The Sarawak Forest Department has refuted Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How’s allegation that government officials had taken advantage of legal loopholes to clear timber.
See had alleged that these officials had skirted the ban on timber concessions and issued a large number of small land-clearing permits to landowners.
In a statement today, the Forest Department also refuted See’s allegation that the number of licences issued had increased threefold.
“This is totally wrong and misleading. He has apparently or deliberately misinterpreted the figures given in that media statement,” the statement said.
It said 109 occupational ticket (OT) licences were issued in 2014, 100 in 2015 and 42 in 2016. But these were the accumulated total number of licences that remained valid in those years.
The department reiterated that currently there were only 42 licences that are valid for native customary right land, compared with 100 licences last year.
“This clearly shows a reduction in numbers,” the department said, adding that only 12 new OT licences were issued this year.
“The number of valid OT licences and Letters of Authority (LA) is dynamic. The accumulative total for each year will vary as there will be licences expiring and new ones being issued,” the department said.
Under Section 40(2) of the Forests Ordinance, 2015, the director of forests has power to issue a licence for a period not exceeding one year, except with the written approval of the minister.
Once the OT licence is approved and prior to the harvesting operation, the licensee has to appoint and submit the name of the contractor to the department for approval.
The approval process of the contractor includes screening through MACC’s eSTK (Integrity Filtering System) before registration.
During harvesting operations, the Sarawak Forest Corporation (SFC) is to comply with the laws, terms and conditions of the licence.
“The Forest Department is committed to combating illegal logging in the state.
“We are fully aware that short-term licences can be abused and for this reason, applicants will be scrutinised to ensure they have no adverse record.
“Since the chief minister’s directive to eliminate illegal logging, the procedure to process new applications for short-term licences has been enhanced,” the department said.
Yesterday, See held a press conference alleging senior government officials had issued timber licences in the form of small land-clearing permits, known as OT and LA licences, without the knowledge of the ministers.
He also called for Chief Minister Adenan Satem to appoint an independent committee to inquire into the matter.
“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 PKR headquarters here yesterday.
See further alleged that there were now possibly 184 valid OT licences issued by the Forest Department in the state, a threefold increase from last year.
Source : Richard T.W.@FMT Online