Thursday, November 6, 2008

My Debate Speech touched on establishedment of Housing Tribunal, Illegal Timber Trade, and Alienation of State Lands

Three days i.e. 5th, 6th & 7th Nov, was set for members in the August House to debate on the Supply Bill tabled on 2.11.2008. This sitting, I was asked by our party whip to speak first and that is why I was all set for it.

For the last few sittings, there will be no time limit for those who spoke on the 1st day of debate. However, time limit of 30 minutes was set this round. I prepared 9 issues for my debate speech. But sadly to say that, due to time constrained and unwarranted interruptions of BN backbenchers for touching sensitive issues, I only manged to speak three out of my nine issues prepared.

I was racing formula 1 when I read my speech. Nevertheless, I still cannot meet my goal to put forward all my 9 issues.

The issues which I spoke on are:-

1. Request for Establishment of Sarawak Housing Tribunal;
2. Illegal Timber Trade and its Serious Implication (Harwood Timber Sdn. Bhd. was touched at length on its alleged involvment in illegal timber trade);
3. Policy on Land Alienation (Naim Cendera Group was mentioned as hundreds of acres of state lands were alienated to them).

Please read my speech below:-

Violet Yong’s Debate Speech on the Supply (2009) Bill, 2008

Thank you Tuan Speaker for giving me the opportunity to present my debate speech this morning. I will raise a few issues.

1. Request for establishment of Sarawak Housing Tribunal

Tuan Speaker,

Nowadays, with the drastic increase in number of complaints against dishonest or deceitful developers in the State of Sarawak, it is high time for the State Government of Sarawak to set up a housing tribunal in the state to implement laws to tackle the problem. At the moment, the Housing Developers and Licensing Ordinance 1993 and Housing Developers Regulations 1999 are 'toothless" to go against unscrupulous developers who have cheated innocent consumers. The legal framework is very much infertile and weak whereby the Ministry of Housing, Sarawak has no power to act to protect the interest and welfare of properties buyers.

Indeed, it is very shameful to say that Sarawak is the only state in Malaysia that has yet to set up a housing tribunal to deal with complaints from house buyers against developers. The idea of setting up a housing tribunal has been discussed by the Ministry of Housing since 2003, but the state government appears to have shown neither interest or any intention and political will to speed up the establishment of such a tribunal.

Tuan Speaker,

There were numerous complaints from disgruntled house buyers who discovered their newly purchased properties are abound with serious defects due to low quality building materials or that their properties are either not constructed according to approved building plans. There are also extreme cases where there are defaults on the part of the developers for not delivering the properties to the purchasers within the stipulated time frame.

Worst still, some of the housing projects have been abandoned by the developers with full purchase price of the properties being disbursed to developers, resulting in purchasers having to continue servicing their housing loans. These buyers were left serving the loans for nothing. I was told and had even experienced it myself indicating that the Ministry of Housing has either been ignorant or choose to ignore all these problems.

Such injustice should stop. We must understand that the majority of the people used their life long savings to purchase a house for their own and to end up with dishonest developers, these victims are desperate. Their cries for help went unheard!

A few such developers which was brought to my attention should have stern action taken against them are Sabu Development Sdn. Bhd., Chapri Development Sdn. Bhd., Million Ascend Sdn. Bhd. and Besthouse Development Sdn. Bhd.

Tuan Speaker,

Sometime in July, 2008, due to the refusal of the developer to fully rectified the defects, I brought along 11 house buyers from Taman Million along Jalan Kempas, a residential estate developed by Million Ascend Sdn. Bhd. to the Ministry of Housing to appeal for assistance to take appropriate action against the developer for shoddy workmanship and also on buildings not built in accordance with building plans despite occupation permits being issued by the council.

We made two trips to the housing ministry with the intention to meet up with the permanent secretary to seek help. But sad to say, we only end up meeting up with a few ministry officials. The ministry of housing promised to fix a date for all parties concerned to attend to solve the problem but this has never materialized.

Instead, the Ministry of Housing issued a letter to request the 11 house buyers to resort to legal advice and action. It is very unreasonable and irresponsible for the ministry to request the 11 house buyers to resolve the matter on their own through the legal process. Have the ministry even consider and concern about those poor consumers who cannot afford to engage a lawyer? Isn't it obvious that they have to "eat dead cat"?

