Friday, May 15, 2009

My Speech in DUN - Illegal Logging

Tuan Speaker,

At the previous sitting of this august House in November 2008, I raised the issue of the Indonesian Government’s complaints of that country’s illegal timber being smuggled across the border from West Kalimantan into Sarawak through Sematan port.

Earlier in March 2008 Indonesia Metro TV produced a three-part series, based on interviews and on-the-spot filming, on the illegal timber trade which could be watched on YouTube in a programme called ‘Illegal Logging in Ketapang, Kalbar (West Kalimantan). The well-documented reports implicated Harwood Timber, a Sarawak government agency-owned company, as well as a top Sarawak Government leader.

The following month, in April of last year, an Indonesian blogspot Batak Monarchies in an article under the heading ‘Fight Against Illegal Logging! Fight for The Truth!’ again the same top Sarawak Government leader’s name was implicated in the illegal Indonesian timber trade across the border.

The West Kalimantan daily Tribune Pontianak followed it up with its own investigative report published on the front page of its August 14, 2008 edition, highlighting the same problems of illegal Indonesian timber being smuggled into Sarawak. It traced the route the illegal trade took from the protected forests in Katapang to Sematan by boats and again mentioned Harwood Timber’s name. This time, it also implicated the name of ‘Gubernur Sarawak Taib Mahmud.’ Taib Mahmud is, of course, the name of the YAB Chief Minister of Sarawak.

The report further said the Indonesian illegal timber was exported to Sarawak for the purpose of re-export to North Asian countries as legal timber from Sarawak. This implies that Sarawak was being used as a conduit for the export of illegal and/or smuggled timber from a third country, and in this case Indonesia. It was and is a serious allegation that must be answered by the authorities in Sarawak.

Tuan Speaker,

I raised this issue in the first place due to several concerns for Sarawak. First, the Indonesian media reports had implicated the names of a Sarawak government agency-owned company, namely Harwood Timber. Also, the name and reputation of our Chief Minister had been dragged into this somewhat unsavoury state of affairs. Secondly, if no action was taken to explain or clarify the matter, it could and would harm the good name and reputation of Sarawak timber overseas, particularly among the European Union countries which are now gravely concerned about timber coming from illegal sources (which includes logging areas where the rights of indigenous groups have been violated).

Unfortunately, despite all such negative reporting overseas, the Second Minister of Resource Planning and Management, chose to shut his eyes to these reportings. In his winding-up speech on November 10, 2008, he had this to say and I quote:-

“ ….However, let me say, categorically, the State Government has never received any official complaint from the Indonesian authorities pertaining to alleged export of illegal timber from Indonesian to Sarawak. As such we ought not to accept what had been alleged in the Indonesian newspaper to be true. “

I have in possession a copy of a letter dated October 29, 2008 from the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia addressed to the General Manager Len Talif Salleh of the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation (STIDC), making an official complaint about illegal Indonesian timber called batak timbers being supplied to Sematan port without any valid legal documents and seeking the Sarawak Government’s co-operation to put an end to such activities. Is this not official complaint?

The letter was copied to the Minister who is also Chairman of STIDC as well as to Tan Sri Datuk Amar Bujang Nor, the Executive Chairman of Harwood Timber Sdn Bhd and was dated October 29, 2008, almost a fortnight before his winding-up speech in this August House. Was that not official complaint from Indonesian Authorities? Apart from extending letter, I was also told that there was meeting held with STIDC before the last Dewan Sitting to discuss on the issue.

Tuan Speaker,

According to the Indonesian Consulate General, the smuggling of batak timbers had become a matter of ‘serious concern’ as there were still on-going activities of supplying Indonesian illegal timber to Sematan port that is under Harwood Timber management.

The illegal timber, cut in the form of squares (batak), was supplied by several small boats/ships from Indonesia region of Sambas (Paloh and Temajuk) to the Sematan port, namely by KM Citra, KM Mahkota, KM Mustika, KM Hatadi, KM Ciitra Usaha, KM Pantai Mas, KM Putra Darma, KM Sinar Fajar, KM Sri Mulya, KM Impian Lindo, and KM Marcopolo.

