DEWAN UNDANGAN NEGERI SARAWAK
21-29 APRIL 2015
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address this august House on the occasion of debating the Motion of Appreciation on the address of His Excellency the Governor of Sarawak given on 21st April 2015.
Mr. Speaker, in recent months, the Honourable Chief Minister has placed great emphasis on the prevention of illegal logging and enforcement against illegal loggers. In this sitting, there is a Forests Bill to enhance enforcement of the provisions of the Forests laws with one main focus to fight illegal logging in Sarawak. As I had very limited time to touch in detail issues affecting our forests at the debate of the Forests Bill, I feel, this is an opportune time for me to do so.
We must urgently develop a more scientifically and ecologically responsible method of managing our forest estate rather than the totally exploitative, destructive and greedy methods that have typified the behavior of timber companies to date. The timber companies have sought to extract as much of the standing timber as they can, and then when that has run out, they have sought to do clear felling under the guise of planting oil palm.
The proper stewardship of the land has been totally lacking and one only has to take a casual glance at a timber concession to see evidence of the consequences of massive and irresponsible logging – huge rates of soil erosion clogging up the rivers and destroying the natural fishery, wholesale pollution of water resources for drinking and recreation, increased sedimentation in river estuaries causing problems for river traffic and a huge increase in the risks of flooding to downstream areas as the ‘sponge’ ability of the natural primary forest is destroyed.
The methods of logging whereby bulldozers are used to harvest individual trees causes the loss of much of the potential natural re-growth, thus preventing the effective long term sustainability of the forest estate. Such methods also do irreparable damage to all the other many tens of thousands of plants and animals that have not yet even been discovered or described and which may have already passed into extinction without our knowledge or care.
As I have said in my debate on the Forests Bill earlier, any re-planting of the forest estate has so far mainly involved the use of imported and exotic species such as oil palm and trees such as Acacia mangium, Kaya ivorensis, Eucalyptus etc. None of these species, are native to Sarawak and Borneo and will undoubtedly cause long term and damaging effects to our environment and economy.
One suspects that such irresponsible methods have been adopted because they are simple to implement and produce the fastest possible of cash returns to those large companies having the connection who are currently the only major players in the timber/agroforestry industry of Sarawak.
These monoculture plantings of oil palm and exotic tree species are carried out without any consideration as to the suitability of the soil types on which they are established or indeed the many other very relevant factors such as slope gradient, amplitude, aspect etc which should be considered. Many oil palm plantations have been established upon totally unsuitable steep land by using bulldozers and excavators to dig large terraces upon which the oil palm is planted. This crude terrace construction has caused untold damage to our already pitifully thin tropical soils by creating catastrophic levels of soil erosion and degradation.
Such monocultures have been established over tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of hectares without leaving even the smallest areas of residual natural forest to act as resources and refuges for our native flora and fauna. No buffer corridors of natural forest have been retained along riverbanks in order to mitigate some of the effects of the soil erosion created by these plantations.
The establishment of such large monocultures of foreign species has inevitably caused the proliferation of pests and diseases which can only be controlled by the indiscriminate use of pesticides that find their way into the rivers and drinking water – pollution levels in our rivers are now of the very gravest concern and may threaten the lives and health of children as yet unborn.
Despite the problems which I have spoken about, and the problem of shortage of workers to harvest the crops, the government intends to increase the area planted with oil palm from 1.3 million ha as at the end of 2014 to approximately 2 million ha by 2020!
In years to come the almost complete removal of the great forests of Borneo in the almost unbelievably short time period of a mere 30 to 40 years will come to be seen as one of the greatest environmental crimes committed on the people of Sarawak and the wider community of nations.
One of the greatest tragedies of the history of logging in Sarawak has been the uses to which our timber have been put. All the logging and indeed most of the trees of the tropical rainforest are hardwoods of the highest quality and value. This is the kind of wood that is normally used for the furniture trade where the value added will be as great or even greater than the value of the timber itself in its raw log or sawn timber form. And of course its use in this way would encourage the local furniture and downstream timber industries and retain all the value in this State.
And yet the vast majority of the timber of Sarawak has been either exported as raw logs or as plywood. In both cases most of our incredibly valuable timber ends up being used as cheap ‘shuttering’ for construction purposes, which is then burned after only one use!!!