As to the issuance of occupation permit for the project, the 11 house buyers had also brought the matter to the attention of MBKS. And the reply from the council was that they do not conduct close checks on the construction of the buildings and the occupation permit is issued based on the certificate of completion by the architect. Is this the right and responsible way? What if the architect is signing "buta" like the present case and should the building collapse one day, who should be responsible. I understand that the roof truss were built using shoddy materials and with no proper termite treatment. Would the council want to be responsible for any possible loss of lives?

Tuan Speaker,

With the setting up of a housing tribunal, it will at least ensure that the interest of house-buyers are taken care of and also ease their burden as not everyone is wealthy enough to engage lawyer to fight the case in civil court.

I see the reason put up by the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Housing Sarawak as to why the state government has no intention to set up the housing tribunal as unreasonable and irresponsible. He told the Sunday post sometime in January, 2008 and I quote "As it is now there are just not enough cases to warrant the setting up of a housing tribunal. It is just like setting up a court and is not easy to do".

In my opinion, such statement was only an excuse. Since the Permanent Secretary had admitted that the law is in place for the setting up of a tribunal in Sarawak, then it should be set up now. How long would the state government want to wait? Till the cows come home? I also want to seek clarification whether it has to do with the reason because that most of the developers are crony companies of the State Barisan National leaders and hence, they require special protection and treatment from the state and that is why the state government sees no urgency to set up the housing tribunal? Or has it been because with the establishment of the housing tribunal, it will do away all the "money making kantows" from the housing projects? Otherwise, I see no reason why the state government has been so reluctant in setting it up.

I know that the setting up of the housing tribunal is a "non-profit making project". You cannot make any money out from it! But, do remember the state government has the responsibility to do its best in making sure the welfare and interest of house buyers are not ripped off by irresponsible parties. The BN leaders should not always think of self interest but must serve the people with sincere hearts. Remember all elected representatives including our Chief Minister are the servants of the people. We should not lose sense of our relationship with the people. Please give homebuyers in Sarawak the same protection that buyers in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah enjoy.

At the same time, I also urge the state government to improve the existing laws by:

(1) making the directors and shareholders personally liable towards buyers should developers abscond, abandon housing projects or the companies are would up;

(2) making the architect or engineer personally liable in the event they issue a progress certification knowing that the construction works have not been completed in accordance with the provisions of the sale and purchase agreement; and

(3) freezing the housing development account if the controller has reason to believe that the licensed housing developer is carrying on his business in a manner detrimental to the interest of the purchasers or is contravening any provision of the law.

Of course, it is also important for the Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia and the Association of Consulting Engineers Malaysia to be pro-active and be serious to name and black list members who are known to have been involved in the issuance of progress certification despite works not being done or completed in accordance with the Sale and Purchase Agreement.

However, I believe, the best way to tackle the housing problems would be by setting up the Housing Tribunal as well as getting the comprehensive Housing Development (Control and Licensing) Act, 1966 to be extended to Sarawak.

2. Illegal Timber Trade and Its Serious Implications

Tuan Speaker,

The Environmental International agency (EIA) website news reported on October 17,2008: Almost 20% of timber imported to the European Union may come from illegal sources, but that could change under newly proposed legislation geared toward curbing illicit logging and reforestration, as well as addressing the climate, the European Commissioners said.

The possible or likely implications and, if I may add too, the benefits arising from that proposed legislation for Malaysia, a major timber exporting country, in particular for Sarawak (which contributes close to 40% of Malaysia's annual timber export earnings of about RM20 billion , must, therefore, not be under-estimated at all. I understand that the EU and Malaysia (including representatives from Sarawak) have been holding talks to try and reach what is called a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) on the legality definition of timber and timber products exported to EU countries.

But, unfortunately, the VPA talks are going nowhere because of the conflict amongst stakeholders on the definition of "legality" when the EU appears to favour the (NGO and local lawyers) stand that timber from NCR-disputed areas are illegal unless the NCR issues over the concession areas are resolved (in line with the courts' decisions). But the Sarawak Government through the state Attorney-General has a different view to "legality" which is linked solely to issue of a licence over the concession area (and we know how arbitrarily and thoughtless these licences are issued to cronies and families).

The stand taken by the NGOs and the many local lawyers fighting for the rights of our indigenous people is also the stand taken by our party, DAP.

Tuan Speaker,

Looking at the same issue from a business and economic perspective, there are benefits of curbing illegal timber and ensure that all timber are from legal , I emphasize legal, not sustainable, but just legal source. The EU is paying a high premium for legal timber sourced from Malaysia which is called Green Premium which is about 50% more than market value for our timber.

