Make public hearings a must for forest reserve de-gazettements

Shariffa Sabrina Syed Akil

13 Dec 2018, 2:37 pm

Updated a year ago


LETTER | Peka Malaysia is calling for all state governments to prove their commitment towards the natural environment by ensuring that forest reserves cannot be de-gazetted without public participation. Thus far, only a single state in Malaysia, Selangor, has done so by passing an amendment in the Selangor National Forestry Act (Adoption) (Amendment) Enactment 1985.

The amendment was passed in 2011. While such an amendment does ensure the rakyat is engaged, more can be done if the state and federal governments are truly interested in protecting the environment.

As such, Peka Malaysia wants all governments, at state and federal levels, to use the Precautionary Principle set out during the Rio Declaration in 1992 as the main guideline where environmental matters are concerned. The precautionary principle can assist state governments in any decisions pertaining to forest issues.

Other countries, including the Philippines and Japan, have applied this principle. In the Philippines, there is even judicial pronouncement that is guided by this principle.

The current Malaysian laws that protect our precious and priceless forests are very weak due to numerous loopholes. There are severe, urgent and immediate needs to change these perceptions – one of exploitation versus conservation.

The federal government must review the Forestry Act 1984 and the National Forest Policy 1977 and amend them in line with the precautionary principle by weighing in the statement of Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister that protection of our little remaining forests is currently threatening our national security in the scope of our nation’s economy and the inability to reduce global warming and climate change.

With such amendment, controversies like the current fiasco surrounding the Pulau Kukup de-gazettement would not be creating threats to the clean world we struggling to leave behind for our future generations. Pulau Kukup serves as a very clear example of how loopholes in legislation can result in misunderstandings and be exploited.

It also shows that most state governments are failing to protect the natural environment by not bothering to pass amendments that would safeguard the public's interest.

If state governments truly wish to represent and protect the interests of the rakyat, they should make public participation compulsory in public interest issues such as the de-gazettement of forest reserves in their state.

We also urge Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment Minister, Yeo Bee Yin and Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister, Dr Xavier Jayakumar to work hand-in-hand with state legislators to strengthen legislation to protect our natural resources and environment and ensure that amendments are passed in all the states and by Parliament.

We are still hoping that the Finance Ministry and the Malaysian cabinet will review our proposal before the 2019 Budget speech by Finance Minister, Lim Guan Eng to offer states a federal debt write-off in return for a total permanent ban on logging and deforestation for plantations.

Selangor’s amendment proves that it is not the lack of laws that is the problem where environmental protection is concerned, but the lack of political will, the lack of leadership and blatant disregard for the environment among our politicians.

The fact remains that no other state has bothered to pass a similar law till now. How long do Malaysians have to wait for the federal and state governments to really protect our country’s environment for the survival of our children in a safe and clean world?

The writer is president, Organisation for the Preservation of Natural Heritage, Malaysia (Peka).

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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