KUCHING: The state government is proposing the Forests Bill 2015 to better regulate the state’s timber industry and promote sustainable management of its forests.
Second Minister of Resource Planning and Environment Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan said the timber industry in Sarawak had grown substantially since the Forests Ordinance 1953 was passed in 1953 to become major revenue earner as well as a major contributor towards the socio-economic development of the state.
However, he said the present ordinance was deemed inadequate to achieve the present day objectives where there was a pressing need to effectively regulate the timber industry both upstream and downstream in order to eliminate all forms of malpractices associated with the timber industry.
“Also, there is a growing demand that timber traded in the international market have to come from legal sources and from forests which are sustainably managed and certified,” he said when tabling the Forests Bill, 2015 yesterday.
He said the introduction of the Forests Bill 2015 was a clear manifestation of the state government’s resolute commitment to strengthen management of the state’s forests, ensure the sustainability of valuable forest resources and for the enforcement of forestry laws and regulations with a view to eliminate illegal logging and trade in illegally felled timber; ensure that timber produced in the state came from legitimate sources; promote sustainable forest management practices; have better regulatory control over the issuance of timber licences and the holders of such licences, their contractors and workmen; improve the image of Sarawak as a major producer of tropical timber; and eliminate the perception that the state condoned illegal logging or indiscriminate felling of its forests.
“To reinforce its commitments to eliminate illegal logging and other malpractices which resulted in the state losing huge amounts in terms of revenue and forest assets, the government has decided that a new Forests Ordinance be enacted to provide for more deterrent penalties for forest offences; strengthen provisions relating to seizure and disposal of illegal timber and any equipment, machineries, vessels or vehicles used in the commission of such offences; equip enforcement agencies with greater power to investigate offences and to facilitate such investigations; and improve the process for the constitution and protection of forest reserves, protected forests, state land forests and communal forests and to regulate the taking of forest produce from state land or communal forests for domestic use or non-commercial purposes,” he said.
The Forests Bill 2015, he said, also gave power to the director of forests to regulate the collection of payment for ecosystem services.
“The taking of forest produce from permanent forests and alienated land in Sarawak shall be controlled and regulated by the director of forests who may issue such licences in such form and under such terms and conditions as he may determine.
“The Bill makes it mandatory for the licensee to return the licence to the director of forests within 30 days upon its expiration. Failure to comply with this provision amounts to an offence,” he said.
In addition, Awang Tengah said the Bill also provided for fees to be charged for the issuance or renewal of licence and the rates of fees depended on the types of licence.
“To strengthen the enforcement, the Bill includes the provisions on search and seizure with or without warrant; power to stop and search conveyances; investigation diary; forfeiture and of release of things seized.
“Where the owner fails to surrender the things seized on demand by such forest officer, or fails to produce it before a court of competent jurisdiction, the owner shall be guilty of an offence.”
He added that the Bill provided for heavier penalties for all types of forest offences especially to those that cause loss of revenue to the state.
Awang Tengah said the Bill also gave power to the minister with the approval of the Majlis Mesyuarat Kerajaan Negeri to make rules on the imposition of or requirement for forest rehabilitation and management plan and other matters related thereto.
“All these are very clear evidence of the government’s firm commitment towards strengthening the legal and institutional framework for the effective management, conservation and protection of our forest resources as well as enhance our enforcement capabilities.