The state government of Sarawak should immediately carry out a thorough investigation on WTK Berhad Holdings and Ta Ann Berhad which are alleged to have caused ‘severe damage’ to the environment due to their large-scale forest destruction, non-compliance with environmental laws and poor forest management practices in the state, said Baru Bian, chairperson of Sarawak Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
The urging by Baru follows reports that the two companies have been blacklisted by the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global for “being responsible for severe environmental damage”. The blacklisting came after the fund’s council of ethics recommended the exclusion of the two companies from the investment universe of the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global.
In 2010, two other Sarawak-owned companies - Samling Global and its Malaysian subsidiary Lingui - have already been excluded for similar reasons.
But will the state government of Sarawak carry out an investigation into WTK Berhad Holdings and Ta Ann Berhad as these two companies are said to have close ties with Sarawak’s Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud?
Ta Ann is headed by Taib’s cousin Hamid Sepawi.
Replying to this question, Baru, who is the Ba’Kelalan assemblyperson, said: “The state government must show to us and to the world that it is serious in protecting our forests and creating more national parks.
“The government must be transparent, but if it lacks the will to investigate and take actions against the companies, then all the talk on good forest management practices all this while are rubbish,” he said.
“Moreover, 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,” he said.
Baru said: “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,” he said, pointing out that the blacklisting of these companies is highly telling and embarrassing for Sarawak.
‘Enforcement is sorely lacking’
“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 the vehicle to bring progress and development to the state and declares to the world that it practides 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,” he said.
Pointing out that investigations have been carried out and reports published by the Norwegian ethics council, Baru said 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 efforts need to be put into the enforcement of our forests policies,” he added.
“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,” Baru said.