Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Groups ditch forestry consultation process

NGOs have been used by the Government to hookwink the international communities. Thank God, we still have people who still believe in the fight for the environment in Malaysia. Read this article:

Fauwaz Abdul Aziz Mar 19, 08 7:10pm
Source: Malaysiakini

A multi-stakeholder consultation on ways to prevent the import of illegal timber into Europe came to an abrupt end when two coalitions walked out of the process that had begun last June.

Yesterday, the coalitions - JOANGOHutan and Joas - comprising representatives of indigenous peoples and environmental groups alleged that their presence was aimed only at endorsing a flawed process rather than being allowed to improve it through input.

The plantation industries and commodities ministry has spearheaded consultations with interest-groups since June 22 last year.

The aim is to incorporate their views into the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) on timber imports which the government hopes to conclude with the European Commission (EC).

The VPA comes under the EC’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) action plan, a larger European Union (EU) initiative to stop imports of illegally-sourced timber.

It is said that more than 50 percent of all tropical timber and more than 20 percent of boreal timber coming into the EU is illegally-sourced.

However, one activist said the government agencies have not included all the proposals of the lobby groups in the Timber Legality Assurance System (TLAS), on which the issuance of licences will be based.

“They told us that our proposals would be taken into consideration,” said Sarawak Dayak Iban Association secretary-general Nicholas Mujah when met in Kuala Lumpur today.

“But all this while, most of our concerns and proposals have not been written into the documents at all.”

One of the most significant proposals concern the definition of ‘legal timber’.

The current VPA defines ‘legal timber’ as that ‘harvested by licensed person from approved areas and timber and timber products exported in accordance with the laws, regulations and procedures pertaining to forestry, timber industry and trade of Malaysia’.

Many groups have pointed out, however, that such a definition ignores the incidence of smuggled timber that has been certified as legal in Malaysia.

It also ignores the fact that logging licences have often been issued on land claimed by indigenous communities without their free, prior and informed consent.

JOANGOHutan and Joas had proposed that Malaysian legal timber be defined as that originating from within Malaysia and from lands free from aboriginal or native customary claims.

This definition was not incorporated into the draft TLAS, said Mujah.

‘Meet minimum demand’

Centre for Orang Asli Concerns coordinator Colin Nicholas said the government’s refusal to use the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954 to further define legal timber similarly showed its lack of seriousness to incorporate their views and input.

According to the Act, no licence for the collection of forest produce shall be issued to anyone who is ‘not being aborigines normally resident in that aboriginal area’ without consulting the director-general of the Department of Orang Asli Affairs.

The Act also provides that ‘in granting any such licence it may be ordered that a specified proportion of aboriginal labour be employed’. The government rejected this, however, and contended that the National Forestry Act 1984 - which does not provide for such extensive protection of Orang Asli interests - is “sufficient”.

Commenting on this, Peninsular Malaysia Orang Asli Association information chief Norya Abas said it was ridiculous to use the Forestry Act to protect human communities. “The Act is to protect the forest. It doesn’t protect the Orang Asli communities that live in them, as does the Orang Asli Act,” he said.

In a joint statement issued yesterday to the chairperson of the consultative process, the coalitions said the issue of defining what constitutes legal timber is only one of their ‘minimum’ demands.

“... A definition which merely requires parties to abide by the law as set out in statutory provisions is simplistic and fails to deal with the real issue,” they said.

The real issue pertains to “respect for the Orang Asal as a people, as an autonomous community with our own customs, laws and institutions and the need to ensure that governmental actions do not jeopardise the very survival of our community but provide for the socio economic upliftment of the same”.

“In view of this unacceptable censuring, we are left with no choice but to officially withdraw from this process until our minimum demand is met. We refuse to continue to participate in a process that is making decisions over our lives and yet expects our participation to be mere endorsement of a process that does not respect us.”

The coalitions had planned to meet ministry officials over the matter today, but the appointment was called off by the ministry. Its spokesperson declined to give reasons, when contacted.

No comments: