State open to forest verification — Taib

KUCHING: Sarawak is prepared to invite independent and international inspection teams to visit the state to verify and document the fact that more than 70 per cent of its rainforest remain intact, Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud said.In a clear response to British and other international environmental critics who have alleged in recent weeks that logging in Sarawak had led to massive deforestation of the rain forests, he said that state officials would provide full cooperation and assistance to inspectors from any certified international industry or environmental organisation that wished “to make a serious study.”

“I know that there are exaggerated claims that 90 per cent of Sarawak’s forests have been destroyed by logging,” Taib was quoted by Sarawak Reports here recently.

The chief minister noted that in addition to the 70 per cent of virgin rain forest which remains intact in Sarawak, another 14 per cent of its secondary jungle has been replanted and is undergoing plans for replanting.

“This is the simple fact and if people want to verify it, then they are welcome to visit Sarawak,” said Taib.

In recent weeks the sister-in-law of British former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has teamed up with opposition critics in Malaysia to make a series of harsh accusations against Sarawak and against the chief minister himself.

At the heart of this campaign in the British online and print media, launched by Clare Rewcastle Brown, has been the repeated claim, based on reports by an environmental NGO that logging in Sarawak will have wiped out 90 per cent of all rainforests by 2020.

It is alleged that Gordon Brown himself had endorsed these claims in a recent article in The Independent.

Taib’s interview with www.sarawakreports.org.net marks the first time he has spoken out on the allegations being made by Brown’s sister-in-law, who together with the former British prime minister, was herself at the centre of a British scandal over the abuse of personal expense claims in 2009.

Taib who is also the Minister of Planning and Resource Management had focused on the issue of sustainable development in the state and to rebut claims of deforestation being made in London and elsewhere.

“People can make many claims, but my government has been very deeply committed to sustainable management of our forest,” he stressed.

He pointed out that Sarawak has always been committed to practicing sustainable management of its forests.

“In our traditional forest, we practice what is called ‘fill-in planting’, where there is a bald area, where we see this, we plant trees.

“On top of that, we want to make sure that the timber industry will not be touching the traditional trees by illegal logging,” he said.

“So we have converted some areas to be planted with quick growing species and the timber industries which are still expanding must also add to the greenness of our forest. I would expect that one million hectares can be planted within the next ten years.” Taib added.

In announcing plans to invite independent inspection by qualified experts, the chief minister said the government and forestry officials would provide full cooperation.

He stressed that all he wanted was seeing the truth being documented to avoid misunderstanding and distortions. “I have the greatest respect for the people of Britain or anywhere else in the world who care about the issue of deforestation, as I myself do.

“And because of that I am ready and willing to open up the country for independent and international inspection. They will see that we still have much more rainforest than people give us credit for, to be preserved for the next generations,” he explained.

When asked his opinion on why a few critics in London and cheered on by opposition politicians in Malaysia, have been gunning for Sarawak on the logging issue, and whether this might be related to the fact that DUN has been dissolved and state elections would be held soon, Taib declined to speculate on the motivations, and repeated his announcement of Sarawak being open to international inspectors.

“The truth is that we have nothing to hide,” he added.

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