The Consulate General believed that the batak timbers that have been supplied to Sematan Port were illegal timbers without any valid legal documents and thus sought the co-operation of the authorities in Sarawak to assist the Indonesian Government ‘to fight the illegal timber activities by not receiving any more the illegal timber into Sarawak’ and to ‘discourage and slow down the illegal timber trade activities between Indonesia and Sarawak.’

Tuan Speaker,

I wonder why the Honourable Minister claimed that there is no official complaint from the Indonesian authorities?

With the letter as clear proof and evidence of the Indonesian government’s official complaint to the Sarawak government about the smuggling of illegal Indonesian timber into Sarawak, how is the Minister going to explain to the Indonesian authorities now? How will the Minister justify the answer that he gave us in this August House in the last November, 2008 sitting?

Was the Minister hoping that by denying there was any smuggling of illegal Indonesian timber into Sarawak the matter would eventually die down and be forgotten? I do not think it is that simple because this involves a foreign country.

The Barisan Nasional State Government and the STIDC and the subsidiary company Harwood Timber Sdn. Bhd. have brought shame and embarrassment to Sarawak and they are not even bothered by the widespread allegations made in the Indonesian and foreign media about their alleged involvement in the illegal timber trade.

Tuan Speaker,

The BN State Government has always pride itself as being a government with far vision and a macro perspective of things. Why is such a vision not present in the timber field? In the short term, our state may benefit from such illegal timber smuggling activities, but in the long term we will lose out:-

1) Firstly, we are not qualified for EU certification. And I believe, soon Japan which is one of the largest importers of our timber products will likely to follow suit. If this happen, it will be disastrous to our state’s timber industry.

2) Secondly, illegal timber smuggling activities breed gangsterism. With the thriving of such activities, gangsterism will surely be more rampant.

3) Thirdly, the excessive illegal logging activities in Indonesia will have a negative environmental impact on our State. The whole world is moving towards preserving rainforests and here, our state government’s agency is seen to become a culprit in destroying rainforest by encouraging illegal logging.

4) Fourthly, I believe such illegal smuggling authority will strain the relationship between our state and Indonesia and we might be seen as unco-operative neighbours or worse.

Tuan Speaker,

We must come down hard on the smugglers on both sides of Indonesia and Malaysia.
The BN state government must assure the world publicly that we no longer condone or tolerate such activities in the future through action rather than empty talks only.
4.Wholesale Market

Tuan Speaker,

Vegetable wholesalers in Kuching which was deprived of a proper trading place for the last two decades yearned for a proper and permanent shelter so that they could trade with dignity and peace. Previously, they traded at Gambier Street and is now housed temporarily at the open car park lots at MBK Stutong Community Market.

During the rainy season, this group of wholesaler can forget about doing business as not only would be they soaked through the skin, there would hardly be any customer who would want to shop in raining open space.

I wanted to remind the State government that despite promises made to build a wholesaler market at Mile 6, Kuching Serian Road, the market has yet to see the light of day. Is this another BN government promise made during election and later to be broken after the election is over?

In my view, the requests from the vegetable wholesalers are not over demanding. And yet, their needs and demands have not been taken seriously by the BN Government. To put it bluntly, the BN government are hopeless, insincere, selfish and uncaring towards the grouses and needs of the people.

Tuan Speaker,

Due to rapid urbanization of Kuching city, it is imperative now for the BN state government to build a reasonable size of wholesale market. Why does the BN government always give empty promises? Do you think that the people can be easily fooled around by the sweet talks of the BN leaders? As the saying goes, “You can fool some people some of the time but you cannot fool all the people all the time”.

The only request from the wholesalers is to have a proper and decent place to trade. Life is hard already and it is the duty and the responsibility of the Government to help these groups of people to earn a decent living in decent condition. Bearing in mind, the wholesalers do not have the same golden rice bowl like all of you sitting in here.

I hope that the BN government could be sincere in their promises. The BN government should seriously put their promises into action by coming out with the detailed plan to build wholesale markets in all major cities in Sarawak without further delay. Do not make the people wait in vain. I hope that the relevant ministry in charge could enlighten this August house on the status of progress of the project in the ministerial winding up speech.

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