And so not only is our valuable hardwood timber exported at cost prices with virtually no tax revenue accrued to the State but also it is sold off for uses that are wasteful and which can be accomplished using much cheaper and less valuable soft woods.
Mr. Speaker, I am not the only one to say this. It was reported in the newspapers on Sunday 19 April that wooden furniture export accounts for only 1% of the country’s total export value. If our timber is used to make furniture, the return could be 5 times more than the RM8 bill export revenue from our timber exports, observed the past president of the Sarawak Furniture Industry Association. He also said that the lack of quality timber left for downstream processing and a fledgling government policy to support local furniture makers and lure investors are among the issues that stunted the growth of the furniture industry in Sarawak. I am glad that the Honourable Minister For Resource Planning and Environment II in his reply to the debate on the Forests Bill on 21..4.2015 had given the undertaking that the Government will consider more focus on downstream processing in the future.
In the late 1970’s and early 80’s the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations undertook, in co-operation with Department of Forestry, Sarawak, an extensive and exhaustive study concerning the sustainable use of the forests of Sarawak was done. The basic object of this study, amongst many others, was to elucidate and highlight what was effectively the quantity of timber that could be extracted from the forest estate on a sustainable basis but without affecting its long-term capacity of providing this yield. To put it simply, this was a study to find out, with the capital that nature had given us in our ‘forest bank’, just how much ‘free’ interest we could expect annually in perpetuity. To put it in its clearest terms, this would represent the annual tonnage increase of the total weight of our forests derived from natural growth and re-growth.
After much study it was decided that the annual addition to the forest biomass and hence the recommended annual extraction rate or ‘coup’ should not exceed 8 million tonnes. It was anticipated that this yield, worth at today’s prices probably in excess of RM10 billion per annum, could provide a huge income and its derived employment and benefits to Sarawak for ever.
The contribution that would have been made to Sarawak’s future, since the late 70’s and early 80’s, had the forest estate been managed sustainably and honestly, can be seen from the fact that this figure of RM10 billion is nearly four times that of Sarawak’s current annual development budget of some RM2 billion!!!! How many Universities, Hospitals, Schools, Colleges, Highways, Scholarships and overall wealth would we now be enjoying if we had shown responsible and fair stewardship of the vast natural capital resources that providence had bequeathed to us?
And the irresponsible actions of our past government and politicians resulted in an annual extraction rate of way in excess of 20 million tonnes and maybe as much as 40 million tonnes. Thus, in a very brief period of 30 or 40 years all the ‘capital’ of our forest estate was used up so that today we have virtually almost nothing left at all, let alone an annual sustainable yield of the 8 million tonnes that good management and prudence should provide.
• SOME POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
It would seem prudent that urgent measures are taken to re-plant and renovate our forest estate to eventually re-establish large areas of natural and indigenous forest that could eventually once again yield a highly valuable annual sustainable yield for future generations.
It is also considered that this must not be done with foreign and exotic species many of which damage our soils and completely eliminate our wildlife and natural ecosystem. Fast-growing exotic tree species should only be seen as a very short term, small-scale solution whilst longer-term policies of natural forest re-instatement are undertaken.
Many timber companies claim that none of our local tree species are fast enough growing to support a timber industry but this is utterly fallacious and merely reflects their short term attitude to forest management and wish to finally exhaust and extract everything from Sarawak before moving on to some other Country or Continent to denude their natural forests. Yes, some local species may take a long time to mature but I was advised that not all will require long periods.
So planting of local high value and fast growing hardwood species can and should be undertaken. It may take time but yes, re-plant of local species we must.
In addition the worldwide concern about Global Warming can also greatly assist Sarawak in effectively helping to re-plant its forests. The amount of finance that is available worldwide from many sources to undertake legitimate projects for re-afforestation is absolutely vast and ranges from sources such as the World Bank to Sovereign funds such as the Qatar Foundation.
