IN their jostling to get to the forefront of their war against the degradation of the environment, some international NGOs have turned on timber and oil palm plantation companies to score mileage and gain favour from their sponsors.
These ‘green’ bodies usually rely on information that ranges from half truths to blatant lies to run down companies involved in large-scale agriculture and logging.
To these NGOs, the ends justify the means and reports by their informants or activists need not be verified as long as they could sensationalise the issues they are championing.
Recently one of these so-called champions of the environment Upreshpal Singh working through Friends of the Orangutan (FOTO) hurled slanderous allegations against KTS and BLD, accusing them of wanton destruction of the forest through oil palm planting and logging.
Sadly Rettet den Re genwalde.V (Save The Rainforest), a supposedly credible German NGO jumped on Upreshpal Singh’s bandwagon and started a campaign to undermine the interest of the two companies.
Their allegations were picked up by Sarawak Report and posted on the portal on Feb 25, 2016.
It is very regrettable that Sarawak Report headed presumably by Clare Rewcastle Brown, sister-in-law of a former British Prime Minister, not only carried the story without verification but also spiced it up to tarnish the public perception of KTS and BLD in its self-righteous mission to expose “the bad, the ugly and the greedy” big boys in the timber and plantation industries.
While it cannot be denied that climate change and other environmental issues are a serious concern for all of us and especially for future generations, organisations and individuals striving to conserve the environment often go overboard in their mission, basing their fight on unsubstantiated reports and ignoring the other side of the coin of the issues they highlight.
Save the Rainforest, Forest Hero, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Orangutan, and many other similar organisations have sprung up like mushrooms each trying to outdo the others in their reports.
Very little is known about the legal status of these bodies, whether they are bound by any local, national or international rules and laws or by any customs or culture or moral obligations.
However, these bodies are often seen as “knights in golden armour” in the sacred task of environmental protection by the public.
Indeed, every time there is a natural weather calamity, the people’s perception almost always points towards logging and clearing of land for large-scale commercial agriculture.
In the view of the NGOs and the majority of the public, clearing of natural forests is the main cause of most natural catastrophes while emission from cars, trucks, trains, aeroplanes, factories and forest fires (just to name a few) polluting the atmosphere rarely receive any attention.
Rainforests have proven to be a fertile ground to churn out environmental protection “heroes” whose fight against the “big boys who destroy the jungles” invariably garners public sympathy and attracts sponsors to back them financially.
Little is known about their finances, their connections, their organisational structure and their legal standing.
Reports not based on thorough investigation not credible
Rainforest protection has become a cause célèbre for NGOs like Save The Rainforest in Germany and Sarawak Report originating from the United Kingdom, which posted their reports or hurled accusations against KTS and BLD without actually going down to the ground in Igan, Sarawak at least 10,000km from their bases, where the alleged crimes against the environment are supposed to take place, to get the actual picture of the situation.
Sarawak Report sits on the high stead of environmental conservation ignoring the basic tenets of journalism like verification of sources and accuracy of reports and allowing the accused parties to tell their side story in their reports against KTS and BLD.
If they had investigated thoroughly before hurling slanders against Bintulu Lumber Development S/B (BLD), which is a member of BLD Plantation Bhd (BLDP), a public listed company, they would have found out that started as a logging company but became an oil palm plantation company in 1987.
Kirana Palm Oil Refinery S/B (KPOR) is a subsidiary of BLDP carrying out refining of crude palm oil produced from within its own group as well as from outsiders including small farmers and estate owners who are not able or have yet to set up palm oil mills.
In 2004, BLD started its Igan oil palm plantation in an area about 20km from Sibu town.
Sibu town is situated at the confluence of the Igan and Rajang Rivers; some 80km from the estuaries.
Sibu and its surroundings sit on extensive peat land, which is difficult to cultivate and work on by any comparison. Costs of developing are high and efforts are so excruciating that even the most hard-working farmers found it an almost insurmountable task to sustain their farms.
While many other areas in Sarawak were enjoying progress in economic development, Sibu, which was once the second largest town in Sarawak, is facing continuous outward migration.
