KUCHING: Until the authorities embarked on the sudden sweep against illegal loggers last week, enforcement has been weak and wanting for the past 10 years, says the Wildlife Conservation Society.
WCS Malaysia director Dr Melvin Gumal said the problem appeared to be less severe in the 1980s.
“Perhaps greed was less prevalent and organised then. I don't know what happened from then until recently.
“Obviously enforcement declined to the extent that there is now a major damage,” he said commenting on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission's (MACC) Ops Gergaji, which began Tuesday.
To date, authorities have frozen some RM700mil in bank accounts in Sarawak following a joint operations with various agencies that had taken some six months to plan.
Conservationist like Dr Gumal are cautiously optimistic that the state's poor environmental track record is taking a turn for the better.
“The new Chief Minister is making a clear stand and a good one, too,” Dr Gumal added.
Early this month, WCS and other stakeholders were invited to help state authorities, including Forest Department and Sarawak Forestry Corporation, design environmental awareness talks for judges.
Dr Gumal said WCS was invited by Chief Judge of the High Court in Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Richard Melanjum to participate.
The conservation group’s international chief executive, Dr Cristian Samper, who is on a working trip to Sarawak this week, said he was encouraged by Sarawak's renewed political will to combat illegal logging.
“I see a lot of challenges but also opportunities in Sarawak, where there is much forest left.
“The challenge is to strike a balance, to do a better job than others in South-East Asia.
“In 10 years, Sarawak has done the best job in this part of the world," Samper said.
World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia chief executive Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma urged the authorities to investigate and prosecute without fear or favour.
“We hope anyone found guilty will be successfully prosecuted in line with Sarawak government's efforts to fight illegal logging,” Dr Sharma said.