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Major logging scandal exposed
Published on: Thursday, July 19, 2018

Kota Kinabalu: A major logging scandal has been uncovered following the recent State Government decision to ban logging exports with enforcement operations chancing upon 40,161 logs – including from the State's forest reserves – and escaping paying timber tax.

The logs were seized by the reactivated Special Taskforce Unit under the Chief Minister's Department in several logging sites at forest reserves in Tongod, Sandakan, Ranau and Kalabakan.

The loss of revenue to the Government is believed to run into millions of ringgit.

The suspected logging activities were in breach of provisions under the Forest Enactment 1968.

The operations from July 5 to 14 involved the Hutan Simpan Sungai Pinangah Yayasan concessionaire, Hutan Simpan Trusmadi FMU 5, Hutan Simpan Gunung Rara Kalabakan Yayasan Sabah concessionaire, with a huge bulk of the logs (over 20,000) found in the Kalabakan area.

Preliminary findings showed that the logs have not been taxed while some were also found with measurement less than 40 cm or 150 cm and involving species such as Belian (Borneo ironwood), all of which are against the provisions under the Forest Enactment 1968.

The findings prompted several police reports to be lodged by the Special Taskforce Unit, who have also alerted the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

The discovery has led investigators from the Forestry Department and police to work together in probing the matter for further action. Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal told a media conference at the State Administrative building, Wednesday, that the operations began after he announced the ban on timber exports.

"When we did that, a lot of lorries emerged from the forest. We do not know where they were headed and where the resources are, but based on findings there is evidence that tax was not paid for some of the logs," he said.

"Rest assured that action will be taken and will or may involve some of the companies who have concessions given before, who leased their company to some in the stock exchange whether within or outside the country," he said.

"It could be more or less 10 companies based on the list we have… it could even be more."

Several are public listed companies.

Showing several photos of sawmills and veneer mills were the logs were found, he said: "I hope people are mindful that we are very firm to ensure that actions must be taken against them which breach the law under the Forest Enactment 1968 which they should not have done.

"I think some of this either old or new concessionaire whether irrespective of who they are we will definitely take actions in accordance with the law."

On whether Chief Forest Conservator Datuk Sam Mannan knows about the matter, he said: "I hope so … he should know because he is the chief in charge, but this is another special operation that we have done under the Chief Minister's Department.

"What is important for us is actions are taken and evidence are gathered so that we can ensure we save our resources for Sabah. The findings will be evidence for action to be taken, we cannot confiscate the logs at the moment because it is evidence, that is why we lodged reports to the police as well as the MACC," he said.

"I don't know how long they have had the licence, but I think it is quite a while," he said. He said 8,000 logs could perhaps involve tax leakages worth over RM1 million. Just imagine the amount of loss incurred if they have been in operation for a long period of time… irresponsible acts mean we have lost a lot of resources.

How long has this been going on?"

On whether it is linked to the previous Umno-led Barisan Nasional government, he said: "I won't say it now but of course the ones who gave the approval is not the current government.

On whether politicians are involved, he said "I don't want to comment on this, we have lodged police reports as well as alerted the MACC, and after that action will be taken."

At the moment, there are 9,300 logs at a sawmill and forest reserve in Tongod, 549 logs at a sawmill in Sandakan and 5,091 logs in forest reserves in Ranau.

In Kalabakan, 6,221 logs were discovered in the forest reserve and 19,000 logs were found at two sawmills.

On July 16, Mohd Shafie announced that the government had reactivated the Illegal Logging Crackdown Committee to strengthen enforcement to protect the state's forestry resources. - Sherell Jeffrey


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