Wednesday, December 7, 2016

See wants probe on timber licences

Rep believes lack of effective measures has led to state losing timber resources, revenues
See (right) gesturing during the press conference. He is accompanied by (from left) PKR women national vice president Voon Shiak Ni and his personal assistant Jeffery Mok.
See (right) gesturing during the press conference. He is accompanied by (from left) PKR women national vice president Voon Shiak Ni and his personal assistant Jeffery Mok.

KUCHING: Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem has been urged to call for an independent inquiry to inquire and verify on the standard operating procedure (SOP) compliance of the 251 Occupational Ticket (OT) licences and Letter of Authority (LA) which were issued since he assumed the office of the Chief Minister and Resource Planning and Environment Minister.

In making the call, Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How said the dearth of a mechanism to check the abuse of authority and power to issue timber licences coupled with the failure to take action against those who had flouted the laws and breached their fiduciary duties as civil servants and community leaders were causing the state to lose its valuable timber resources and revenues.

“It appears that some senior officers in the ministry have been issuing timber licences (in OTs and LAs) without the knowledge of the ministers, in defiance of the ministerial directives or evading and sidestepping the directives,” See told a press conference here yesterday.

See, who is also state PKR vice chairman, was commenting on the admission by Resource Planning and Environment Ministry permanent secretary Datu Sudarsono Osman during a press conference on Monday that there were still weaknesses in the present SOP of the state Forest Department in issuing short-term tree felling licences such as OT and LA, agreeing that the SOP could be further improved to prevent abuses.

The Monday press conference held by Sudarsono and state Forest Department director Sapuan Ahmad was to clarify on The Borneo Post’s front page story entitled ‘Directive on timber licences flouted?’ on Sunday.

The report highlighted the recent protest against the issuance of a licence for a company to clear a piece of Native Customary Rights (NCR) land in Ulu Ngemah and questioned serious loopholes in the system that posed as a mockery to the chief minister’s declaration in 2014 that no more timber licences would be issued.

The protesters claimed that as owners of the land, they were not consulted in the exercise to obtain consent for its clearing.

See said: “They talked about SOP that is there but I don’t think that they are following the SOP. It is very obvious they didn’t follow the SOP. The only thing that was right about what they said about SOP was that it’s not good enough. It is definitely not good enough because the SOP doesn’t even have anything to say about after the licences were issued.

“So if it is illegal logging, the chief minister says the biggest problem with the smaller OT licences is they get OT licences and then they log somewhere else, but the SOP doesn’t contain anything to say about what they do after the OT licences have been issued over the area.”

See said Sudarsono and Sapuan had avoided answering the allegation on the flouting of the chief minister’s directive to stop the issuance of small licences as it is found that operators with these licences had tended to abuse them for illegal logging outside their areas.

“Last February, the chief minister revealed that the state government had cancelled or stopped renewing 67 OTs and claimed that the amount was more than half of the number of OTs in the state.

“(However), figures from the ministry have shown that 100 OT licences were issued in 2015 and 42 more up to Dec 5 this year. If the 2014 OT licences had been reduced to 42 by February 2015, another 142 new OT licences have been issued and there is an increase of three-fold, and there are now possibly 184 valid OT licences issued by the Forest Department in the state. Quite clearly, the situation has now worsened!”

See said the date of the Gazette Notification (SWK L.N. 197) was published on June 30 this year.

“The Native Communal (Agriculture) Reserve Declaration Order of 2016 was to come into force on Nov 22, 2013. This is the first time I saw a Native Communal (Agriculture) Reserve Declaration that is done now and say it was enforced three years ago.

“I wonder when was the OT Licence over the areas actually issued, and how many OT licences have been issued over the said Lot 1 Block 8 Spali Land District which is 8,605 hectares, not just 4,800 hectares.

“Did they issue a series of OTs over this area and were these done before the Gazette Notification because the Gazette Notification was published June this year and then they said the declaration was enforced in 2013?”

See wanted the state government to show its political will in safeguarding the state’s depleting timber resources and environment, conserving their yields for the future wellbeing of Sarawak.

“I hope the chief minister would immediately order for a committee of inquiry to look into all the things that had been clarified by them, which obviously is not the real picture of what it is now.

“The other biggest problem is nobody is actually being penalised if there is any breach of SOP or if they have done anything wrong regardless of whether they are senior officers like the permanent secretary, director of forest, or less senior forest officers, district officer or even community leaders. If they have done anything wrong in procuring this kind of OT licences, nothing was ever done to penalise these people.”

~ Borneo Post 

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