KOTA KINABALU: Public-listed firms were among those found to have breached Sabah forestry laws by failing to pay taxes as well as carrying out illegal logging activities in several forest reserves.
Chief Minister Shafie Apdal said a task force under the Chief Minister’s Department which was reactivated to ensure effective monitoring of logging operations in the state also found some 40,000 logs in forest reserves including in Sungai Pinangah, Sabah Foundation concessions in Trusmadi and Gunung Rara and Ranau.
“It was found that taxes for these logs have not been paid. Also, some of the timber did not follow the provisions stipulated under the Sabah Forestry Enactment 1968; some were less than 40cm in diameter while there were also species such as belian which were not allowed to be cut,” he said.
Showing several photos taken by the task force, Shafie said some of the companies even built sawmills in the middle of the jungle to process the logs before they were transported out.
The task force, Shafie said, had lodged police reports against these companies for breaking the state laws and all 40,161 illegal logs were confiscated by the police for further investigation.
These logs are currently held by the police as evidence and can only be claimed by the state government after investigations have been completed.
All logging operations in the forest reserve areas carried out by these companies were also halted until further action could be taken.
“We have identified these companies and actions will be taken against them. Perhaps by cancelling their Forest Management Unit (FMU) concessions,” Shafie said.
He pointed out that at least two of the companies were listed on the stock exchange in Malaysia and also overseas.
Shafie said the cancellation of their concessions could badly affect the price of their shares.
He refused to name the companies and would only say that they had been given the concessions by the previous state government.
He also did not reveal when the companies started their operations and how long they had been operating illegally in some of the areas.
Shafie said action needed to be taken not only to stop the illegal activities but also to minimise the loss of revenue from the state’s natural resources.
For example, he said, the task force found that in one area, taxes amounting to RM1 million had not been paid for about 8,000 logs.
Asked whether previous government ministers and leaders were involved in illegal logging activities, Shafie said it was not his place to comment and cautioned others not to make any assumptions until investigations had been completed.
“With regards to chief conservator of forest Sam Mannan, I hope he would know about these issues because he was in charge but this is another special operation under the Chief Minister’s Department,” he said.
Shafie said he had to take drastic action as there were reports of lorries laden with logs coming out of the forests shortly after he announced the ban on the export of logs in May.
“We want to show that we are very firm on this issue and irrespective of who you are, if you did not abide by the law, action will be taken against you,” he said.