ALOR SETAR: Suspicious logging activity in Kedah, including within a forest reserve, has triggered renewed investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) nearly a year after an initial probe came to naught.
In January, a whopping 500ha of timber land was logged within the Bukit Enggang forest reserve area in Sik without an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, and recalcitrant loggers are back at it again.
This time, indiscriminate logging activities have been unearthed in Rimba Teloi Forest Reserve (950ha) in Sik, Gunung Bongsu (376.63ha) in Kulim and Gunung Inas (380ha) in Baling.
A check with the state Environment Department (DoE) found that no EIA approval was given to logging activities in Rimba Teloi and Gunung Bongsu.
In Gunung Inas, it is believed that the authorities had not received an application to carry out logging activities.
Save the Community’s Water support group head Mohd Sobri Ramlee, who has been relentlessly trying to stop such activities, claimed he had evidence that logging took place while the approval of the EIA report was still pending.
“I have written to the Forestry Department showing pictures of the logging.
“In Gunung Inas, there are four man-made toilets used by the workers, with raw sewage being released into the rivers and polluting them.
“This is an important source of water for some 500 villagers living nearby.
“Now, there are several swathes of land where trees have been cleared and planted with Musang King durian trees in the forest reserve,” he said.
The blatant flouting of the law has seen MACC zoom in on, among others, the Kedah Forestry Department and the office of Mentri Besar Incorporated (MBI), under the previous Barisan Nasional government.
State MACC director Datuk Fauzi Mohd said several Forestry Department officers had been interviewed and the department was looking into whether concession holders had complied with procedures.
“We have received complaints from many people and evidence has also been apparently presented to the MACC headquarters (in Putrajaya) on corrupt elements involving logging in several places in Sik.
“At present, only the state MACC is involved and we will seek help from our headquarters if any big names are involved.
“But the biggest obstacle is the lack of witnesses who are willing to come forward and testify against those possibly involved,” he said in an interview with The Star recently.
On Jan 15, The Star reported that 500ha of forest reserve, roughly the size of 700 football fields, in Bukit Enggang was logged without an EIA, causing muddy run-offs into rivers in surrounding areas.
This polluted a few catchment areas used by villagers who had built small dams to store water from the river.
Since there was no reforestation, heavy rains brought mud into the catchment areas and deprived villagers of clean drinking water for days.
The MACC began preliminary investigations into the logging at that time but did not find any evidence of corruption.
The Bukit Enggang logging by a concessionaire appointed by MBI was done last December but state DoE director Muhibbah Selamat confirmed that 436ha of logging was only approved in April 2018.
“We are only in charge of the EIA approval and it is difficult for us to monitor whether any concessionaire does logging without our consent.
“DoE has limited manpower with a team of three personnel and most of the logging is done in forest reserves as licences are given by the Forestry Department,” he said.
Kedah Forestry Department deputy director Abd Ramlizauyahhudin Mahli admitted to a “blunder” in the Bukit Enggang case but defended it as an exception rather than the rule.
“Yes, the EIA was not approved for Bukit Enggang but we have our internal system where all logging by concessionaires is closely monitored, and if any was done without an EIA, it would be known,” he said.
According to the Auditor-General’s 2017 Report, Kedah received RM144.24mil in logging revenue and other forestry activities, higher than the RM135.42mil in the previous year.
The report also called for a much more efficient forest management by the state through the Forest Monitoring System using Remote Sensing with aerial means such as helicopters and drones to prevent illegal logging and destruction.