Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Kenyir Lake a FTZ

The headline on Staronline (29 Sept 2010) quoted "Kenyir Lake, the largest man-made lake in South-east Asia, has been officially declared a Free Trade Zone (FTZ), Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Said said".

OMG...a FTZ in an unpopulated wilderness? On a lake? Well, the first thing that came ringing in my head was the happy drinkers enjoying their boozes and getting drunk and perhaps drown too.

Suddenly the locals will have a new job - as smugglers. Many poor locals thriving to earn a living by becoming smugglers will perhaps be shot to death or put into prison. I am trying to recall many years ago when Penang was a FTZ. Being so near the mainland, smugglers had a good time smuggling dutyfree goods. Customs tightened their enforcement and many were shot in the smuggling attempts. Penang is an island and it was still not an easy task to enforce the rules. Imagine the situation in a lake like the largest lake in South East Asia, with so many many islands, so many many hiding coves and so many many trees to hide behind - do you think there won't be any smugglers? Then we have the increase in drinking and smoking habits because these items will be dammned cheap! Many bottles and cigerattes butts will be thrown into the lake. Boats and ferries will increase, bringing all the pollutions related with motor machines. I don't know about the effect on the fish but then these exploitations will surely damage the ecosystem slowly but surely.

In the name of making money from tourism, the greedy government couldn't care a hood about the environment, the locals and the culture. Development will be coming in leaps and bounds and as usual many cronies will be getting fat contracts. Business towkays will be happy with incoming tourists. Land prices will escalate. The poor will be forced to leave the kampungs. Everything will not be the same again. Bringing a sin city into a pristine culture of wilderness is surely not the right thing to do.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A pittance for your rights, please

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:50
Source here

PETALING JAYA: How would you like RM250 in exchange for the inheritance that has been the source of your livelihood? That is how much the Sarawak state government is offering Iban villagers in rural Sebangan so that timber companies can have free rein of the rainforest.

Sebangan is a small range of rainforest in which there are 16 Iban villages. The Ibans have lived there for generations and depend on the forest for their livelihood.

Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Abdul Mahmud now has his eye on the area, according to Sarawak Report, a website dedicated to exposing alleged corrupt practices by Taib and his family.

It quoted Nicholas Mujah, secretary-general of the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association, as saying that loggers can reap 700 tons of wood from every hectare of the Sebangan jungle.

Taib's sister, Raziah Mahmud, is said to be a shareholder and director in Quality Concrete Holdings Berhad (QCHB), the company that wants the timber there.

“Taib traditionally demands a rate of RM100 per ton of timber,” says Sarawak Report, quoting timber industry insiders. “However, in this latest case the sum is likely to be substantially larger, given the value of the hardwoods at the Sebangan reserve.”

With 3,305 hectares of forest at his disposal, Taib would stand to gain at least RM250 million, it said.

Because of the land's Native Customary Rights (NCR) status, QCHB has been given a conditional occupation certificate valid for only a year. One of the conditions is that the company needs the permission of the NCR landowners to start logging.

However, QCHB appears to have taken wood from the forest without asking.

”Nobody warned or consulted us about anything,” said Sadun Ason, Kampong Ensika's headman, adding that he found out about the poaching when a villager spoke of logging equipment being shipped upriver on July 11.

Ason then contacted the local penghulu, who not only admitted to having knowledge of the poaching but also told the headman and his people that any form of protest was futile.

"We were told the whole matter was perfectly legal, and we had no rights," Ason told Sarawak Report.

Villagers bribed and tricked

According to the article, Taib elects his own headmen and penghulus for villages in the interior.

In the case of Kampong Ensika, he appointed an outsider and a member of his Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu, as the penghulu a few weeks before QHCB's logging licence was issued.

The article also said that Forestry Department and Land Survey officials were friendlier with QCHB's representatives than with the villagers.

Despite records from the Land Registry stating that the land in question was gazetted as NCR land in 1956, the government agents claimed there was no evidence that the area had such a status.