But the talks, as I also understand, have also been held under a cloud following reports carried in Indonesian and Malaysian media for the past year or so of Sarawak's alleged involvement in the export of illegal Indonesian timber from Indonesian West Kalimantan to Sarawak. Two months ago, the Indonesian Forestry Minister also complained to his Malaysian counterpart about the illegal timber trade across the border between Kalimantan and Sarawak.

I also noticed that on March 26, 2007 Indonesia Metro TV produced a three-part investigative series, based on interviews and on-the-spot filming, on the illegal timber trade which could be watched on YouTube in a programme called 'Kayu Mengalir Sampai Kuching' and which implicated Harwood Timber Sdn. Bhd. and showing how illegal logs being transported to Sematan Kuching and be given legitimacy. It was reported in the news by Indonesia Metro TV, 60% of illegal logs in Indonesia are being exported to Sarawak.
On April 13, 2008 under an Indonesian blogspot Batak Monarchies ( an article under the heading 'Malaysian High Ranking Official Suspected Of Illegal Logging!' a high-ranking Malaysian official was again implicated in the illegal timber trade. In yet another Indonesian website ( name of the Sarawak government-owned company was revealed as Harwood Timber Sdn Bhd. This was followed by an investigative report carried in a front-page headline in a West Kalimantan daily Tribun Pontianak on August 14,2008 about the illegal timber trade, tracing the route it took from the protected forests in Ketapang to Kuching and again Harwood Timber Sdn Bhd's name was mentioned but this time it also implicated 'Gubernur Sarawak Taib Mahmud.'
The report further stated that Indonesian illegal timber was exported to Sarawak and then re-exported to North Asia countries as legal timber from Sarawak. The Swiss-based European NGO Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) has meanwhile called on the European Commissioners to stall the talks with Malaysia and to delay the implementation of any agreement until certain clarifications have been obtained from Malaysia.

Prior to all this, an Indonesian NGO known as Telapak , very much concerned with the protection of the forests for community use, together with representatives from the Environmental International Agency (EIA) traveled under cover to Sarawak to follow the trail of the Indonesian illegal timber from Ketapang to Kuching. They also spoke to the end users of the illegal Indonesian timber.

Tuan Speaker,

Again, the seriousness of all the allegations against Malaysia, in particular Sarawak, should not be taken lightly. Whether the Sarawak government has in fact replied to the allegations in the media I am not aware of it ; or why there has been no official denial or rebuttal or rejection.
Surely, we are all aware of the serious implications not only in relation to the Malaysia-Indonesia Agreement reached on June 2002 on the banning of log exports to Malaysia and especially the European Union's move to enforce the legality question vide the proposed Forest Law Enforcement, Governance & Trade (FLEGT) to ascertain the origins of timber and timber products exported to EU countries. If we are not careful we could end up being black-listed by important consumer countries.

I would like to ask the Chief Minister also in his capacity as Minister of Planning and Resource Management why is he and the Sarawak Government have all this while kept very quiet in the face of the allegations which have been widely publicized? Do we have something to hide? Is there a lot of truth in the allegations?

If such allegations are not answered or responded to and, worst, clarifications not made or the truth told, the image of our nation will be flushed down the toilet. Our leaders and state government should not remain silent on the issue. If this persists, there will always be suspicions as to the origin or source of our timber exported to overseas market, in particular Europe which is a growing and premium market for such products.

Bearing in mind, local and international NGOs are actively investigating the matter and if their findings prove the allegations to be true are accepted by EU, European importers may think twice to buy our timber product, resulting in great financial loss to the industry and the state. Our state government should not perpetually be in a state of denial or try to sweep the problems under the carpet. Further, dealing in illegal Indonesian timber is a term that is in violation of existing bilateral and even multi-lateral agreements.

Tuan Speaker,

If the allegations about illegal Indonesian timber being re-exported from Sarawak as legal timber prove to be true, and since the name of Harwood Timber Sdn Bhd has been mentioned in the various publications and blogs, I would like to know whether any action is to be taken Harwood Timber Sdn Bhd and its officials? I am told that a timber merchant who blew the whistle on the illegal Indonesian timber trade is now being held in prison in Ketapang and he has the evidence to back up the allegations, including how the timber is being illegally felled from protected forests in Ketapang and then shipped over land and seas to Kuching via depots or log yards operated by Harwood Timber Sdn Bhd.

Further, evidence shows the illegal trade has been going on for many years and how could this happen right under the very nose of the authorities in Sarawak without their knowing it?
This, to me and my party, is a serious dereliction of duty and I call on those responsible to be held accountable as it has tarnished our country image both locally and overseas as the matter has received negative publicity overseas.

