PETALING JAYA: A green group says there has been an increase in land degradation, land grab and illegal logging and mining during the movement control order (MCO) period.
Speaking to FMT in conjunction with World Environment Day today, the Global Environment Centre (GEC) noted that state revenue had taken a hit from economic restrictions, with their budgets also dented due to stimulus packages, increased health expenditure and other measures to battle the pandemic.
“Where can they find additional money and fill their budget deficits? From leasing land,” said GEC director Faizal Parish.
“We understand their budgets are currently focused on health and economic stimulus measures, but some agencies have seen their allocations cut by 50% or 60%, and some don’t have the budget to carry out enforcement.
“Certainly, the MCO limited essential services, and the environment department and local councils were not out there doing their usual checks.
“We started the year with a bit of optimism, but the reality is that more bad things have been happening due to a lack of patrolling.”
Faizal said that since logging and plantations were labelled as essential industries, companies in those sectors “went at it” without supervision.
“Everyone is using the cover of Covid-19 lockdowns to destroy the environment,” he said.
However, a spokesman for the forestry department said that while budgets may have had to be trimmed due to the pandemic, enforcement activities had been going on as usual since the start of the first MCO in March 2020.
“They haven’t stopped,” the spokesman added.
“They are still out there checking on illegal logging, patrolling forests and making sure factories in the timber industry don’t take advantage of any situations that may have arisen due to the pandemic.”
Faizal’s views were echoed by Penang Forum, which said in April that many state governments were taking the “lazy approach” to raising revenue and political financing by launching reclamation projects and offering logging licences.
Its steering committee member Khoo Salma Nasution reminded authorities that while the National Physical Plan (NPP) forbade coastal land reclamation for purposes other than developing ports for national importance, there were more than 20 state-endorsed reclamation projects in the country either ongoing or in the pipeline.
In Terengganu, Mohd Tajuddin Abdullah from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu’s (UMT) Institute of Tropical Biodiversity and Sustainable Development said that while he did not have personal information on how the MCO impacted environmental enforcement, the government should empower conservation agencies with better technology in the fight against illegal activities.
“They should use technology such as IoT (Internet of Things), drones, infrared cameras and biosensors to detect poachers and as an early warning system for ground enforcement officers for pre-emptive strikes against illegal activities,” he told FMT.
Touching on the impact of the MCO on the environment, Tajuddin said it seemed that more animals were coming out to the forest fringes.
His colleague, Nobuyuki Yamaguchi, reported seeing increased wildlife at UMT’s campus in Kuala Nerus during the MCO.
“I do not have data, but from my observations, the otters are more relaxed in the UMT campus during the MCO as there are fewer people around,” Yamaguchi told FMT.
“There is a group of smooth-coated otters consisting of 11 animals living in the UMT campus at the moment – a wonderful example of human-wildlife coexistence.”
Yamaguchi has also sighted various other species within the UMT campus, including Asian water monitors, butterfly lizards, macaques and egrets.