Sarawak Report said QCHB had offered to pay each villager RM250 and each headman RM800 if they would sign away their rights to the forest.

It also alleged that in one instance QHCB bribed and tricked 11 villagers and three headmen into giving up their rights.

It said the victims, who were illiterate, were taken to Sibu in QHCB's vehicles for a dinner and were then asked to sign documents waiving their rights to their land without any lawyer being present. They did not get copies of the documents, it added.

“We have been threatened that if we oppose this, we are going against the government and opposing development,” a villager told Sarawak Report.

“But why does the government act like a common thief in this case and how much development can we achieve for RM250?”

The article also said Sebangan's villagers were expecting gangsters allegedly employed by QCHB to intimidate the indigenous population.

Sarawak Report said it would forward the information it had to a legal team headed by activist lawyer Baru Bian.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

MB: Perak will not gazette all its forests as non-logging areas

"Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed" by I. F. Stone

If you want to enter Temengor Forest Reserve where alot of logging is going on, you need a Forestry permit....and that permit takes weeks to process. The ultimate aim is to discourage you from entering. At every entry point, Forestry staffs are there to mann the trucks coming in and out. So tell me, how can illegal logging activities happened? How can ordinary people enter to take pictures when entry permits are so strict? I tend to believe the quote by I.F. Stone above. Do you agree?

What about this valuable gems mine in the Temengor Forest Reserve? Any accounting for mining this valuable gems?


Sunday September 26, 2010

IPOH: Perak cannot entertain demands by any party that wants all its forested areas to be gazetted as non-logging areas, said Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir.

“Logging cannot be stopped completely because it is one of the major industries in the state,” he told reporters at a Barisan Nasional Hari Raya open house here yesterday.

“We are ready to work with any party to ensure that our forests are not completely destroyed,” he said, adding that it would also work with the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in its effort to protect the state’s rainforests.

Dr Zambry said the state government had already gazetted an area about five times the size of Singapore at the Royal Belum rainforest as a state park.

He agreed that the state government needs the support of the MNS and WWF to solve the problem of illegal logging and poaching at Royal Belum and its surrounding areas.

He said the two organisations could help by submitting to the government pictures of illegal logging and poaching activities.

“We will ask the relevant authorities to identify those involved and bring them to justice,” he said.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

MACC raids wildlife dept over ‘permit issue abuse’

September 25, 2010
The Star

PETALING JAYA: Anti-corruption officers raided the headquarters of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) in Cheras following allegations of abuse in the issuance of wildlife permits.

It was learnt that officers from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Com­mission (MACC) went to the headquarters on Tuesday morning and carted away files, documents and laptops related to wildlife permits and licences to help in their investigations.

According to a source in the department, the MACC personnel asked for the office of a high-ranking officer in charge of the overall issuance and monitoring of wildlife permits and licences.

Although the officer, believed to be responsible for the support and recommendation in the approval of such permits was on leave, MACC personnel were allowed to enter the office.

It was believed that during the raid, several officers were also interviewed.

When contacted, a Perhilitan senior officer confirmed that MACC was at the headquarters to conduct an investigation but declined to elaborate.

He also refused to speculate if any wildlife permit issued to infamous wildlife trader Anson Wong or his family member had been revoked.

In confirming the incident, MACC investigations director Mustafar Ali insisted that it was merely “visit” and not a raid, but declined to comment further.

The headquarters is one of the three offices in the country - besides Penang and Johor branches - responsible for the issuance of wildlife permits.

There are three types of permits and licences for the handling of wild animals.

A licence is required to handle protected wildlife such as reticulated pythons and meerkats which fall under Schedule Two, Four and Five of the Protection of Wildlife Act while a special permit is necessary for totally protected species like Malayan tigers and Sumatran rhinoceros, and orang utan.

A Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) permit is required for all activities involving the import and export of wildlife listed under it such as snakes and turtles.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Douglas Uggah Embas had announced that the department would be undergoing a shake-up to weed out officers who were in cahoots with illegal wildlife traders.

