SAM is disappointed with approval of Monoculture Plantation Development Projects in Permanent Reserved Forests in Perak

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) is disappointed and objects the approval allegedly given by the Perak State Authority for development of monoculture plantations in Kledang Saiong Forest Reserve (HS Kledang Saiong) and Bukit Kinta Forest Reserve (HS Bukit Kinta) in the Forest District of Kinta Manjung which is going viral in social media. We also object other monoculture plantation development projects planned in the state.

SAM views that the policy on promoting the development of forest plantations (monoculture plantation) within Permanent Reserved Forests (PRF) should be abolished.

Typically, the justification and grounds of State Authorities to approve a monoculture plantation development project isthat the identified areas are defined as poor forests or degraded forests.

It is to be noted that a PRF in Malaysia becomes a poor forest or degraded forest not because of natural factors but due to human factors, especially encroachment and illegal exploration.

In addition, lack of monitoring and enforcement measures by the authorities to prohibit encroachment and illegal activities in the PRF have escalated the problem.

To address the issue and problem of poor or degraded forests in the PRF, the Department of Forestry Peninsular Malaysia (JPSM) has established silvicultural programmes and the development of natural forests, especiallyenrichment planting and restoration or rehabilitation of degraded areas.

Based on previous observations and field surveys by SAM, most monoculture plantation development areas did not comply with the criterion of establishing monoculture plantation as in Kelantan.

Among our findings with regards to monoculture plantation development that do not comply with the criterion of establishing monoculture plantations are:

  • hilly topography and terrain;
  •  stocks of rich tree stands (not poor forest);
  • destruction and exploitation of river reserves (riparian zone) (for example in Gunung Besout Forest Reserve [HS Gunung Besout], South Perak Forest District);
  • violation of indigenous peoples’ territory; and
  •  the destruction of wildlife habitats and corridors, especially large mammals such as elephants and tigers (for example in Piah Forest Reserve [HS Piah], Kuala Kangsar Forest District).

When forest land-use in a PRF is converted for the implementation of monoculture plantation development, it will negatively impact the biodiversity function of the forest.

It will also affect the achievement of sustainable forest management that is central to the management of the nation’s forests.

Before a monoculture plantation in a PRF is developed, the original forest cover (natural forest) will be harvested by clear felling of the trees.

Clear-cutting is not subject to ‘sustainable forest management’ for the purpose of standardization and certification of forests and Annual Allowable Cut.

It is more reasonable and appropriate that monoculture plantation development programmes are implemented and promoted in idle state and private land.

Therefore, SAM hopes that the State Authority will review and take measures to revoke the approval of the monoculture plantation development programmes that are being planned and yet to be implemented in the Permanent Reserved Forests in Perak.

 

Press Statement, 15 February 2019

Penan customary territory in Batu Bungan, Mulu, Sarawak threatened by plantation project

SAM has recently received reports from the Penan community of Kampung Batu Bungan in Mulu, Sarawak that in January this year, road construction for an oil palm plantation began to encroach on their customary territory, which is adjacent to the Gunung Mulu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Area. In response, the community had set up a blockade and lodged a police report in Marudi to halt the encroachment. However, the blockade was then reportedly dismantled by the road construction workers.

 In September last year, the federal Minister of Plantation Industries announced that the new government will not allow any more expansion of oil palm plantations in the country in its effort to ensure that Malaysia maintains a 50 per cent forest cover. By December, Sarawak was also reported to be committed to this. Although we applaud this move, as the Kampung Batu Bungan case shows, there are still many unresolved issues surrounding the matter. 

According to the Sarawak Forests Department, under its Licence for Planted Forests (LPF) system, 43 timber tree plantation licences have been issued over 2.8 million hectares. These licences are located on both the reserved permanent forest estates as well as non-reserved stateland forests. Some of the licences are also allowed to devote not more than 20 per cent of their concession areas for the cultivation of oil palm. Plantable areas are estimated to be at 1.3 million hectares and 285,520 hectares for timber trees and oil palm, respectively. As of December 2013, 325,314 hectares and 146,578 hectares have been planted with timber trees and oil palm, respectively. 

