Law to financially benefit indigenous communities being drafted

  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 27 Feb 2013

SUBANG JAYA: The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry is in the final stages of drafting a law that will financially benefit indigenous communities living in forests, said Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas.

In a speech delivered by deputy secretary-general (environment) Datuk Dr Abdul Rahim Nik on his behalf, he said companies would be obligated to get the permission of the orang asli or local communities if their traditional knowledge was required to harness the resources.

In turn, Uggah said they would be remunerated when their help or knowledge was needed in these instances.

"We hope this will not only improve the governance of our rich biodiversity but also give rights to the knowledge holders of these resources and they too can benefit from the sustainable utilisation of biodiversity," he said in his keynote address at the National Conference on Environment: People, Forests and Sustainability here on Wednesday.

The proposed law, he said, was titled Access to Biological Resources and Benefit Sharing (ABS) and was in line with the New Economic Model 2010's plan to generate wealth from Malaysia's rich bio-diversity.

He noted that the legislation was also intended to meet Malaysia's obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

"We have had very open and transparent consultations with all stakeholders in developing this Bill. This proposed Bill gives the rights to the States in granting access to biological resources and also determining the benefits from the utilisation of these resources," he explained.

Uggah also said the ministry was also in the final stages of revising the National Forestry Act to incorporate harsher penalties and imprisonment when it came to eliminating illegal logging activities.

He said this included imposing strict liability, where the burden of proof would lie with the accused to prove their innocence.

"The 1NRE enforcement team, comprising various enforcement departments within the ministry, will conduct integrated enforcement operations. The main focus is to identify hotspot areas through Peninsular Malaysia that have the potential for illegal logging activities to occur," he said.

Abdul Rahim later elaborated to reporters that the orang asli or local communities' traditional knowledge could be in the form of gathering or using herbs in the forest.

"If the companies develop anything unique, they will have to pay (them). These areas also do not necessarily need to be land that the orang asli deem their native territories," he said.

Abdul Rahim said that while the ministry was in the final stages of drafting the bill, it would still require endorsement from the states and a commitment towards implementation.

He also said that the ministry would soon launch an Environmental Performance Index (EPI) pilot study in cooperation with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, on several states to assess their governance of their natural resources.

"There will be 34 criteria for categories such as forestry, water and the fisheries. We want to get an overall environmental index on all the states' performance with the latest data possible," he said.

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