Before the 20,000ha of swampy peat land in Igan was owned by BLD in 2000, it was licensed to logging companies (not in any way related to KTS or BLD group) since 1986.
By the time BLD inherited the land, there were little or no timber trees left standing and could not be classified or maintained as a forest by any definition.
In fact, in the process of land clearing, only about 7,000m3 were extracted over the entire 20,000ha. Furthermore, these timber logs were at best termed as salvaged logs. Surprisingly in spite of this, there were at least 10 cases of illegal logging activities reported or caught (also not by or in any way connected to KTS or BLD) in the area.
Illegal logging is defined (inter-alia) as logging activities carried out by party or parties without licence, permit or authority of any kind.
In 2004, BLD took a gamble in opening its Igan land for oil palm plantation as at that time no one in Sarawak had succeeded in large scale farming on peat soil.
Nonetheless, expectations were high among the people in Sibu because this venture would spur economic activities for the local communities creating local business and job opportunities.
In 2010, with experiences gained, BLD decided to continue the development of the balance 10,000 ha.
By 2015, BLD had managed to prepare most of its remaining land (2,800ha not 14,000ha as reported) including under brushing, stump removal, drain formation and soil compaction.
By the end of 2016 and provided conditions permitting (weather, labour, consultation with local inhabitants, financial factors, planting material, environment management, among other things) all areas will be fully planted at the total projected capital commitment of exceeding RM200 million and providing 1,000 additional jobs as well as contributing meaningfully to the local economy.
What Sarawak Report chose to ignore or did not bother find out is the CSR projects and the economic and social benefits BLD provides for the local community
Currently BLD employs and sponsors over 50 candidates yearly for on-job training and has set aside more than RM13 million for education and to train local people to improve their employability in the various industries.
BLD has also been deploying its Community Development Team in consultative negotiation with all the surrounding residents and their longhouse or village committees. Various corporate social exercises were carried out by BLD providing electricity, road access to 17 longhouses, 100 houses, one school and church building, among others.
In fact, BLD’s relationship with the local communities has been cordial, amicable and productive until an action was initiated against BLD by six longhouses residing outside BLD land in August 2015.
It is strange that the claimed areas were already fully developed since 2007 but the claim only surfaced in 2015 after Upreshpal Singh of FOTO started to write letters accusing BLD of land encroachment. Apparently, Upreshpal Singh started his propaganda against BLD after a news report in an English newspaper.
The matter is in court and should not be discussed openly due to judicial rules. However, one does wonder whether there is anyone behind instigating the natives for unethical purposes.
Sarawak Report in its Feb 25, 2016 article titled ‘Germany’s Save The Rainforest Campaign Tells Chainsaw Giant STIHL to Cut Ties with KTS’ stated that a major new petition and campaign had been launched to get the KTS Group to commit seriously to environmental and indigenous concerns.
In the same article, Sarawak Report went on to write that the German NGO’s petition accused KTS of an abysmal record in environmental destruction and native encroachment in Sarawak.
To back up their claims, a company called Isotimber Sdn Bhd was quoted as involved in illegal logging near Julau in cohort with two villagers who illegally and secretly signed away their NCR land in Julau for logging activities. Sarawak Report claimed that the incident was reported in its previous article.
However, no contact was made to KTS to enquire or seek confirmation about the activities of Isotimber on and its alleged malpractice.
If they had taken the trouble to check, they would have found out that KTS has no share in Isotimber and no logging operation or activities of any kind in Julau. In fact KTS did not even know about the existence of Isotimber until reported by Sarawak Report.
Although one of the directors of Isotimber is also shareholder and non-executive directors in KTS, KTS Group whether by itself or its employees or any of its contractors have never engaged in logging activities in Julau.
KTS Group has hundreds and thousands of shareholders, surely one cannot expect KTS to account for each of its shareholders’ activities whether by themselves or by equity participation only.
In the second case of illustration, Sarawak Report mentioned KTS-owned BLD is clearing carbon-rich peatland for oil palm.