The department had been dogged with allegations of corruption among its enforcement officers following Wong’s arrest at KL International Airport on Aug 26 for trying to smuggle out 95 boa constrictors, two rhinoceros vipers and a Mata Mata turtle without a permit while on transit from Penang to Jakarta, Indonesia.

The ministry, particularly Perhilitan, had been heavily criticised by conservation groups after Wong was sentenced on Sept 6 to six months’ jail and fined RM190,000 by the Sepang Sessions Court.

The Attorney-General’s Chambers is appealing against the sentence while a Penang National Park and Wildlife Department director was reportedly transferred to another state effective Oct 1.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Elderly Malaysian rhino enlisted in breeding attempt

Thu, 23 Sep 2010 13:43
Source here

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian wildlife officials on Borneo island said today they will try to artificially inseminate an elderly female rhinoceros in a bid to revive one of the world's most endangered species.

Gelegub, a Sumatran rhino who at 28-years-old is equivalent to a 70-something grandmother in human terms, will be impregnated with sperm from a virile young male rhino.

"Gelegub is too old to mate normally and the mating ritual of rhinos is quite violent so this would be one of the best ways to try and get her pregnant and give birth to a rhino in captivity," said Sen Nathan, coordinator of the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary where the procedure will be carried out.

Sen said the only breeding facility in the world that has had any success in producing Sumatran rhino calves in captivity is the Cincinnati Zoo in the United States, which has produced three calves over the last decade.

"Our priority of course is to have natural mating in the first place but at the moment we only have one male rhino in captivity and Gelegub is the only other viable female that we have," he said.

"It is critical that we try and get the rhinos to reproduce as there are only 50 such rhinos in the region and without reproduction, they face imminent extinction."

Nathan said Gelegub will be injected with hormones in November to stimulate the production of eggs, which will be removed and fertilised, hopefully producing viable embryos for implantation.

Spare embryos will be frozen for implantation in surrogates at a later date.

Between 30 to 50 of the Borneo sub-species of the Sumatran rhinos are known to remain in the wild in Borneo -- a vast island shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

It is distinguished from other Sumatran rhinos by its relatively small size, small teeth and distinctively shaped head.

Only 150 to 300 Sumatran rhino are known to exist in the wild, making it one of the world's most endangered species, with only small groups left on Indonesia's Sumatra island, the north of Borneo and peninsular Malaysia.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

MNS: Protect first, then plant

September 18, 2010

INSTEAD of planting new mangrove saplings in unprotected areas, the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) wants the state to first concentrate on protecting existing mangrove swamps.

One such critical area is the north Seberang Prai coastal belt, spanning about 2km to 2.5km long from Teluk Air Tawar to near Kuala Muda, said MNS Penang branch advisor D. Kanda Kumar.

He said the coastal swamp should be gazetted as a protected area.

“The mangrove trees have been there for a very long time. The size of the swamp varies from only a few strands to about 10m wide at some parts, and more than 100m wide at other parts.

“Natural reclamation and erosion have also occurred at certain places, and some of the trees have also been cut,” he said.

Kanda Kumar said the coastal mangrove was quite rich in terms of animal biodiversity, especially during the migrant bird season between September and March.

“At least four species of globally threatened migrant birds can be found there — the Asian Dowitcher, Chinese Egret, Nordmann’s Green-shank and Lesser Adjutant.

“It also has slightly more than 1% of the global population of Chinese Pond Herons, and 1% of the world population of Common Redshank,” he said.

He added that the coastal swamp in north Seberang Prai was globally recognised as an important bird area by Birdlife International and classified as an important wetlands area by Wetlands International.

He also said there were other mammals not commonly seen in Penang at the coastal swamp, such as mongooses and otters.

Kanda Kumar was speaking in light of the felling of six young mangrove trees of about 2m tall near the Gurney Drive roundabout, said to have been planted by the state on Aug 31.

He had said that it was a waste of time and money to plant the trees at Gurney Drive if it was not gazetted as a protected area.

