tracts of protected forests were excised and given to plantation companies. If this can happen at the whims and fancies of the government, then no land is safe even if it is designated as protected forest.

Sarawak Forestry’s practices are directed by the government and the people have every right to be critical of the hypocrisy of the government. This is a government who is skilled at espousing the right virtues but when it comes to practising what it preaches, we are often disappointed, and the government is often found wanting. The exploitation of our rich forests has brought no benefits to the people who have been made to sacrifice their lands, but has instead enriched a few powerful and well-connected individuals. It is highly inappropriate and hypocritical of the CM and his ministers to take the moral high ground on this issue.

Baru Bian
ADUN
N70 Ba’ Kelalan /
Chairman, PKR Sarawak

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