Sunday, October 12, 2014

Brother Henry on Combating illegal logging, graft will take more than guns

Very proud of this little brother. When he was young, everyone said he looked like our Great Grand father. Great Grand father was a great man. He works for WWWF.

Combating illegal logging, graft will take more than guns

Chan: ‘Having an independent third party verifi cation helps to allay concerns of the status of timber legality.’
Chan: ‘Having an independent third party verifi cation helps to allay concerns of the status of timber legality.’
FOR me to begin by saying public perception of corruption here is not high would be a lie. It is the uncomfortable truth that perception of corruption is high, which might be why many of us tolerate it rather than report it.
My first recollection of corruption was from when I was young.
I recall sitting in a relative’s car when we were pulled over. I must have been in the early years of primary school. Some words, smiles and cash (I think) were exchanged, and then we were let off.
My own first encounter with attempted corruption was when I sat for my driver’s licence test. I vividly remember the officer in the car asking me for “help” because he had “helped” me pass the test by being lenient.
I had nearly failed the test, he said, but since I could see he had already given me a pass on the assessment sheet, there really was no reason to bribe. I exited the car feeling conflicted about what just happened. The way the situation had been presented made me feel like I was being “ungrateful”.
In my years working as a reporter, of course I have witnessed more situations when money (often passed off as “lunch” or “petrol” money) has been offered.
I try not to be judgemental about people who accept what could be considered a bribe. Maybe they have a lot of mouths to feed, I tell myself. I know I am very lucky not to have to worry about financial difficulties or shoulder heavy responsibilities.
So, back to the issue at hand. Few would believe claims that Sarawak has an impeccable track record when it comes to the timber industry.
Even Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem has said so. On Sept 24, he opened the first ever integrity talk for enforcers jointly organised by the Sarawak government and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. The function itself was held behind closed doors.
Insiders (who were mostly Forestry Department officers) told reporters that Adenan called on them to strike fear into the hearts of illegal loggers.
Speaking to the media later, Adenan announced he had authorised the arming of 50 senior most Forestry Department enforcers with guns. He described the integrity function and gun approval as the first step in his administration’s efforts to combat corruption. Bold words.
Pressed for more, the chief minister said he was frustrated about matters from the presence of illegal sawmills, to nightclubs in towns and cities operating past permitted hours.
Talking to rural community chiefs, I have also learnt whenever Adenan meets them, he tends to highlight three illegal matters – gambling, drugs and logging – urging grassroots leaders to be upright on moral values.
So far, environmental groups have taken Adenan’s comments with cautious optimism. Wildlife Conservation Society, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and even Opposition parties like PKR have all said they agree with the decision to arm enforcers.
But because of perceived corruption levels in this part of the world, many have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. It goes without saying, when it comes to Sarawak’s forest management, few believe in what has been said officially.
Unfairly or not, transparency and accountability are not words most would use to describe the industry.
Already, SAM has exposed the continued existence of illegally-felled protected tree species in Sarawak’s interiors.
In a press statement issued after Adenan’s announcements, SAM said field staff in late July came across a log pond full of Tapang timber. While it praised the Forestry Department for immediately seizing the logs, SAM also urged that no stone be left unturned in the investigation. The statement concluded with a challenge for the Sarawak government to walk the talk.
“We call upon Adenan to revoke all logging licences (of those found guilty) in order to show he means business and the law is not to be trivialised,” SAM president SM Mohamed Idris said.
Likewise, WWF’s Sarawak conservation head Dr Henry Chan has gone on record as saying guns alone would not be enough to curb illegal logging. Chan called for a multi-pronged approach that will include independent audits.
“Knowing the complexity of the industry, sometimes illegally-felled trees creep their way into the supply chain.
“Having an independent third party verification helps to allay concerns of the status of timber legality, and, therefore, weed out illegally-felled timber entering the chain of custody and the market,” Chan said on Monday.
The challenges of combating corruption in a resource rich, developing state is multi-faceted. The biggest problem of all is how entwined everything is.

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