Kota Kinabalu MP: Lifting timber export ban an open invitation to illegal loggers

·3-min read
Chan urged the Sabah government and Forestry Department to not sweep illegal logging under the carpet. — Picture by Farhan Najib
Chan urged the Sabah government and Forestry Department to not sweep illegal logging under the carpet. — Picture by Farhan Najib

KOTA KINABALU, Jan 7 — A Sabah DAP lawmaker has panned the government’s decision to lift the ban on timber exports, which has been in place since 2018.

Kota Kinabalu MP Chan Foong Hin said the move could trigger a recurrence of illegal logging activities, with little enforcement to prevent it from happening.

“I find that the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS)-led Sabah government and the Sabah Forestry Department have taken contradictory stands on this issue.

“While Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Seri Jeffrey Kitingan seems to have taken the forest conservation route — in order to deal in carbon trading — chief conservator of Sabah Forests Datuk Frederick Kugan instead confirmed that the log export ban would be lifted, with effect from January 3, and log exports would be allowed from natural forests,” he said during a press conference here.

The ban on timber exports was imposed in May 2018 by then chief minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal with the intention of processing logs locally and creating a furniture industry.

“Furthermore, the ban put a temporary stop to illegal logging activities as there was nobody for these illegal loggers to sell their logs to,” said Chan.

In April last year, current Chief Minister Datuk Hajiji Noor said the ban was still in place.

But last week, Kugan said that a Limited Log Export programme, which began on January 3, would allow “eligible parties” to export logs from Sabah.

This would be implemented on a case-by-case basis, subject to the applicants’ eligibility, he added.

Kugan confirmed that he had issued a circular, which also contained a list of criteria as to which parties are allowed to export logs from Sabah, including Sustainable Forest Management Licence Agreement licence holders.

Chan said the Forestry Department has been reluctant to conduct any investigation or bring any criminal action against illegal loggers or those who breach their terms of agreement and ignored whistle-blowers despite being presented with clear proof.

Earlier, during his press conference, he and a member of the public, Cheung Chau Seng, alleged that the department had failed to act against a company, which had been logging outside of its terms, despite supporting evidence.

Cheung alleged that the company had continued logging activities despite its logging licence expiring on June 1, 2015.

He claimed invoices dated August 30, 2015 and September 21, 2015 indicated logging activities had continued after this date.

The company had also allegedly intruded into a Class II Forest Reserve/Virgin Jungle Reserve (VJR) and had conducted logging activities in Tomani, Tenom beyond the area allocated to the company under Section 5A of the Forest Enactment 1968.

It purportedly managed to export these logs obtained illegally to Taiwan and had further avoided paying royalties as required under Section 24C and Section 30A of the Forest Enactment 1968.

“Cheung had lodged a complaint against the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD) with the Sabah Integrity Unit as the SFD had fail to forfeit the RM1,000,000 bank guarantee which the company had paid in return for their logging licence despite clear evidence of illegal logging beyond the logging licence granted. The Sabah Integrity Unit decided to dismiss the complaint due to a technicality,” Chan said.

“In the end, he was informed that the status of his reports had ended up as NFA or No Further Action.”

“I wish to urge the Sabah government and the Sabah Forestry Department to not sweep illegal logging under the carpet, but to seriously look into all the evidence provided, charge the offenders in court, and collect the relevant royalties through forfeiture of properties of the company.”

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