Tuan Speaker,

I would also like to draw the attention of Honourable Members of this August House to something which, in my opinion, should not have happened at all in the administration of our state forestry resource management, planning and policy. What has come as a shock to me is on being reliably informed of a directive issued about two years ago by the Ministry of Planning and Resource Management to the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) to dispose of all seized illegal logs to Harwood Timber Sdn Bhd and that Hardwood Timber Sdn Bhd shall process and sell the timber to the local market and that Harwood Timber Sdn Bhd will pay royalties from the seized timber before processing. I was informed that the directives were given by our Chief Minister and the said directive was also copied to State Attorney General, Forest Department Sarawak, STIDC and Harwood Timber Sdn. Bhd. May I know whether there is such a directive issued? If so, a full explanation must be given to the people with respect to the rational of the state government in implementing such policy where in fact there are other better ways of dealing seized illegal logs. The other questions which I would like to ask are: Why Harwood Timber Sdn. Bhd. has to be made as the sole beneficiary to process illegal seized logs? Why Harwood Timber Sdn. Bhd. a state owned company is allowed to process illegal logs? Whether all these illegal logs were given legitimacy by Harwood Timber Sdn. Bhd. before sending for processing? How does the state government be sure that the timber products made from the illegal logs are not being exported overseas?

I do not know whether the directive from the Ministry of Planning and Resource Management constitutes an act of in fact encouraging illegal logging. I would suggest, before the directive is carried out by SAPU (Security and Protection Unit), the enforcement arm of SFC, must determine where the seized illegal timber came from, whether it was from communal forests or pulau or from protected forests or from National Parks. If, for example, it comes from pulau which belongs to the indigenous group then by right the illegally felled logs should be given to that community for them to decide how best to dispose of them, and not for SFC to sell them to Harwood Timber Sdn. Bhd.

I can only guess because of the good timber prices illegal logging might be quite rampant and I have been informed in one case involving the clearing of land for a reforestration project in Bintulu there has been many complaints from longhouse communities about logging contractors encroaching into their NCR lands, especially pulau or communal forests on which they rely on for their timber needs to build ,repair and improve their dwellings, etc

I feel the authorities should withdraw such a directive and the best way to deal with seized illegally-felled logs not harvested from NCR areas or pulau would be to auction them off to small-time timber merchants or small and independent sawmill and timber factory owners as a local source of supply and to discourage them from looking elsewhere to source for timber needs.
May I refer to a recent statement made by the Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan Hong Nam and reported in local newspapers concerning the substantial loss in earnings in the exports of fishery products to Europe due to non compliance with certain requirements of consumer countries. The same thing could also happen timber industry except the loss would be much greater if we failed to comply with the requirements of the European Commission regarding the importance of dealing only with legal timber.
Tuan Speaker,

Reports of the illegal timber trade across the common border is perhaps nothing new and has been going for quite sometime, according to industry people in the know. Why this has been going on is something we need to ask ourselves.

There is obviously a demand for illegal timber which can be sourced internally (within the State) and externally (from outside the State) and which ,presumably, is cheaper. I am informed that many non logging concession sawmill and factory owners that it is difficult and very expensive to source the logs locally, as log production is controlled by the so-called “big boys” or timber-based conglomerates which are also into downstream timber processing, especially the production of plywood., apart from dowels, mouldings, veneer and middle-density fibreboard (MDF) for the export market.

Since the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation (STIDC) issues the licences for almost everything relating to logging and timber processing, we should help the many small and independent operators, namely the sawmills and timber factory owners, to be able to source for log supply from a central pool at reasonable prices to sustain them and to be able to compete in the export market. The present high prices of logs may be putting the smaller operators out of business, if they continue to experience difficulty in finding supply of raw materials. Indeed, the short and medium term prospects for business may not appear to be good too, especially with the sluggish global trade. We ought to do something to help them as well.

3. Policy on Land Alienation

Tuan Speaker,

The State government’s policy on land alienation is flawed. Under the present state BN administration which does not subscribe to the principles of accountability, transparency, integrity, equal opportunity and social economic justice, the process of alienation of state lands is often carried out without going through public tender system. Instead, large parcels of valuable land are alienated through direct negotiation or closed door deals to private cronies companies that have close proximity with the BN state leaders.