It would seem entirely possible that all the re-planting of Sarawak’s forests could be achieved with virtually no funding from the State because foreign funds would be very anxious to become involved in such a high profile and beneficial project as the re-planting of the Great Forests of Sarawak. But it is certain that such funds would not be available for the planting of exotic timber species but would only be forthcoming for the re-instatement of the original and indigenous species diversity with all its attendant benefits to wildlife and tourism etc.
Implementation of re-planting the indigenous forest would not be as difficult as it might seem and indeed may provide a huge boost for rural regeneration and employment. Most of the native population are very familiar with re-planting techniques and indeed have been practicing on a cultural basis, on their own lands, for generations. Also they are often very skilled in deciding the mix of species replanting in order to provide a variety of growth rates and timber quality.
Community Forestry projects could be set up in all the individual Kampungs in rural areas which could then carry out re-planting on both their own native customary land and State Land. This would enhance their sense of stewardship over both their own and State land such that the future of the forest estate would be secure, environmentally responsible and capable of a sustainable yield that would guarantee our future generations. 2 years ago I personally participated in such community project in Bario.
Mr. Speaker, I suggest that a non-partisan panel be set up to seriously look into this issue. Whichever side we are sitting on in this Dewan, I am sure that Sarawak holds a very special place in every heart present here and that we must do what we can to restore it to its former pristine state, or as close to it as possible.
• SEDITION ACT
Mr. Speaker, I would like to record my alarm and my disappointment in relation to the recent amendments to the Sedition Act and the passing of the POTA around 2 weeks ago. The Prime Minister has gone back on his word to repeal the Sedition Act and has instead strengthened it in a move that he hopes will placate the hard-liners in his own party. The people of this country, and particularly Sarawakians are increasingly disillusioned and tired of a Prime Minister who does not show any real concern for the rakyat, but is motivated by his desperation to hold on to power.
Notwithstanding the removal of the illustration of seditious tendencies from the amendments to the Sedition Act, calling and encouraging others to call for secession of a state from the country will in all likelihood be considered seditious. If we want to be known as a democratic and progressive country, the people must be allowed to express their views. There are groups of people in Sarawak who are unhappy with the way the country is run and especially by how Sarawak is being treated by the Federal government. Their sentiments are valid and shared by many. Instead of threatening arrest, the Federal Government needs to address the cause of the people’s unhappiness. It must go back to the 18/20 points agreed to by our founding fathers and start to fulfill their part of the contract. A case in point is the matter of the oil royalties paid to Sarawak. The fact that the Federal Government rejected a resolution from this august house sends a message that they do not treat us with any respect at all. Sarawak is regarded as the ATM machine for the federal government, and the fixed deposit of BN. How much longer will Sarawakians continue to accept this shoddy treatment? It is a source of much sorrow for me that Sarawakians are sustaining and perpetuating the system that keeps them downtrodden and backward by voting for people who have no respect for them and who have no qualms about exploiting their good natured simplicity and generosity.
Also, Sarawakians never dreamt that one day, the country they agreed to become part of would be grappling with religious and racial extremism. Recent examples are the ISIS recruitment in Malaysia, our problems with the MRSM rules, and most recently the demand by a few politically motivated protesters that a church remove the cross from its premises. It is a sad indictment of a weak Prime Minister who inevitably allows such hateful and disrespectful incidents to happen because of inaction and selective prosecution in similar circumstances in the past.
• SMUGGLING AND OTHER VICE
Mr. Speaker, during the last sitting of this Dewan, I raised the issue of vehicle smuggling at the borders near Ba’ Kelalan but this was brushed aside by the Deputy Chief Minister who said that for the period between January 2014 to October 2014, there was no report of smuggling of vehicles. However it was reported in the Borneo Post 10 February 2015 that a 4-wheel drive vehicle smuggling syndicate that was driving stolen vehicles from Sabah to Long Bawan, Indonesia through Ba’ Kelalan had been ‘crippled’, with the arrest of the smuggling ring members by the Sabah police. How embarrassing that the case only came to light because of the arrest by the Sabah police. Our police officers in this matter clearly were not up to the mark.
