Thursday, 5 June 2008

Illegal land clearing for oil palm in KL's heartland

Malay Mail, 30 May 2008

Illegal land clearing for oil palm in KL's heartland

FOR the past 13 years, some 10,000ha of the Raja Musa Forest Reserve in the Kuala Selangor District have been cleared illegally and it is still going on. Oddly enough, no one in authority is aware of it.

In its place are oil palm plantations, with many mature trees, some newly planted.

Government officials that Malay Mail spoke to are mystified, though the reserve and the illegal activity is 15km from Kuala Selangor town.

When we checked last Sunday, Indonesian workers, who wouldn’t say who their employer was, were harvesting the fruits.

The Kuala Musa Forest Reserve covers about 80,000ha and is surrounded by 976ha of government land. Trespassing into the forest reserve or tree felling there is prohibited.

The Kuala Selangor District Council has never approved any development in that area, according to its president, Haris Kassim.

Added Kuala Selangor District Office deputy land officer Kamarozaman Nik
Mat: “The District Office is not aware of any deforestation taking place in and around that area.

“Anybody doing any work there must have a permit issued by the State Forestry Department or the District Office ... there is no exception.”
When we visited the area with State assemblyman for Sekinchan Ng Suee Lim, we had to travel deep into the forest to get an idea of the amount of land cleared.

From the main road next to where the forest begins, the cleared area is covered by mature oil palm trees bearing fruit.

On the way in, we met a worker, Sulaiman Mohammad, who said his duty was to supervise the “clean up” of the trees and vegetation in the forest.

He said he worked for Kumpulan Darul Ehsan Group (KDEB), a fullyowned company of the Selangor government.

Asked for documents to support his statement, Sulaiman could not provide any, but showed us an application requesting permission to deforest areas surrounding the reserve, dated April 2008.

However, what was more surprising was his subsequent statement: “I have been here since 1995, supervising the clean-up of the forest area and the planting of oil palm.” He claimed all the land around that area had been “sold to developers” at RM1,720 an acre, “with the guarantee of temporary occupation licence”.

Further checks showed burnt tree trunks and vegetation in large sections.

Also spotted were three tractors clearing land where Sulaiman told us he had once seen “many bears, mouse deer and jungle cats”.

Ng said that there were many such places in Kuala Selangor where illegal land clearing was being carried out.

“I want a full investigation.

The Forestry Department and District Council should check on what is going on there and submit a full report to the state government.

“This is state property and we want to know whether anybody is illegally making a living out of it,” he said.

Selangor Forestry Department sources said that “no one had been granted permission to carry out any activity in or around a forest reserve.”
Selangor state executive councillor for Tourism, Environment and Consumer Affairs Elizabeth Wong was also not aware of what was happening at the forest reserve.

She said her office had not been informed of it and that the Malay Mail findings would be investigated.