PKR wants inquiry into S’wak forest dept

See-Chee-HowKUCHING: Chief Minister Adenan Satem has been urged to appoint an independent committee to inquire and verify whether the issuance of small land-clearing permits complies with standard operating procedures.

Batu Lintang PKR assemblyman See Chee How questioned the compliance of 251 occupational ticket (OT) and letters of authority (LA) licences that had been issued since Adenan became chief minister and resource planning and management minister in 2014.

“It appears that some senior officers in the ministry have been abusing their authority and power to issue timber licences in the form of OTs and LAs, without the knowledge of the ministers, in defiance of or evading and sidestepping the ministerial directives,” See told reporters at the party headquarters here today.

Yesterday, at a press conference, Sarawak Resource Planning and Environment Ministry permanent secretary Sudarsono Osman and Sarawak forest department director Sapuan Ahmad rebutted a news report that said timber licences were still being issued despite Adenan’s directive in 2014 that there would be no more new timber concessions.

Sudarsono said the OT and the LA licences were issued for short-term temporary purposes to meet development needs of small landholders, adding that Adenan’s directive in regard to the issuance of timber licences had been strictly observed by the forest department.

Forty-two OT licences are still valid, some of which are pending renewal, this year. In addition, seven LA licences were issued this year.

There were 100 licences valid last year, according to data provided by the ministry.

The ministry officials were responding to a report on Sunday by The Borneo Post entitled “Directive on timber licences flouted?”, which said as of January, 102 OT and LA licences had been issued in the state.

The report said of the 102 licences, 31 were held by Pelita Holdings Sdn Bhd, 26 issued under provisional lease (PL), 10 under alienated land, 12 for gazetted native customary right (NCR) land and 23 on land subject to NCR claims.

The Borneo Post is owned by the KTS Group, Sarawak’s sixth largest timber firm.

Today, See said Sudarsono and Sapuan’s clarification had “avoided answering the allegation of the flouting” of the CM’s directive and to stop the issuance of small licences as “it was found that the operators of these licences had tended to abuse them for illegal logging outside their areas”.

See said data from the ministry showed 100 OT licences were issued last year and 42 more as of Dec 5.

In February, Adenan said the state government had cancelled or stopped renewing 67 OTs, which was more than half the number of OTs in the state.

See said if the 2014 OT licences had been reduced to 42 by February last year, and 142 new OT licences were issued, there were now possibly 184 valid OT licences issued by the forest department in the state.

“Quite clearly the situation has worsened.

“The dearth of a mechanism to check the abuse of authority to issue timber licences, together with failure to take action against those who have flouted the laws and breached their fiduciary duties as civil servants and community leaders, is causing the state to lose its valuable timber resources and revenues,” he said.

“I suggest the chief minister order an independent inquiry and audit into the performance of the forest department.

“Further, appropriate actions must be taken against the officers and community leaders found to have flouted the law.”

FMT has attempted to contact the forest department and resource planning and management ministry for a response.