Apparently or at least it appears that Sarawak Report relied on Upreshpal Singh, who obtained an unverified report from ‘The Star’ published on June 18, 2015 and pressed on to condemn KTS as the culprit illegally clearing peatland in Igan near Sibu.
Sometime in July 2015, Bunge Limited suddenly announced its suspension of buying palm oil from KPOR with no prior notice or consultation. This irresponsible action of Bunge Limited was probably instigated by Upreshpal Singh of FOTO.
The irresponsible reports and slander by the NGOs and news portals have put BLDP Group in danger of closing down due to deprivation of its major buyers affecting its businesses so painfully developed by truly hard-working honest living founders and their employees.
Prior to reporting, Sarawak Report did not contact KTS or BLD in any way to obtain a factual picture. Yet, Sarawak Report could without establishing facts and truth, publish baseless material against BLD and KTS; perhaps only relying on
Upreshpal Singh. This is sheer irresponsible journalism, if nothing else.
In truth and in fact, BLD acquired the Igan land legally to carry out oil palm cultivation in 2000. Among other terms, BLD was required to carry out oil palm planting as soon as possible as part of the Government’s policy to achieve 2 million ha of oil palm plantation and generate income for the company, the people and the coffer of the State Government.
BLD has sought and obtained all permits including Environmental Impact Studies (EIA).
The Igan land has been logged over many times (not by KTS or BLD) and the land of peat nature can no longer sustain the recovery of its natural status. Most areas of the said land were wasteland in nature. There was no forest in most part of the Igan land owned by BLD.
These environmental NGOs should take note that despite great costs and difficulty in retaining leftover forests with low timber density, BLD has preserved 2,100 ha of peat land and retained it for R&D, conservation and protection of animals, flora and fauna and reserve for cultivation by local communities.
So which part of BLD activities in Igan were malpractice or illegal? Upreshpal Singh, Save the Rainforest and Sarawak Report owe it to everyone else who cares about the environment this much of their integrity and decency and professionalism to answer this question honestly and with facts and truth.
To add spice to its reports, Sarawak Report brought into the picture our Chief Minister Adenan Satem and insinuated that Chief Minister Adenan Satem is turning a blind eye to KTS’ involvement in rainforest destruction, malpractice and illegal logging.
Sarawak Report even insinuated that Adenan is being biased. The report said that “ironically, KTS Henry Lau joined the delegation to London with Adenan Satem in May 2015 to highlight Adenan’s proposed crackdown on illegal logging and palm oil expansion in the State”.
Sarawak Report did not know or perhaps chose not to publish that Henry Lau joined the delegation as the Honorary Secretary of Sarawak Timber Association (STA), which is a respected timber organisation, to work for the well-being of the Sarawak timber industries as a legitimate stakeholder and help to meaningfully participate in any dialogue for the betterment of its industries (including fighting against illegal logging and forest destruction).
Since Adenan took office as the Chief Minister of Sarawak, he has carried out concerted actions, which won the support of the people of Sarawak. As he claimed again and again, Adenan is the Chief Minister of all Sarawakians. And he walks the talk by being approachable to everyone needing his help including NGOs.
His sincerity was proven by his trip to London to meet NGOs there to talk about the environment and illegal logging among other things and how to jointly fight these illicit activities.
Adenan is loved by many, too many to mention. Many people can and do approach Adenan to share his light and serious moments and yes, take photographs as well! Anyone and everyone with quality, integrity and righteousness are proud to be associated with Adenan as our political leader. KTS and BLD are no exception.
Adenan even sang to raise significant funds to help the poor, the needy and the less fortunate.
Clare Rewcastle Brown should be ashamed of herself for trying to discredit him and suggesting that he kept a blind eye on illegal logging by certain companies.
Finally, KTS and/or BLD are willing to participate and engage with anyone having genuine intention and professionalism in exercising good environmental practices. But KTS and BLD will not yield to any blackmail and gangster tactics with fabricated allegations laden with premeditated intention.
We are guided by the principle of “Innocent until proven guilty” and we ask and expect nothing less.