Friday, 15 May 2009

On illegal logging, no shocks in S'wak

On illegal logging, no shocks in S'wak


Tony Thien | May 15, 09

Although Sarawak has come under pressure from Indonesia again following reports of illegal smuggling activities involving timber from the archipelago, the state government seems indifferent in combating the festering issue.

"The government must come down hard on smugglers on both sides of Indonesia and Malaysia," said Violet Yong, DAP state assemblyperson for Pending, in a state legislative assembly today. She had previously raised this issue in a sitting on the august house in November 2008.

"We must do this through action and not empty talks," she added during a debate on the motion to thank the Head of State for his opening speech.

Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hassan, Planning and Resources Management II Minister is expected to reply to Yong next Tuesday at the winding up of the state sitting.

She claimed the minister chose to ignore on such violations.

What's new

Illegal logging and smuggling involving politicians, state-owned companies or influential individuals are not new in Sarawak. Such problems came into prominence since 1980s during the height of activists movements by non-governmental organisations. The blame game between Sarawak and Indonesia goes unabated till today.

In March 2008, Indonesia's Metro TV produced a three-part series on illegal timber trade. Based on interviews and on-the-spot filming, the series could be watched on YouTube in a programmed titled ‘Illegal Logging in Ketapang, Kalbar' (West Kalimantan). The well-documented reports implicated Harwood Timber, a 100%-owned subsidiary of Sarawak Development Corporation, which in turn is owned by the Sarawak government.

In the following month, an Indonesian blogspot Batak Monarchies in an article under the heading ‘Fight Against Illegal Logging! Fight for The Truth!' went a step further to name a politician in the Sarawak government.

The West Kalimantan daily Tribune Pontianak followed up with its own investigative report published on the front page of its 14 August 2008 edition, highlighting the same problems of illegal Indonesian timber being smuggled into Sarawak.

It traced the route the illegal trade took from the protected forests in Katapang to Sematan by boats and again mentioned Harwood Timber's name. This time, it also implicated the name of Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud (right).

The report went further to say that the Indonesian illegal timber was exported to Sarawak for the purpose of re-export to North Asia, branded as legal timber from Sarawak.

"This implies that Sarawak was being used as a conduit for the export of illegal and/or smuggled timber from a third country, and in this case Indonesia. It was and is a serious allegation that must be answered by the authorities in Sarawak," Yong said.

She warned that if no action is taken to clarify the matter, it could and would harm the state's timber trade reputation abroad especially among the European Union countries. Malaysia and Indonesia is currently negotiating with EU on the terms and conditions, which includes the source of timber, in order to gain approval to sell timber in EU.


Yong said she had in possession a copy of a letter dated 29 October 2008 from the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia addressed to the General Manager Len Talif Salleh of the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation (STIDC). The letter is an official complaint about illegal Indonesian timber called batak timbers being supplied to Sematan port without any valid legal documents and is seeking the Sarawak government's co-operation to put an end to such activities.

The letter was copied to the Amar Awang Tengah who is also chairpeson of STIDC as well as Bujang Nor, the executive chairperson of Harwood Timber Sdn Bhd and was dated 29 October 2008, almost a fortnight before his winding-up speech in this august House.

According to the Indonesian Consulate General, the smuggling of batak timbers had become a matter of serious concern as there were still on-going activities of supplying Indonesian illegal timber to Sematan port that is under Harwood Timber management.

The illegal timber, cut in the form of squares (batak), was supplied by several small boats/ships from Indonesia region of Sambas (Paloh and Temajuk) to the Sematan port, namely by KM Citra, KM Mahkota, KM Mustika, KM Hatadi, KM Ciitra Usaha, KM Pantai Mas, KM Putra Darma, KM Sinar Fajar, KM Sri Mulya, KM Impian Lindo, and KM Marcopolo.

The Consulate General believed that the batak timbers that have been supplied to Sematan Port were illegal timbers without any valid legal documents and thus sought the co-operation of the authorities in Sarawak to assist the Indonesian Government ‘to fight the illegal timber activities by not receiving any more the illegal timber into Sarawak' and to ‘discourage and slow down the illegal timber trade activities between Indonesia and Sarawak.'