Monday, 25 January 2010

Minister to chair special wildlife permit panel

Sunday January 24, 2010

By HILARY CHIEW The Star, Malaysia

PETALING JAYA: The issuing of special permits for totally protected species will now be decided at the ministry level following complaints of mismanagement and corruption at the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan).

Natural Resources and Environ­ment Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas, who said this, added that he had taken over the special permit committee chairmanship from the Perhilitan director-general.

“Previously, special permits were vetted by Perhilitan and referred to the minister for the signature. From now, I will chair the committee with guidance from top officials in the ministry and the legal officer.

“We realised that we need another body to cross-check what’s happening on the ground. This is a new approach ... We will include the views of non-governmental organisations to improve the system,” he told The Star.

Total protected species or those listed in Schedule One and Schedule Three of the Protection of Wildlife Act 1972 include highly endangered mammals, reptiles and marine creatures like the orang-utan, tiger, rhinoceros, dolphin, crocodile, snakes and lizards as well as 545 species of birds.

Uggah said the committee was now scrutinising Perhilitan records on the special permits but declined to give details.

He was also tight-lipped on whether the move was linked to a series of press reports and a book casting Perhilitan in a negative light, which led to a public uproar over the department’s handling of wildlife issues in the peninsula.

Sabah and Sarawak have their own wildlife management units.

Animal rights groups had also produced incriminating details of a certain Perhilitan official allegedly colluding with notorious wildlife trafficker Anson Wong and lodged a report with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission last September.

Last August, Starprobe featured Wong, who denied that he was protected by but spoke approvingly of the high-ranking Perhilitan official.

Uggah also said that a special audit unit had been set up to review rules and procedures of all enforcement agencies under the ministry.

It is learnt that the unit, headed by secretary-general Datuk Zoal Azha Yusof, has been looking into the reports and complaints against Per­hilitan.

Asked if the official implicated was being investigated for misconduct and alleged corruption, Uggah said he was expecting a report soon.