In addition, the Sarawak Department of Land and Survey also issues permits to develop plantations on land not under the authority of the Forests Department. Some of these developments are implemented by state agencies such as the Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA). Based on the data on the websites of various state and federal agencies, we estimate that the total size of land targeted for plantations here may be close to 800,000 hectares, although we are unable to find data on the total size of the licences that have actually been issued and to what extent they involve the cultivation of oil palm. Meanwhile, data from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) shows that in 2017, oil palm cultivation areas in Sarawak has reached 1.5 million hectares. 

Therefore, we need to be clear that oil palm per se is not the only problem here. In Malaysia, the development of monoculture plantations of timber trees and oil palm is in fact allowed on reserved production forests. In Sarawak, such forest conversions also take place on non-reserved stateland forests. The central problems here are thus deforestation and the violations of the indigenous customary land rights, as the case is in Batu Bungan. Oil palm is only but one of the commodities of choice. 

Therefore from the late 1990s onwards, more than 3 million hectares in Sarawak have been licensed to monoculture plantations, where the total area specified for timber plantations is larger than that for oil palm. These take up a quarter of the land size of Sarawak, larger than Perak. Additionally, our research has shown that by 2013, forested areas as large as 324,417 hectares in Peninsular Malaysia and 271,110 hectares in Sabah have also been set aside for timber tree and oil palm plantation development, respectively. Altogether in Malaysia, the size of the areas targeted for these new monoculture plantation development involving forest conversions is at least 3.4 million hectares, almost the size of Pahang. Many of these areas also fall within indigenous customary territories. 

Therefore, the ambition of the new federal government to maintain a 50 per cent national forest cover does appear to rest on unscientific forestry statistics which quantify monoculture plantations, along with the adjacent fragments of forests, as ‘forest cover’. 

According to the Kampung Batu Bungan community, considerable destruction to the forest, river and natural resources has already taken place as a result of the road building alone. Although the community had first heard of the arrival of the oil palm plantation in 2018, they have never consented to the project. The absence of meaningful consultation also means that the people are left without much information. They did not receive documents that can verify the identities of the project proponent and its agents, the boundary and size of the project operations and other important details. They also wonder if profits are derived from the timber trees felled for the road construction. The community therefore demand that the encroachment is immediately halted. 

The new federal government needs to take stock of the real issue at hand – this situation is not an isolated case in Sarawak, or even Malaysia. It is not just about oil palm. As the Report of the National Inquiry into the Land Rights of Indigenous Peoples published by SUHAKAM in 2013 has stated, the violations of the indigenous customary land rights in Malaysia is a systemic issue and the lack of their tenure security must first be addressed.

Therefore, in line with the federal and state governments’ commitment to halt deforestation, there is need to review and revoke large monoculture licences which affect indigenous customary territories and reserved production forests and non-reserved forests, regardless of the commodity involved. 

Further, the federal cabinet also needs to provide an update on the status of the SUHAKAM national inquiry report. It is time for the federal and state governments to take heed of the recommendations of the SUHAKAM report and protect the rights of indigenous peoples in the country.

We also urge the federal and state governments to respect the call of the Penan community of Kampung Batu Bungan. The proximity of their territory to the internationally renowned Gunung Mulu National Park must also be greatly appreciated. 

As have been shown here, not all new large monoculture licensed areas have been developed. There is still opportunity to protect many indigenous customary territories and a sizeable quantity of actual natural forest cover, including that of Kampung Batu Bungan in Mulu, Sarawak. 

The federal government was quick to help support the Orang Asli community in Gua Musang, Kelantan to ensure that state governments fulfil their fiduciary duties under the Federal Constitution to respect the rights of indigenous peoples. We urge the federal government to take a similar approach in Sarawak and help protect the Penan community in Kampung Batu Bungan and other native communities who are fighting to defend their customary rights to land and the remaining forests from encroachments and destruction.

 

LETTER TO EDITOR, February 14, 2019

New car buyers need protection

CAP calls for introduction of the Lemon Law in Malaysia

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) urges the government to implement the Lemon Law which is a remedy for purchasers of consumer products, particularly motorized vehicles, that repeatedly fail to meet with the standards of quality and performance. Lemon Law strengthens the Consumer Protection Act. It should be introduced to provide consumers holding onto ‘lemons’ (nice to see but sour and tart to taste) an avenue of legal redress.

