Monday, December 22, 2014

Loggers, planters can’t be more powerful than the govt


21/12/2014 - 19:00    

Jimmy Adit

SARAWAK FOCUS: Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof’s planned meeting with timber operators and plantation owners in Bakun area “to find an amicable solution” to prevent the 120km Bakun Road from getting damaged by overloaded trucks and lori hantu is but an admission of failure on the part of the government.
In his own words, the enforcement agencies have failed: “All this while, the Road Transport Department (RTD) and the police have been entrusted with monitoring the road but it seemed that it has been to no avail.”
When the government and its agencies failed – despite all the powers vested in them – one can only imagine how more powerful are these timber operators and plantation owners who have now forced Fadillah to the negotiation table.
And in his own words, the minister meekly said: “So I would like to meet up with both the timber operators and plantation owners in Bakun on how to solve the problem amicably.”
The Bakun Road today, of course, is not what it was before the Works Ministry splashed RM30 mil to resurface it recently. Fadillah has every reason to want to keep the road in good order after spending so much money to improve it.
“We are spending taxpayers’ money to repair the road, so it’s unfair that we keep on spending so much public money to maintain it. If these timber operators and plantation owners abide by the rule, then we could use the money to build more roads in Sarawak,” the minister was quoted as saying.
Fadillah is talking about money.
But folk in Bakun are talking about them dicing with death each time they travel on Bakun road. They are talking about the danger posed by the overloaded trucks and lori hantu, the name locals give to trucks without proper documentation but apparently still allowed to run on government roads.
Locals talk of these lori hantu or ghost trucks as machines that can move on almost any road conditions and terrain under the heaviest of load.
An overloaded lori hantu going down the mountain side slows down on its gears. For them, brakes don’t work.
Other vehicles, especially those ferrying folk, need to be on the constant look out for these trucks, which in most instances will need every inch of the road as they move. Other vehicles must be ready to give way. Or be damned!
Unfortunately, along the Bakun road only fatal accidents got to the attention of the authorities. Near-death skirmishes often went unreported as in the case of a complaint received by Land Development Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing on his cellphone last Wednesday (Dec 17).
In a short message service (SMS) to Masing, the Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) president, a road user surnamed Liu complained that he and other passengers of a vehicle almost got into an accident with a lori hantu at Tubau-Bakun Road while on their way back to Bintulu.
“It was raining heavily when a lori hantu travelling in the middle of the road narrowly missed us. It was God’s grace that saved us.”
Those authorities that summoned you for your tinted windscreen unable to do anything to those ghost trucks? Those same authorities that issued you a ticket for bringing access passengers in your van powerless against trucks overloaded with timber?
Powerless against trucks without proper documents? Powerless against vehicles that in all probability will fail a Puspakom test?
Why are these trucks so powerful that the enforcers are rendered powerless? Is it because these trucks belong to the powerfully rich timber companies and plantations?
Before its recent upgrading, folk depending on the Bakun road have been complaining about the presence of the lori hantu every so often.
But besides the usual monitoring and roadblocks, the higher authorities’ view of the whole thing had been of natives being instigated by environmentalists against timber concessionaires.
Natives putting up barricades against the lori hantu were threatened. Some were thrown into lockups.
For years, the Bakun road was trampled over by overloaded trucks and ghost machines. During the wet season like now, some stretches were turned into mud-streams.
While folk bemoaned their fate having to dice with death each time they were on the Bakun road, the forest was being plundered. Everyday logs were being transported on the backs of ghost trucks even as the land was laid bare by logging activities and plantation clearing.
Then something happened that for the first time exposed the massive ill-effect of the activities of the loggers.
In February 2009, tons of dead fish were floating in the rivers in Bakun.
The then Environment and Public Health Assistant Minister Dr Abang Abdul Rauf Abang Zen said the blame for the "fishy" phenomenon lay squarely on the logging companies and plantation owners.
"We carried out investigations from helicopters and on the ground and carried out tests on water-samples and on the dead fish.
"It was found that the fish died because of suffocation. For example in Bakun, there was a very high degree of suspended solids in the rivers in Belaga, Balui and Baleh – six to 20 times the normal level.
“This was caused by logging and land-clearing in the upstream of the Bakun hydro dam.”
The dead fish phenomenon came on the heels of widespread accusations of sexual abuse of Penan girls and women by sex-starved loggers with money to splash around.
Police probing the case came away with little success, but the fact remains that bad road, logging and loggers have brought much hardship to the natives.
Then in October 2010, a 50-km long log-jam choked Rajang River, Malaysia’s biggest river, for the first time ever.
It was described by many as an ecological disaster that not only disrupted navigation, caused structural damages to the river system but also adversely affected aquatic life.
Sarawak forestry officials attempted a cover-up saying logging activities upriver had long ceased.
But Masing, who flew over the affected areas, blamed unscrupulous timber companies, saying whoever caused the problem should be punished.
Is there any wonder that Masing kind of despises Fadillah’s plan to negotiate an amicable way out for the government?
Fadillah must heed Masing’s advice: “Don’t think of constructing barricades at Bakun road, just do it. These loggers don’t understand the meaning of negotiation or that the Bakun road is not built for them to use
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