Baru Bian: Section 6 of Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (Amendment) Bill 2014 too vague

JUST A SECOND: Ba’ Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian (seated) downloading his debate speech on the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre Amendment Bill 2014 to a pen drive at the media room of the State Legislative Assembly complex. Krian assemblyman Ali Biju is on the left and Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How second left.

THERE’S MORE TO COME: Kota Sentosa assemblyman Chong Chieng Jen (left) speaking to reporters during a break of the State Legislative Assembly (DUN) sitting at DUN complex yesterday morning. — Photos by Tan Song Wei

BARU Bian (PKR-Ba Kelalan) said subsection (bb) of Section 6 of the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (Amendment) Bill, 2014 is too vague and its implementation will be problematic, if not impossible.

The state PKR chairman said this would defeat the intention of the section, suggesting that workshops be carried out after the passing of the Bill to look into the issues.

The section empowers Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC) to ensure that prior informed consent is obtained from natives before traditional knowledge associated with a biological resource is accessed and an agreement that includes benefit sharing based on mutually agreed terms is entered into.

According to him, traditional knowledge of each native community is passed down from generation to generation and would be known by many families within a particular ethnic group, some of whom might have moved to other divisions within the state.

“Which family or clan would be entitled to hold the rights to the traditional knowledge? As in NCR (native customary rights) land matters, these rights and knowledge are similarly undocumented.

“Assuming that we can identify the group that holds the rights to the traditional knowledge, who would be the other signatory to the agreement? Would it be the Centre? Who is going to be the arbiter if there are many overlapping claims, as it is bound to happen?” he questioned when debating on the Bill tabled by Second Resource Planning and Environment Minister Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan at the State Legislative Assembly here yesterday.

“What if a biological resource is identified in Ba Kelalan and given some protection and then the same resource is found in Lundu? Will the person in Ba Kelalan have the sole right over that biological resource or would they share the rights over the biological resource? How can this provision be practically enforced and executed?”

With regards to ‘protection of biological resources’ under Section 21, which was substituted with ‘penalty for collection of protected resources’ under Section 22, Baru hoped that the minister could enlighten the august house on the effectiveness of the law ever since it was enacted, in terms of the number of cases and offenders that had been penalised or prosecuted.

“What I find most ironic about this piece of legislation is that while it seeks to protect our biological resources from exploitation by outsiders, there is virtually no provision in it or in any other of our laws to protect our biodiversity from destruction by the timber industries, plantation companies and dam builders.”

Baru proposed that timber licences, provisional leases and other licences be made subject to this ordinance.

“This amendment is a good beginning but more needs to be done to ensure that the good intention behind this bill is truly translated into pragmatic protection and solution to our vast and rich biodiversity, especially for the benefit of those who truly need them such as the natives of Sarawak.”

Meanwhile, Chong Chieng Jen (DAP-Kota Sentosa) in his debate highlighted a 2002 report that a drug derived from the Bintangor tree could be used to treat HIV/AIDS.

“This was reported in a local daily on Dec 13, 2002 quoting our then Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud that the drug could be ready for production by next year (2003).

“I do not think we have the drug derived from the said Bintangor Tree to treat AIDS in 2003 let alone now in 2014,” he said, while wanting to know the progress of research on the tree.

He also questioned whether the research was under the purview or jurisdiction of SBC, pointing out that it should be under the centre’s scope of work.

“If we can produce such a drug, it will bring in heaps of revenue to Sarawak. However, that statement was said in 2002 and now we are in 2014, so may I know what has become of the research on this Bintangor tree?”

Chong also wanted to know how many patents SBC had registered because “without SBC claiming intellectual property rights over the research it has done, the state would not gain any economic benefits out of the researches.”

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