However, I wish to give credit where it is due. The people in my area are happy with the efforts of the new CPO of Lawas who has stepped up enforcement against criminal activities in the area, including cyber gambling and drug abuse. It is heartening to note that there is some co-operation with the community in the war against drug abuse and illegal gambling. Notwithstanding that, there needs to be continued and increased enforcement, particularly at the borders. I have received many complaints that subsidized items are not reaching our people at all in particular Ba’Kelalan and Long Semadoh area, but are diverted directly across the border to Indonesia. The people who are most needy are being deprived of basic necessities because of the greed of appointed agents – I urge the authorities to take strong action to curb this crime and investigate thoroughly where the real problem lies. Our people now have to pay higher prices for many basic items with the imposition of the GST and are finding it difficult enough without having to worry about where to get supplies of the items that they need.
In addition, I note recent news reports that a large proportion of illegal immigrants enter Sarawak via Limbang and Lawas. This brings me back to the issue of border controls, which I have brought up numerous times in this Dewan. The seriousness of the matter has been acknowledged by the Deputy Home Minister, who recently said that human trafficking into Malaysia is one of the reasons Malaysia’s rating by the United States watch list was downgraded from Tier 2 last year to Tier 3, which classified Malaysia as a country where trafficking in persons was rampant. I hope the authorities will expedite the building of the Border Control Post at Ba’Kelalan and step up efforts to enhance of our border security. More Sarawakians should be recruited for the defence forces and to guard our borders. Our indigenous people were once the highly skilled and highly regarded Border Scouts and there is no reason that they cannot be usefully employed again to guard the borders of Sarawak.
• OTHER ISSUES
Mr. Speaker, I would now like to just mention some other points in brief.
In view of the recent debate on the suitability or otherwise of teachers from West Malaysia for our rural schools, I again call for more locals to be trained as teachers and for more Sarawakians to be posted to our local Education offices and other government departments. It is high time that we insist on the implementation of our Borneonisation point in the Malaysian Agreement.
The standard of education of Sarawakians has fallen so much that we need to take drastic measures to arrest the decline. I have said on more than one occasion that we cannot leave this most important and basic facility to the Federal government because the Ministers and bureaucrats in Putrajaya do not have Sarawak’s interest in their priority list. We should seriously consider reclaiming our Education portfolio and implement policies that will produce first-rate Sarawakian professionals, technicians, workers and tradesmen.
The Petronas pipeline that passes through many villages in my constituency had caused great concern and fears to the locals especially after the explosion that occurred on the 9th June 2014. Although I have been briefed constantly by Petronas executives and representatives in Sarawak on the progress of the investigation and what had been done so far, the people are demanding to have the report on this explosion made public and the assurance that this kind of explosion will not recur. Can the Minister in charge give us the assurance that this will be done? Secondly, many claims of NCR along the right of way (ROW) are denied and still pending arbitration hearing. I urge the relevant authorities to expedite these hearings and pay compensation accordingly.
On the issue of the construction of SK Long Sukang, it has been reported to me that the progress is unsatisfactory and not up to expectations. I request that the authorities look into the reasons for the delay and take the necessary action if the contractor is at fault. On SK Lg Semadoh, I welcome the approved budget of more than RM700k to construct the boys and girls dormitory but the whole school is in a dire need to be rebuilt. I visited this school twice, the latest being two weeks ago. The pathetic state of this school would cause any person to silently grieve for the children and staff. I hope our Minister in charge will assist to bring this to the attention of the Federal Education Minister.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, I observed that with the recent passing of Mr. Lee Kwan Yew, many Sarawakians cannot help but compare the astonishing rapid progress made by Singapore and the agonizingly slow advancement of Sarawak since Singapore left the Federation of Malaysia. We cannot help but ask why it is that a small island with no natural resources could become one of the most successful economies of the world while Sarawak with her abundant natural resources still remains poor and undeveloped, many areas still without grid electricity and piped water. The answer, sadly, is in the difference between the policies of our governments, and the quality of our leaders. It is time that the Sarawak government takes responsibility for the real betterment of our land and her people.
May I take this opportunity to wish everybody a bountiful harvest this coming Gawai Dayak Festival.
Selamat Berpuasa dan Aidil Fitri kepada saudara/I yang akan menyambut Bulan Rahmadan dan Hari Raya yang akan datang.
And may God continue to bless Sarawak.
Thank you for your indulgence, Mr. Speaker.
N70, Ba’ Kelalan