In a recent press article dated September 5, Natural Resources Minister Nik Nazmi said there’s much more work to be done in terms of biodiversity conservation.
This is most definitely the case, given the multiple serious weaknesses in the country’s forest management system.
Most of the points in this article have been raised by several groups, including Parti Sosialis Malaysia and Jaringan Selamatkan Hutan Simpan Kledang Saiong.
Some of the serious weaknesses in our country’s forest management system include:
(i) A large part of forest areas is designated as ‘State Forests’ and ‘Production Forests’that can be approved for logging.
(ii) The authority to issue logging licences in each state is concentrated in the hands of the Menteri Besar (MB) who also appoints the State Forestry Department’s director.
(iii) The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) mechanism fails to act as a genuine deterrent against logging because the EIA consultant usually sides with those paying him – the logging company.
(iv) The Orang Asli community’s interests aren’t protected in the National Forestry Act 1984 (Act 313). There are no provisions requiring their knowledge and permission to carry out logging or agricultural activities in forest areas located near their villages.
(v) Most areas that are logged to create Plantation Forests, fail to get developed as such. The licensed companies disappear after reaping profits from the logging phase.
(vi) Logging has and is destroying water catchment areas, causing river sedimentation and flooding, destroying wild animal habitats, threatening many species with extinction, triggering clashes between wild animals and rural communities, destroying the country’s biodiversity, etc.
In the recent article, Nik Nazmi also said that Malaysia’s approach to preserving biodiversity is holistic and forward-thinking.
If our government is truly committed to being more proactive in biodiversity conservation, serious steps need to be taken immediately to effectively eradicate the weaknesses in our country’s forest management system as listed above.
Such steps must include:
1. Reviewing the current classification of a large proportion of permanent reserve forests as ‘production forests’, then determining how many of those need to be changed to ‘flood control forests’, ‘water catchment forests’, ‘wildlife protection forests’, etc.
2. Creating a state-level check and balance mechanism, including a committee to monitor the approval of logging licences. Such a committee should be free from the MB’s and Director of Forestry’s influence, and have the power to defer any unsustainable logging approvals until they can be debated in the state assembly.
3. Transferring the power to appoint EIA consultants to the Department of Environment.
4. Classifying forest areas near Orang Asli villages as ‘communal forests’ that cannot be approved for any commercial activity until the village’s application for those forests to be gazetted as Orang Asli reserve land is resolved.
5. Strictly enforcing the Forest Plantation Project moratorium declared in December 2022, including projects approved before that but not yet implemented.
6. Establishing a state-level compensation fund and requiring logging licence holders to contribute a portion of their gross income to this fund to cover the cost of any damages or losses sustained by local communities due to the logging.
(Raveen Jeyakumar is a writer who is passionate about social and environmental issues, and whose work can be found at reform-the-system.com.)