24 OCTOBER 2013
Recently, Norway's Ministry of Finance banned Norway's Government Pension Fund – Global from investing in two Sarawakian companies in the global logging and palm oil sectors because each pose an "unacceptable risk that the company is responsible for severe environmental damage" due to large-scale forest destruction, non-compliance with environmental laws and poor forest management practices. These companies are WTK Berhad Holdings and Ta Ann Berhad. In 2010, the fund also divested its stake in Samling Global and one of its subsidiary Lingui Development Berhad for similar reasons.
The decisions to blacklist these companies were based on extensive studies and reports prepared by the Norwegian Government's Ethics Council. Such decisions are not made lightly, and therefore the Sarawak government must launch a thorough investigation into the allegations contained in the damning reports. The need for such investigations is even more urgent and necessary given the fact that the companies concerned have close ties with the Chief Minister of Sarawak. The blacklisting of these companies is highly telling and embarrassing for Sarawak.
It is clear that whatever forest management policies we may have and whatever conditions and limits may be placed on timber licences, the enforcement of such policies and conditions is sorely lacking, whether it be due to lack of trained personnel or because of the absence of political will.
The government claims to be to be the vehicle to bring progress and development to the state and declares to the world that it practises sustainable logging and observes all necessary precautions against destructive activities. However, from the reports from Norway’s Ethics Council, it appears that the government is merely paying lip-service to paint a rosy picture of the logging and palm oil industries for international consumption.
Investigations have been carried out and reports published by the Norwegian Ethics Council. It should not be too difficult for the Sarawak government to launch its own investigations into these two companies. If the allegations are found to be true, these companies must be made accountable for their actions in damaging our environment and bringing our state into disrepute. More effort needs to be put into the enforcement of our forest policies.
Sarawak cannot hope to join the ranks of the high-income and developed countries if the government continues to turn a blind eye to the rape and destruction of our environment, thereby putting our wildlife at risk of extinction and threatening our indigenous people’s way of life and their livelihood. The world is waking up to the environmental excesses and the threat to our wildlife being caused by these well-connected companies in Sarawak, not to mention the suffering inflicted on the people of the land as a result of their activities.
ADUN N70 BA’ KELALAN