Responding to allegations by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) that indigenous people have been forced from their lands (a charge it denied), the Sabah Forestry Department said that more than 30 percent of Mt. Pock And Tanjong Nagos Forest Reserves were “plundered” by “people with means to plant illegal oil palm including companies” up until 2001. The statement is noteworthy in that leaders of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, the marketing and lobbying arm of the Malaysian palm oil industry, have maintained that oil expansion has not taken place at the expense of natural forest in Malaysia.
The Forestry Department statement noted that oil palm companies spent million of ringgit “to develop the illegal oil palm including the recruitment of illegal workers to destroy forests and intimidate Forestry Department staff on the ground.” It said that 202 people were arrested in the reserves between 2003 and 2006. Statewide, 732 were apprehended for illegal encroachment. 471 of these were illegal immigrants.
“The illegal workers were paid by the illegal local entrepreneurs,” said the statement. “These figures reflect the gravity of the role of illegal immigrants, as hired hands, to plunder conservation areas, in Sabah.”
Oil palm plantation abutting tropical rainforest.
Oil palm plantation abutting logged over forest in Borneo.
The Forestry Department said that settlements established prior to the gazetting of the forest reserve “are left on their own with the proviso that they do not expand the settlement and occupation.”
“The communities therein are also engaged in community forestry projects,” it said.
The Forestry Department added that the illegal oil palm plantations in the reserves have been turned over to a subsidiary of Saham Amanah Sabah (SAS), a state-run company, to manage until the crop reaches the end of its rotation, when it is to be replaced with trees.
“The cost of destroying illegal oil palm and re-establishing with trees is very high, up to RM6,000.00/ha which the department cannot afford on its own. As SAS is owned by Sabah investors in the thousands, they will benefit from this venture and not just any privately owned company.”
The statement ended with reaffirmation of the need for the Forestry Department to uphold the laws of Malaysia.
“The rule of law must prevail and mob rule cannot dictate public policy,” it said.
“The needs of a few cannot overrule the needs and rights of the majority as forest reserves are public properties owned by the total population. There cannot be special privileges given to a few even to the extent of allowing the laws of the land to be broken thus, promoting “the tyranny of the minority”. Acquiescence will lead to false hope and the ultimate breakdown of the forest reserve system that has now prevailed for nearly 100 years.”
“Issues that have been settled amicably should also not he regurgitated like cud, to alarm the public [referring to the Foresty Department’s contention that the reserve occupation issue raised by Suhakam had already been settled]. The Forestry Department shall continue to enforce the laws, regardless !!.”
Sabah, a state in the Malaysian part of Borneo, is renowned for its biodiversity, including a wealth of rare and endangered species like pygmy elephants, Borneo rhino, and orangutans. But the state has seen intensive logging and widespread conversion of rainforest for industrial oil palm plantations for the past 20 years.
- Jaswinder Kaur. Indigenous people are not forced out of their land: Sabah Forestry. New Straits Times 3-Feb-2009
- Sabah Forestry Department. PRESS STATEMENT FROM THE FORESTRY DEPARTMENT ON ALLEGATIONS BY SUHAKAM ON VARIOUS FORESTRY ISSUES.