Kanda Kumar said that in Penang, there were two known large protected mangrove forests — at the southern part of the National Park near the Pantai Acheh Village on the island and at the Byram forest reserve near the Pulau Burung landfill on the mainland.

He said: “Unprotected mangrove areas included the Gurney Drive, Tanjong Tokong and Bayan Bay areas, and there used to be other protected mangrove areas in Balik Pulau that had since been de-gazetted for aquaculture.”

Monday, September 06, 2010

Chicken Feed Jail Term of Bolehland

Anson Wong gets 6 mths' jail, RM190,000 fine

KUALA LUMPUR (Sept 6, 2010): A Malaysian was jailed for six months and fined RM190,000 for trying to smuggle 95 snakes out of the country, a sentence that campaigners said was too light.

Anson Wong, already convicted of trafficking in wildlife in the United States in 2001, pleaded guilty last week and will start his sentence on Sept 13.

Under Malaysian law, Wong could have faced seven years in jail and fines of up to RM100,000 for each snake up to a maximum of RM1 million or both.

Wong was detained when in transit from Penang to the Indonesian capital Jakarta on Aug 26 when staff at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport were alerted to a bag that had broken while on a conveyor belt.

They found 95 boa constrictors, two rhinoceros vipers and a matamata turtle inside the bag.

The US Department of Justice said Wong had pleaded guilty to a trafficking in the United States in 2001 and was sentenced to 71 months in jail.

TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring organisation, said the sentence indicated unwillingness by Malaysian authorities to get tough with real wildlife criminals and to show the world it was serious about wildlife trafficking.

"This is a tragedy. It clearly tells wildlife traffickers that they have little to fear from Malaysian law," said TRAFFIC Southeast Asia regional director William Schaedla. — Reuters

More news here

Sunday, September 05, 2010

A distant cry for help from the jungle

Sunday, September 5, 2010
Sim Kwang Yang

The year was 1993, and I was serving my third term as an opposition member of parliament (MP) of Bandar Kuching.

In the Malaysian context at the time, the core of an MP’s job was to service the constituency, by solving the little problems created by inefficient administration, like looking after blocked drains, neglected garbage collection, and attending to minor daily problems faced by the constituents. That was how politicians saw their roles in Malaysians’ daily lives.

But I had different ideas about politics. I believed that the duty of our Wakil Rakyat was to serve the whole nation, and in the context of Sarawak, to serve all the people in the state. Therefore, I devoted my energies throughout the 1990s to the contentious battle to protect the forests of my home state, Sarawak. It was a tough job, because nobody was interested in environmental protection, and the powerful timber interests made sure that we were denied access to the mass communication media.

I fought the lonely battle against the timber interests with the help of a few environmental groups and our news faced a constant blackout by local newspapers and news agencies. The general voting population in the towns were completely apathetic regarding the suffering people in the rural areas, who had little access to the urban-centric media organisations.

It was some time in 1993, that one day, the then MP of Petaling Jaya, Kua Kia Soong, walked up to me and demanded what I would do for the poor Penans in upper Baram. He had received numerous reports about the anti-logging blockades in that isolated part of Sarawak from many international NGOs. Young children had been killed by the security forces trying to evict the Penans from the anti-logging protest sites, and one young girl was reported to have been raped. I promised him I would look into the issue upon my return to Kuching from Parliament.

When I arrived in Kuching, I discussed the issue with my political assistant, See Chee How, who was then working at my office fulltime.

See Chee How has since qualified as a lawyer and he is one of the most active human rights defenders in Malaysia. He has now taken up over a hundred court cases against powerful plantation owners and loggers to fight for the rights of the Sarawak natives. He has been winning native customary land cases that have created Malaysian legal history through landmark decisions).

Arduous journey for worthy cause

After some discussion, Chee How travelled alone all the way to the upper Baram area, to conduct his own fact-finding mission. His journey took several weeks to complete and he had to travel on foot through the deep forest, as well as take longboats and long journeys over land, before he could meet the Penans personally and hold interviews with them. Fortunately, Chee How was a healthy and strong young man.

