Tuesday, May 6, 2014

DUN 5-15 MAY 2014: BARU BIAN’S DEBATE ON THE BILL TO AMEND THE SARAWAK BIODIVERSITY CENTRE ORDINANCE 1997


 6 May 2014


Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to debate on the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (Amendment) Bill 2014.

Borneo and Sarawak for that matter, possesses some of the richest biological resources in the world and I applaud the protection of the rights of the native communities insofar as they relate to these resources.

Like the Honourable Member for Kota Sentosa, the proposed subsection (bb) of section 6 also attracts my attention which empowers the Sarawak Biodiversity Council ‘to ensure that prior informed consent is obtained from the natives where traditional knowledge associated with a biological resource is accessed and an agreement that includes benefit sharing based upon mutually agreed terms is entered into’.

The traditional knowledge of each native community is passed down from many generations ago and would be known to many families within that particular ethnic group, some of whom may have moved on to other divisions within the state. Which family or clan would be entitled to hold the rights to the traditional knowledge, and hence the rights to share in the benefit? How would they prove their rights? As in NCR land matters, these rights and knowledge are similarly undocumented. Assuming that we can identify the group that holds the rights to the traditional knowledge, who would be the other signatory to the agreement? Would it be the Council? Who is going to be the arbiter if there are many overlapping claims, as is bound to happen? Would it be the Council? What if a biological resource is identified in Bakelalan and given some protection and the same resource is found in Lundu will the person/s in Bakelalan has the sole right over that biological resource or would they share the rights over that biological resource? How can this provision be practically enforced and executed?

In my opinion, this section is too vague and I can foresee that implementation would be highly problematic, if not impossible; thus the intention behind this section would be defeated. Probably workshops should be carried out after this to discuss these practical issues.

The substituted Section 22 ‘Penalty for collection of protected resources’ seeks to penalize those who collect protected resources for research and development or take such resources out of the state. The preceding Section 21, ‘Protection of biological resources’ provides for notification by gazette of the declaration of any biological resources as protected resources. I hope the Minister can enlighten us as to how effective this Act has been since it was enacted, in terms the number of biological resources declared to be protected, and of the number of cases where offenders have been penalized or prosecuted.

What I find most ironic about this piece of legislation is that while it seeks to protect our biological resources from exploitation by outsiders, there is virtually no provision in it or in any other of our laws to protect our biodiversity from destruction by the timber industries, plantation companies and dam builders. The same concern raised by my colleague, the Honorable member for Kota Sentosa earlier. I propose that Timber Licences, Provisional Leases and other Licences should be made subject to this Ordinance.

Malaysia is home to 15,000 flowering plants. Vol 65 (2010) of the Kew Bulletin states that Sarawak has 12,000 species of plants. However, the nation's flora and fauna are under severe threat and have experienced a 70 percent depletion of original growth.

The 2000 IUCN-World Conservation Union biodiversity report indicated that Malaysia has more endangered plant species than any other country in the world; numbered at 681. In 2007, the number had increased to 686 endangered plant species. In the 50 years up to the year 2000, about two per cent or about 170 of the estimated 8,500 species of flowering plants in Peninsular Malaysia became extinct.
Former University Malaya ecology department head Professor Dr E. Soepadmo says only 40 per cent of Peninsula Malaysia’s natural forest-cover still exists and the proportion is even lower in Sabah and Sarawak. Sadly, the Malaysian rainforest, especially lowland rainforest, which is incredibly rich in biodiversity, is where the greatest amount of deforestation has taken place. Soepadmo warns that plant species with potential medical applications could also be lost forever if we do not take serious steps to protect our natural heritage.
University Malaya Rimba Ilmu Co-ordinator Associate Professor Dr Wong Khoon Meng, Wong notes that regular disturbance to any forest system, such as logging or forest fires caused by people, will affect its biodiversity. But habitat loss, which occurs when a forested area is converted to other uses, such as plantation agriculture, is the main cause of extinction because there is no chance for rare and endangered species to survive once the natural habitat is destroyed.
It is known that the crowns of jungle trees are where the biggest source of biological resources is found, ie in the epiphytes, which grow there. Are logging companies made responsible for preserving these plants whilst they cut down our forests for timber? Are timber licences subject to these restrictions? Are plantation companies required to comply with such conservation practices? From reading this amendment and the Principal Ordinance they are not. Once the trees are felled, these epiphytes are left to die.

Similarly, the dams that have flooded huge areas of our jungles have been responsible for the destruction of a huge number of our trees and plants, destroying whole ecosystems and exterminating rich biodiversity.

Therefore on the one hand, we have this legislation to show that we are keen to protect our biological resources, while on the other hand, we allow massive destruction of the same resources by the logging companies, plantation companies and dam builders. Are we going to show our commitment to the preservation of our biological resources by subjecting these companies who have been responsible for the extinction of many of our plants and the destruction of our biodiversity to compliance with our conservation policies? If we do not do so, the work of this Biodiversity Centre will be an exercise in futility as we continue to lose more and more of our native plants. Traditional knowledge will be lost as the plants become more and more difficult to find. What rights will there be to protect then?

In conclusion, let me quote an old Cree Indian saying: "Only after the last tree has been cut down…the last river has been poisoned…the last fish caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten."

Mr. Speaker this amendment is a good beginning but more need to be done to ensure that the good intention behind this bill is truly translated into pragmatic protection and solution to our vast and rich biodiversity, especially for the benefit of those who truly need them i.e; the natives of Sarawak.

Thank you.

Baru Bian
N70 Ba’ Kelalan


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