This law requires defective cars to be repaired or replaced. A consumer may request for a reduction in price, or gets a refund. Currently countries such as the United States, Singapore, South Korea, China, and the Philippines have implemented the Lemon Law.

The Lemon Law is incorporated into Singapore’s Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA) 2004. We can also do so with our Consumer Protection Act (CPA) 1999.

It considers:

  • The nature of the problem.
  • The number of days that the vehicle is unavailable to the consumer for repair of the same mechanical issue.
  • The number of repair attempts made.
  • If the repairs cannot be completed within the number of days stated in the Act, the manufacturer is obligated to buy back the defective vehicle.
  • The Lemon Law covers secondhand cars as well, introducing a Standard Vehicle Assessment Report checklist. This check list of items ranged from visual, equipment and road test checks concurrently by both the dealer and the buyer to ensure transparency.
  • It covers a wide range of defects from aesthetics to mechanical related issues.

In most cases, the various defects found in new cars leave car owners with little option except going for car repairs at authorised car workshops. As it is now, vehicle owners may encounter:

  • Workshops that would conduct trial-and-error repairs, repairing one part to find the problem not solved then proceeding on with another repair. The service centre buys time until the warranty period expires and the car owner is then left to pay for subsequent repairs of the same defects.
  • Engineers’ false diagnosis and find faults with vehicle owners (like over-running the service interval) to decline claims for major defects.
  • There are cases of vehicles lying in workshops for months, up to six months or more, and yet unable to provide a diagnosis, let alone repair the vehicle.
  • Car service centres that refuse to admit that a defect cannot be fixed and thus it does not need to refund or replace with another car as required by the CPA 1999.
  • A deprivation of the use of his car each time it is in the workshop. Therefore, it is pertinent to ascertain the number of times a new car undergo repairs before the owner can file a case at the Tribunal.
  • Uncertainty about how long the vehicle is going to remain in the service centre.

We have been receiving varied complaints from consumers concerning various car defects over the years. Many letters and reminders had been written to the car dealers and relevant government agencies but we either received denials, evasive replies, or slow response. Which government agency is responsible in monitoring the industry?

Defective cars are not only a rip-off of consumers, they are also unsafe on the roads and a danger to other road users.

With the Lemon Law in Singapore, a consumer can:

  • Make a claim for a defective product (also known as lemons) purchased within 6 months.
  • Expect the seller of the defective product to repair, replace, refund or reduce the price of the defective product (subject to certain conditions).
  • Get the defective product repaired within a reasonable time at the seller’s cost.
  • Get the defective product replaced within a reasonable time at the seller’s cost.
  • Ask for a price reduction while keeping the product or return the product for a refund if the seller fails to repair.

CAP calls on the Government to introduce the Lemon Law and would suggest that it is reasonable that a seriously defective car be repaired in a maximum of a month, and three attempts is reasonable for the service centre to repair the same defect before the Lemon Law applies.

We reiterate that the government should introduce the Lemon Law to ensure that car manufacturers be held responsible for their defective products and to repair the vehicle satisfactorily as required by the law. The number of defective new cars that Malaysians are hopelessly holding on with no avenue for legal redress is worrying.

 

Press Statement, 14 February 2019     

Bukit Kukus Investigation – Need for stern action against wrongdoers including MBPP

The Consumers Association of Penang calls for stern action to be taken against the wrongdoers who have been found responsible for the fatal landslide tragedy at the construction site of the paired road project at Jalan Bukit Kukus last October 17.

We have learnt from press reports that the special investigative committee set up by the Penang government has found the Penang Island City Council (MBPP), the contractor Yuta Maju Sdn. Bhd, consultant Jurutera Perunding GEA (M) Sdn. Bhd and independent checking engineer G&P Professional Sdn Bhd responsible for the fatal incident that claimed 9 lives.

While we welcome the investigative committee’s findings as to who is responsible for the tragedy, we are concerned that apart recommending the blacklisting of the contractor, consultant and independent checking engineer from any tender consideration for future projects, and further investigations by the police, the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) and the Construction Industry Development Board, it appears that no further stern action has been recommended.

In particular, we want to know what action is going to be taken against the MBPP for its failure to act by the Penang State government. It is incumbent on the State government to hold the Mayor of the MBPP and the officers accountable for their irresponsibility and dereliction of duties in failing to supervise the project.