Chee How returned to Kuching and told me he had been stopped on his way back by the police at Marudi, and he was searched and questioned by the police personnel. But he did hide his photographic films so he was able to show me his photos.

After that, Chee How attempted to send the affected Penans to Miri town, to lodge police reports about deaths and the rape case at logging blockades and the suffering inflicted upon the villagers in upper Baram. Those efforts at bringing the Penans to the attention of the police were unsuccessful. The police even refused to record their police reports.

The issue of the Penans and logging in Sarawak had become so sensitive to the state Barisan Nasional leadership that minimal information about the Penan protests trickled out to the outside world. The newspapers in Sarawak were mostly owned by the timber interests in the state and so, there was a clampdown on what the Penans and other Sarawak natives were saying against the logging.

I refused to feel hopeless, because we were the only hope for the Penans and other groups to voice out their suffering, and apathy and cynicism were luxuries we could not afford. In ordinary life, even a dog being kicked has a right to howl in pain.

The Penans are the most disadvantaged members of our society. It is the duty of all Malaysians to hear their cry of pain, in our political system that favours the rich and powerful at the expense of the weak and dispossessed.

The other added obstacle in my path was the nature of racial politics that permeated civil society in Malaysia. Malaysians view all things political through the racial lens, and to ask them to see politics over and above their narrow racial considerations has always been a near impossible task.

Breaking through information blockade

I had always considered myself a Sarawakian first, and a Malaysian second, and being a Chinese was just a minor consideration, by accident of birth. In my mind, much of our political rhetoric is tinged by our racially based prejudices and these are not real political issues.

The persecution of the Penans is a universal crime against humanity. The Penans are equal citizens of our nation. Their suffering deserves our national attention, especially when they are the weakest and the most marginalised group among our citizens.

Since it was so difficult for the Penans to gain access to reporters in town, I decided to call for a press conference to bring the reporters and the Penans together.

The press conference was to be held in Kuching a few months later in 1994, and the representatives of the Penans were transported from the deep interior: from upper Baram to Kuching city. It was a logistical nightmare, but with the help of Chee How and his NGO friends from inside and outside Malaysia, we pulled off the trip.

Nearly twenty village leaders representing fifteen Penan settlements in the Baram area made the long trip to Kuching city. There, they made a police report on the rape of a Penan girl and the death of two Penans at logging blockades, and held a series of events to highlight to the world, the plight of the poor Penans. – Hornbill Unleashed

(Sim Kwang Yang was Member of Parliament for Bandar Kuching, Sarawak from 1982 to 1995)

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Who is lying?

A sample photo of a logged hill for oil palm?

Friday September 3, 2010 MYT 9:17:00 PM
Protest against palm oil smear campaign in Aussie zoos

MIRI: The Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) have submitted official protest to the Australian Government - to express its anger over the move by zoos in Australia to allow activists to blatantly smear Malaysia’s and Borneo’s image through anti-palm oil public posters.

MPOC Chief Executive Officer Tan Sri Yusof Basiron told The Star Friday that his council had sent two memos to the Australian Government.

“We are countering the lies spread by these activists and making known our objections to the Australian authorities.

“The allegations against us are very serious and damaging to the image of not only our palm-oil industry, but also the reputation of peninsula Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah.

“The Aussie posters was also brought up to the attention of our Cabinet also. The posters used by these activists in Australia contained a lot of lies. We want the zoos to take down those posters,’’ he said in a telephone interview from his headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

The Star recently highlighted the move by environmental activists who put up posters in the Adelaide Zoo criticising the oil-palm projects in peninsula Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra and Papua New Guinea.

The posters, among others, claimed that the palm-oil industry had caused serious deforestation, wildlife abuse, global-warming and the genocide of Orang Utans.

The posters also called for pressure to be applied on the Government and policy-makers to force palm oil industralists to do more to protect the environment and wildlife.

