Stephanie Sta Maria
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has pledged to go after all illegal loggers throughout Malaysia regardless of their political affiliations.
MACC’s director of investigations Mustafar Ali told the media today that the agency was not interested in the timber companies’ political links but in their activities.
“There have been many allegations of such links between timber tycoons and politicians but we don’t care who they are,” he said at the launch of Transparency International (TI) Malaysia’s “The Forest Watch Project”.
“MACC is very transparent, professional and independent in carrying out its duties and as long as a person is involved in corrupt activities, we will go after them.”
Mustafar was however unable to provide information on how many perpetrators had been charged to date. But he pointed out that amendments to the National Forestry Act 1984 had pushed the number of illegal logging cases in Peninsular Malaysia from 419 in 1993 down to 24 in 2011.
He added that 88 complaints on illegal logging were received by MACC last year but few were investigated due to lack of solid evidence and witnesses.
“It’s difficult for us to act based on generic information like allegations or poison pen letters,” he explained. “But the MACC takes the issue of corruption in forestry very seriously.”
“We are not just fire-fighting by going after the perpetrators but also looking into the system and procedures from logging concessions to the workers involved.”
Probe on Taib
Illegal logging and corruption are particularly rife in East Malaysia and the most high-profile name linked with these activities is that of Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.
Taib is currently being investigated by MACC for his alleged involvement in timber corruption. But since the case was opened last June, MACC had kept mum over the status of the investigation.
TI president Paul Low meanwhile expressed confidence that the file on Taib would not be quietly closed without MACC’s findings being made public first.
However, he pointed out that throrough work was required to unearth these findings and that MACC would need more time.
“Fighting corruption in forestry doesn’t just involve enforcement but also policies and processes,” he explained. “Policy relates to how much land should be cleared and how much should be gazetted as forest reserve.”
“The process involves the awarding of projects to selected companies under an open tender. And here transparency of specifications and conditions must be available before the tender is opened.”
“There are so many allegations being made and the best way to put a stop to them is to have a more transparent and a stricter tender process especially by the state governments.”
Empowering the citizens
According to Low, illegal logging activities were “under control” in Peninsular Malaysia but still rampant in Sabah and Sarawak. When asked
for statistics, however, he admitted that TI had not compiled them yet.
Neither had “The Forest Watch Project” been launched in East Malaysia although Low emphasised that there were “obvious plans” to heighten public awareness of the project there.
The project is a three to five year initiative involving the use of Google Earth to monitor and assess forest cover changes.
The public is encouraged to act as the eyes and ears of the forest by viewing satellite images of forests in Malaysia and alerting the authorities viawww.timalaysia-forestwatch.org.my on any suspicious activities.
“It’s about empowering citizens to do survelliance,” Low said. “Their reports will be received by teams within TI and the Forestry Department for further investigation and action.”