Friday, January 21

Rajang disaster: Movement wants independent probe


KUCHING: The Sarawak Legislative Assembly has been encouraged to set up a Special Select Committee to conduct a full-scale investigation into the recent ecological disaster in the form of a logjam on the mighty Sungai Rajang.

Making the call here today, Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) chief Francis Paul Siah said the committee must be independent and should comprise equal representation from both sides of the political divide.

“It would be meaningless if DAP legislators are left out of the probe team. Both sides must be in the committee,” he said yesterday through a press release issued in Kuala Lumpur.

“MoCS proposes that Land Development Minister Dato Sri Dr James Masing (also Baleh assemblyman) chairs the Special Select Committee as he seems to be the only Cabinet member who is serious about getting to the bottom of the ecological havoc which has caused untold suffering to the riverine folks and huge losses to properties and businesses.

Even as the massive debris caused by the recent ecological disaster on the Rajang River began to clear, the MoCS leader stressed that those responsible must not be let off.

“The state government cannot simply forget what had happened and sweep everything under the carpet. The logjam on the mighty Rajang River last week is a disaster of gigantic proportion and there is no guarantee that it will not happen again if timber companies do not play by the rules,” he said.

“Stern action, in the form of a fine or the revocation of logging licences, must be meted out. Those responsible must not go unpunished,” Siah said.

“If this was not a natural calamity as claimed by another state minister, then it was man-made. As such, certain quarters must be held responsible and they must pay for it,” he added.

Quoting Masing’s recent statement over the logjam, Siah hoped the state government would not adopt the ostrich approach (observer only) by burying its head in the sand.

This is a very serious matter as it brings forth the question of haphazard timber extraction, illegal logging and the issuance of logging licences to those incompetent to carry out the tasks, said Siah.

“More importantly, the Special Select Committee should also investigate exactly how many timber companies and how many hectares of forests were given to each of them. For too long, such matters have been clouded in secrecy. How much longer can the people of Sarawak tolerate the plunder and rape of their forests. There has to come a time when logging must be properly controlled, if not stopped altogether,” said Siah.

Many people were shocked by the scale of the logjam for five days last week which stretched for 50km on the Rajang River.

It was described as unprecedented and beyond imagination with State Environment and Public Health Minister Dato Sri Wong Soon Koh conceding that the government was caught off guard.

According to the Natural Resources and Environment Board, the source of the logs and debris were from the Baleh River and its tributaries above Kapit.

Several days of heavy rain earlier in the week in Putai and Nungun in upper Baleh had caused a massive landslide which brought down the logs and debris into the rivers. The high water level and swift current in Baleh River and its tributaries also washed the logs and debris along their banks.