This is no simple incident has 9 deaths have resulted and very stern action must be taken against the MBPP that includes strong disciplinary action against the Mayor and officers responsible.

Otherwise, it will be business-as-usual in the MBPP as the officers will be allowed to go scot-free with impunity, and nothing will be done to improve the standards of supervision and enforcement of the laws relating to earthworks, construction and buildings, for which this agency is responsible for.

Safeguarding the public interest demands strong action against the MBPP and the other wrongdoers, who are responsible for the death of innocent lives. This tragedy must serve as a good lesson to prevent further incidents of such a nature.

We therefore call on the State government to make public what further actions will be taken and what improvements will be done in the MBPP to prevent further landslide tragedies. We also call for the investigative committee’s findings to be made public, in the interest of transparency and accountability.

 

Press Release, 14 February 2019

The trade in reptiles

The   media report  on the seizure of live baby crocodiles at Sibu airport   is not a new incident.  A similar incident occurred in May 2018 in which  an illegal shipment of 50 live crocodiles from Malaysia were seized by border officers at Heathrow Airport.
The shocking truth is the manner in which the year old  juvenile saltwater crocodiles were transported.  These reptiles weighing around 40kgs, had not been packed in accordance with International  Air Transport   Association (IATA) regulations, invalidating their permit and making the importation illegal.

They were discovered in horrific condition  by Grant Miller, head of the national Border Force Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) at Heathrow who commented,  “It is just not acceptable for reptiles to be transported in this way.”

Each box only had room for four crocodiles but instead 10  foot-long reptiles had been packed into each one.  Due to very limited space the crocodiles started fighting each other during the flight resulting in the death of one saltwater crocodile.

Apart from contravening of CITES regulations, this is a clear example of how Malaysian wildlife exporters and traders are only into profits without any regard for animal welfare.  Squeezing as many reptiles into a box  while limiting the number of boxes used  in order to save costs is the norm for these wildlife exporters.

These  crocodiles were believed to be meant  for a farm in Cambridgeshire, where they were to be bred for their meat.  Fortunately the horrifying condition led to the confiscation of the remaining surviving   crocodiles which were  cared for to be  re-homed later.

In the Sibu case of  the snapping live baby crocodiles in two white boxes labelled as frozen fish the truth was discovered  when  the package was intercepted at Sibu Airport thus saving the baby  crocodiles from further ordeal.  In this case the particulars of the sender were all believed to be false.   In the first case  there was no further news as to the identity of the crocodile exporters and  from which state in Malaysia.  As for the  latter the falsification of the sender’s particulars led to no further arrest.

The potentially large profits, combined with relatively minimal penalties if caught, especially for a first offense, have resulted in a large number of smugglers and a diversity of smuggling techniques.

Sadly while no one knows exactly what percentage of the illegal wildlife trade involves reptiles, it is thought to be substantial.  Smugglers will go to great lengths to conceal their activities.  One of the most routine and often effective strategies employed by smugglers moving animals is simply falsifying import and export documentation.  Enforcement of existing trade laws is often lax, so a great many illegally shipped animals simply go by undetected.

Unfortunately, failures in enforcement of CITES requirements have prevented the successful application of CITES as a conservation tool.  These as well as failures in the  compliance IATA regulations have resulted in the inhumane treatment and the death of large number of reptiles.

Due to the fact that it is extremely difficult or impossible to identify the exact source of most reptiles, exporters may take in illegally caught animals, declare them captive-bred and sell them off at a bigger profit.

The internet has facilitated an increase in both the legal and illegal wildlife trade.  It has revolutionized  the reptile trade by connecting sellers and buyers throughout the world in a way that was never before possible.

The above two cases serve as a reminder that enforcement is difficult and sometimes depends on nothing more than just blind luck.  No one  really knows the true extent of this aspect of the trade.

The illegal trade is substantial and is believed to be equal to or greater in value than the legal trade.  Some illegally collected reptiles are laundered through so-called reptile farms or other facilities and labelled captive bred and then sent to buyers in other locations through a vast network of collectors, exporters, importers, wholesalers and retailers.  They represent the proverbial tip of the iceberg in the world of illegal reptile trading.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) calls for an in-depth investigation by the relevant authorities into  the two cases and bring the culprit to book.

 

Letter to Editor, 1 February 2019