Monday, 10 November 2008

DAP rep queries 'timber scam'

DAP rep queries 'timber scam' Tony Thien Nov 8, 08

A DAP state assemblyperson demanded answers on recent Indonesian media reports which linked Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud to illegal timber deals.

Violet Yong (DAP-Pending), in her speech during the debate on the 2009 state budget early this week, demanded that the state government clear the air over the Indonesian press claims on state-owned company, Harwood Timber Sdn Bhd.

Yong's demands however were met by continued loud howls of protest from Barisan Nasional backbenchers while she delivered her speech.

"There was so much noise in the Dewan from the Barisan backbenchers trying to stop me from talking right from the very first issue about housing until the third issue on Naim Cendera Bhd (another company linked to Abdul Taib).

'They kept on yelling, asking the speaker to stop me, saying that I am imputing improper motives, asking me to substantiate (the claims). But the speaker just asked everyone to keep quiet of course. They ignored and said all sorts of unreasonable things," she told Malaysiakini yesterday.

Yong was referring to a controversy sparked by the Aug 14 edition of Tribun Pontianak, which published a damning report claiming that Indonesian logs were being illegally imported into Sarawak for export as local timber to other countries.

Tribun Pontianak named Harwood Timber Sdn Bhd, a wholly owned unit of the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corportation (STIDC), as the company involved.

The STIDC is an agency under the state Finance Ministry. To date, neither Abdul Taib nor second state finance minister Awang Tengah Ali have commented on the matter.

Silence not an option

Yong said that it was incumbent upon the state government to respond to the media reports which had already attracted attention in various parts of Asia and Europe to protect the state's timber interest.

She argued that European countries pay a high premium for legal and sustainably sourced timber and failing to comply with international standards would hurt the state's earnings in the future.

She then asked why the state government had kept mum on the issue despite the widespread publicity in several countries.

"Do we have something to hide? Is there a lot of truth in the allegations?"
she asked.

"Our leaders and state government should not remain silent on the issue. If this persists, there will always be suspicions as to the origin or source of our timber exported to overseas market, in particular Europe which is a growing and premium market for such products," she added.