Sabah Forestry Department claims allegations that Chief Minister Musa Aman stashed away US$90 million purportedly derived from years of illegal logging are 'baseless'.
KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Forestry Department, while acknowledging rampant illegal logging of its forest, has rushed to the defence of Chief Minister Musa Aman who is facing investigations in four countries over allegations of money laundering amounting to S$38 trillion.
The money includes a US$90 million “nest egg” purportedly derived from widescale deforestation activities in Sabah.
Earlier today the Swiss government reportedly said that it was ready to freeze Musa’s accounts in Switzerland if the Malaysian authority made a request for legal assistance.
Lashing out at critics, Forestry Department director Sam Manan said the allegation were “unfounded” and “politically motivated”.
“We have reason to believe the unfounded allegations are politically motivated and not motivated by love for the environment.
“It is hoped that those who have made these unfounded allegations realise the enormity of misinforming the world and in the process, hurting our conservation efforts,” he said.
On the US$90 million “nest egg”, Manan said if indeed the allegations were true, it would mean that not less that one million m3 of timber have been illegally felled.
“That represents plundering of at least 20,000 hectres (50,000 acres) of well-stocked forest. This scale of logging, if true, would represent 50% of the timber produced from natural forest in 2011 or about 30% of Sabah’s timber production in 2010.
“The Forestry Department acknowledges that illegal felling does exist in Sabah but no way near the scale and extent as allegedly reported.
“The allegations are therefore baseless and made with bad intention [mal fide] to discredit the sacrifices made by the state government to achieve good forest governance and SFM [sustainable forest management] in the shortest time possible, despite the economic financial and social challenges.
“The public should discard the reports as malicious and harmful… they frustrate the state’s forest management reform,” he said in a statement.
According to Manan, under Musa’s leadership, SFM had improved by leaps and bounds.
He said short-term licences that caused tremendous damage to the environment were being drastically phased out.
“Sabah’s forest management credibility is now at its highest. We have an open-book philosophy whereby, logging and forest management areas are all open to third party and NGO scrutiny.
“The good, the bad and the ugly are laid bare with the intention of improving standards and practices on the ground.
“Even the planned drop in forest revenue [about RM150 million a year today as opposed to RM500 million to RM1 billion in the past], is also a deliberate strategy to ensure that the forests are given a chance to recover,” he said.
Manan also pointed out that since Musa took the reins of the government, the totally protected area (TPAS) reserves in Sabah had increased.
Currently, TPAS is reaching 1.3 million hectares or about 20% of Sabah’s total land area, exceeding even the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) standard of 10%.
“The latest addition is the wildlife corridor linking Maliau Basin, Imbak Canyon to Danum/Ulu Segama and the re-classification of Ulu Segama (130,000ha) to total protected status.
“Under Musa, we have seen the greatest extent of TPAS expansion in the history of Sabah, despite the enormous opportunity cost of conservation,” Manan said.
He also said that despite the widespread allegations of illegal deforestation, Sabah was still receiving international acreditation.
“The enormity of the alleged extent of illegal felling [1 million m3] could not have escaped the attention of the world.
“A well-stocked forest of 20,000ha badly logged because of illegal felling would have been easily detected by satellites and attracted the attention of NGOs, environmentalists and the communities living nearby.
“No way could such acts be committed and passed without notice.
“Also, if 50% of the annual production of timber from Sabah was alleged to be illegal, world markets especially sensitive ones like Europe, North America and Japan would have long ago stopped buying timber from Sabah.
“The enormous economic and financial implications would have been harmful to the state as a whole.
“This never occurred because the alleged large-scale illegal logging never happen,” he said, adding that Sabah’s long-term licences have been subjected to third-party auditing (independent audit) since 2010.
He pointed out that under the Ma|aysia-ECTLAS Timber Legality Assurance Programme, the independent auditors would have detected any large-scale illegal felling,
Manan said currently at least 800,000ha of Sabah’s forests are partially or fully certified under various internationally recognised system such as FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), MTCS (Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme) and PEFC (Pan European Forest Scheme).
He said this included the 250,000ha of fully certified and 150,000ha of partially certified forest areas under the Sabah Foundation.
“Many more forest areas are being earmarked for certification as Sabah has set 2014 as the year for all long-term licensed areas to be fully certified.
“The process of certification means independent third party is on the ground auditing to assess credibility.
“If such allegations were true, why does Sabah continue to attract the attention of certifying bodies and NGOs, who want to be our partners and to assist us in obtaining veritable and certifiable good governance?” Manan asked.