The Sabah Environment Protection Association has questioned the state government's decision to demote a forest reserve in Tawau and allow private mining operations to be carried out.
This question aside, the Sabah Environment Protection Association (Sepa) has also criticised the state government’s decision to review the status of the forest reserve in what seems to be a “giving-of-way” to the miner.
Said Sepa spokesman Gary Yap: “When the public complained against quarrying activities in a Class One forest, what surprised us most was to discover that Kukusan forest/Trig Hill reserve was declassified into Class Two by the State Legislative Assembly to allow Hap Seng or its subsidiary to continue operation.
“In fact, not only were they given approval, they were also awarded a whole life operation [15 years] instead of chasing them away or charging them in court.”
Yap said Hap Seng had its licence application rejected twice before but eventually got the nod to blast the hills in May 2011.
“In 2006, Hap Seng Building Material Sdn Bhd applied to DOE [Department of Environment] for quarry operation on Kukusan and in 2007 for pit quarry development at Kukusan and in both cases DOE rejected.
“In May 2011 DOE approved its EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) and Hap Seng was given [a licence] for whole life operation.
“This means that until then Hap Seng or its subsidiary was blasting and digging away illegally without a DOE licence, violating the Environment Quality Act 1974, ” Yap said.
Demoted forest reserve
He also asked how the Director of Forestry could have come to the conclusion that Hap Seng’s operation was legal when it had already violated the law.
“In other countries, once a company has violated its law, it is not allowed to operate the business anymore. In our case, we bend the law to accommodate and reward the violator,” he said.
He also expressed puzzlement over the Director of Forestry’s flogging of Section 15 of the Forest Enactment 1968.
“Why is Section 15 so powerful that it allowed Hap Seng, under a Supplementary Agreement, to occupy, quarry and mine our stone in the Kukusan Forest Reserve [155 acres] for 15 years?” he asked.
“Although the Sabah Forest Enactment 1968 empowers the minister to allow miners to work on forest reserves, what guarantee do we have that other forest reserves like the Danun Valley, Maliau Basin and Kinabalu Park will be safe after this?” asked Yap
Class 1 reserve indicates that the land is protected as a forest sanctuary while Class 2 reserves allows mining and logging to be done at the area.
Yap said that the mining would not benefit Sabahans in general, adding that the stones would be exported to countries like Brunei and Indonesia for higher profits.
He also said that while the government would earn a few million ringgit in tax profits from the mining activity, Hap Seng stands to earn billions from the high-quality stones at the expense of the Tawau people.
Yap also claimed that the mining activity would leave a toxic lake behind, rendering the place unsuitable to be even converted into a recreational park.
“The day will come when our children will need to import inferior quality stones from other countries to build roads, highways, drains and ports,” he said.