One of the posters claimed that in Borneo, palm-oil developers are “killing up to 50 Orang Utans per week by using guns, machettes, wooden stacks and fire’’.

The Star found out about these poster campaigns during the visit to the world-famous Adelaide Zoo by Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen during her recent mission to promote Malaysia’s tourism spots.

Dr Ng protested against these posters and tried to counter the activists’ stance during her meeting with trade representatives and foreign journalists during her stop in New Zealand and Australia.

Yusof told The Star Friday, the MPOC found similar posters in other Aussie zoos.

“We have contacted politicians in Australia and also the management of the zoos and have asked that those posters be pulled down.

“We have hired independent researchers from overseas to come to Malaysia to carry out independent probes on the Orang Utan and have found no evidence of any killings by oil-palm workers.

“In fact, our studies showed that the Orang Utan population in Sarawak and Sabah have not even declined as claimed by these activists.

“As for claims on our forest destruction and wildlife abuse, the latest information we have is that the environment authorities have already taken steps to improve enforcement and penalise offenders.

“Making sweeping allegations against us is most unfair under the circumstances,’’ he said.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Anson Wong pleads guilty to exporting snakes without permit

Thursday September 2, 2010 MYT 4:31:23 PM

SEPANG: A businessman pleaded guilty at the Sessions Court here Wednesday to exporting 95 snakes without permit last week.

He posted bail on Thursday.

Wong Keng Liang, better known as Anson Wong, 52, believed to be an international wildlife trader, admitted to exporting 95 Boa Constrictor - which is endangered species - without permit at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 8.50pm on Aug 26.

The Boa constrictor is a large, heavy-bodied species of snake and variable in drawing and color. They are very adaptable and live in a number of habitats in different climates.

It is a member of the Boidae family found in Central America, South America and some islands in the Caribbean.

The snakes were found in a luggage bag while Wong was in transit from Penang to Jakarta.

Wong could be fined a maximum of RM100,000 or jailed up to seven years or both under Section 10(a) of the International Trade of Endangered Species Act 2008.

Prosecuting officer Faridz Gohim Abdullah, from Perhilitan (Wildlife and National Parks Department), applied to the court to set his bail at RM50,000 in one surety.

Sessions Court judge Zulhelmy Hasan set his bail at RM50,000 in one surety. Zulhelmy also ordered Wong to surrender his passport pending disposal of the case.

The judge set Sept 6 for mention pending appointment of a lawyer.

Meanwhile, Wong posted bail Thursday.

It had been reported by The Star in February that Wong had been linked to a Dec 15 seizure in the United States of various types of animals from an exotic animal outlet.

Two of the trader’s companies were found to have been supplying animals to the outlet.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) had claimed that CBS Wildlife and Sungai Rusa Wildlife, both owned by Wong, were supplying various types of animals and wildlife to US Global Exotics (USGE).

Wong pleaded guilty to trafficking in wildlife in the US and was sentenced to 71 months jail in 2000.

State to take stern action

Thursday September 2, 2010

GEORGE TOWN: The state government has issued a stern warning to those who cut down mangrove trees off Gurney Drive — “You will be prosecuted”.

State Health, Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said he had ordered rangers from the state Forestry Department to investigate who had chopped down six mangrove trees at the popular recreational area.

“The trees are Government property, planted in public places on government land by government officials. What do they think they are doing?” Phee, when contacted yesterday, asked.

Saying that the felling was illegal and a form of vandalism, Phee said there were provisions in the law to bring the fellers to book.

“They better stop (the felling) right now,” Phee warned.

It was reported on Wednesday that six young mangrove trees measuring about 2m high were felled. The six trees were among 300 saplings that the state had planted in the mud flat near the Gurney Drive roundabout last year.

On rubbish accumulated on the mangrove trees, Phee said it was proof that Government projects could not succeed without public participation.

“Some people dispose their rubbish without any regard for the environment. Those that end up in the sea get washed in during high tide and end up hooked on the mangroves,” Phee said in reference to the mangrove trees that had entrapped plastic bags and other colourful litter in their branches.