Direct alienation of land to crony companies for personal profits should be stopped. The Sarawak State Government should adopt the policy of Penang State Government led by our DAP’s YAB Lim Guan Eng, i.e. alienate state lands through public tender system so that the government can generate the most income from the alienation of lands. If such a system were being implemented, for sure there will be enough revenue generated for the states to finance its operating and development expenditure for many years. Furthermore, this would ensure that moneys meant for the people would not be siphoned into private accounts.

Just to make one point clear, when I am talking about the alienation of state land through public tender system, I am only referring to large parcels of land with commercial value. On the other hand, small individual residential lots should be alienated to the poor and the needy at low and affordable premiums, so that the rakyat in general, can truly enjoy and benefit of the abundance of land in Sarawak. The government should continue the policy like the Stampin Resettlement Scheme, i.e. alienating plots of 8 points land to the homeless and the poor.

However, it saddens me to see that today, the Barisan Nasional Government are alienating large parcels of land with high commercial value to cronies companies while the poor and the people in general are not given land for them to build their houses.

In Sarawak, upon close scrutiny of the land deals alienated to private companies, it is not difficult to find out that it is always the same people who are getting the lands and worst still at a price way below the market value. The people have a strong feeling that the process of state lands alienation has been abused and riddled with corruption and cronyism for the cronies’ gains.

When it comes to people’s request in asking the state government to amend the land code to allow unconditional automatic renewal of land lease term for 99 years, all sort of excuses have been put forward by the BN state leaders including the ridiculous statement that our state would go bankrupt if we implement such move. The state government is heartless and insists to charge high renewal premium on lands which belong to the people and which we previously purchased by them using their hard earned money.

However, strange enough, when it comes to self interest and personal profits, the BN state leaders have no problems in giving out thousands of acres of land with high commercial value to their sons, wife, sister, cousins, and relatives’ related companies. Is this the so called caring BN government? How can we allow our state resources to be controlled by one person?

Tuan Speaker,

I shall now give the details of 7parcel of lands which have been directly alienated to private companies that are closely linked to Naim Cendera group:-

1. Lot 1748 Muara Tuang Land District with an area of 207.678 ha (approx. 513.17 acres) was alienated to Naim Cendera Sdn. Bhd. for purpose of residential development;

2. Lot 4711 Block 14 Salak Land District with an area of 33.599 ha (approx. 83 acres) was alienated to Khidmat Mantap Sdn. Bhd. which is a wholly owned company of Naim Cendera Sdn. Bhd. for purpose of residential development;

3. Lot 3287 Block 10 Kuching Central Land District with an area of 13.597 ha (approx. 33.59 acres) was alienated to Peranan Makmur Sdn. Bhd. which has the same directors team as Naim Cendera Holdings Berhad. for purpose of commercial development;

4. Lots 766 and 767 both of Block 7 Sampadi Land District with an area of 18.358 ha and 552 ha respectively were alienated to Tegap Pesat Sdn. Bhd. which partly own by Naim Cendera Sdn. Bhd. and few board members of Naim Cendera Holdings Behad.

5. Lots 3161 and 3162 both of Section 10 Kuching Central Land District were alienated to Dataran Wangsa Sdn. Bhd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Naim Cendera Sdn. Bhd. for purpose of residential development.

From what I have exposed, it shows exactly the same scenario of what Lingam said in the Lingam tape scandal respecting the name of the private companies, “it looks different, it sounds different but it is not different!”, all these companies are from Naim Cendera group.

The above is just the tip of the iceberg. There are more of such lands being alienated to Naim Cendera group which has close relationship with our Chief Minister.

The people would like to know why the alienation of the lands mentioned was not done through open tender system. Why lands which supposedly belong to the people ended up in the hands of Naim Cendera Group? Whether the lands are being alienated without land premium being paid to the state? How is the land premium of these alienation calculated by the state government?

Why the Chief Minister, as the Minister of Resource and Planning allows hundreds or even thousands of acres of state lands being directly alienated to his cousins’ company, Naim Cendera group of companies?

Wouldn’t there be conflict of interest in such operation, bearing in mind, only last week, Taksin, the previous Thai Prime Minsiter was sentenced to 2- year imprisonment for alienating land to his wife’s company at a discounted price?

I would like to reiterate our DAP’s policy and position on land alienation:-

1.Renewal of land for 99 years should be automatic and without premium;

2.Small plots of residential land ought to be alienated to the poor and the needy and the rakyat in general with nominal premium;

3.Large parcels of land with high commercial value ought only to be alienated through public tender process to generate the maximum income for the government.


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