Don’t see the wood for the trees?

Overloaded lorries have been blamed for damaging the Bintulu-Bakun road network.

Overloaded lorries have been blamed for damaging the Bintulu-Bakun road network.

THE lori hantu in Bakun have been haunting the newspaper readers for some time, and angering the people who use the Bintulu-Bakun road.

And nobody seems to be able to solve the problem successfully though it has been in existence for so long.

It is high time therefore to seek help from a bomoh to exorcise these nasty antu (unfriendly spirits).

Big lorries have been blamed for damaging the road network in the area because they carry heavy loads of timber and oil palm fruit bunches day and night, thus preventing the regular maintenance of the roads.

To discourage and prevent drivers from overloading, piling up their vehicles to the sky with logs of all sizes and lengths and thereby worsening the road condition, height limitation barriers made of metal were erected by the authorities along certain sections of the roads. But no sooner were the barriers put up were they dismantled … wonder who did it? The truck drivers are the prime suspects, of course.

Question – Who ordered that the barriers be pulled down? To pull down such a strong structure, someone must have used a bulldozer. Where did the bulldozers come from? Only an antu can pull such a barrier without being seen during the day.

Whose job is it to ensure that barriers would not be dismantled without authority? Where were the law enforcers at the material time that the barriers were destroyed?

I have read statement after statement from some quarters in power in the state condemning the drivers but all the threats have fallen on deaf ears. Making threats is easy, but there will be no action unless the authorities concerned – JPJ, JKR, Council, Police – act in concert.

To the drivers, all this talk without follow-up action is laughable. They know that some unseen hand somewhere is on their side. There is an elephant in the room, which nobody wants to talk about especially when an election is around the corner.

The driver of the lorry is partly to blame, but one must remember that he is working for a contractor, or for the owner of the vehicle that he drives. He may own the vehicle also, but most likely he is not the holder of the timber permit. He gets paid per load that he moves from A to B. More loads, more money.

Why doesn’t the government – if this has not been done already – call the timber concessionaires and permit holders to help out with this problem? There will be a chain reaction, mark my word.

Starting with the concessionaires investigating their respective contractors; these contractors investigating their subcontractors; the sub-contractors investigating the lorry owners; and the lorry owners grilling the drivers. A bit like ‘the house that Jack built’ in the nursery rhyme! Find the antu wherever they are hiding, and  exorcise them one by one.

The decision to freeze the issuance of more timber licences, as recently announced by the Chief Minister, is good to some extent. It will not be effective, however, unless the root cause of the trouble is discovered, and dealt with.

All the top bosses of the timber industry should be called upon to instruct their agents to stop the phantom lorries, which keep on defying the authorities. Now.

The right advice is to stop overloading and not to dismantle barriers. Never bribe the law enforcers; this in fact is advice from the MACC.

There are phantoms in the jungle out there, but the antu in this story is not a lorry driver. It’s an invisible hand somewhere that controls the whole operation – from the issuance of the permit to the extraction of timber, from the bankers to the fellers and de-barkers of trees, from the lorry owners to the concession holders, from the loggers to the buyers, the sawmills at home and abroad. It’s money, money, money at every step of the way, from the tree to the furniture.

Overloading – a red herring

As I see it, the problem of phantom lorries in Bakun is more pervasive than we think. By focusing on catching the drivers for overloading, the authorities have missed the wood for the forest. Timber business and its management is the elephant in the room, which no ruling politician wants to discuss openly. You know what I mean.

Not enough enforcers

Back to the Bintulu-Bakun road. The JPJ men are present there as mere monitors. What can monitors do except to watch? On Thursday, I read about the difficulty of monitoring done by JPJ in respect of overloading. One official was reported to have said that the department “has four teams from Kuching, Miri, Bintulu and Sibu … The operation is not as simple as one imagines … When we suspect a lorry driver of overloading, we cannot just issue a summons instantly. We have to weigh the lorry first. For that to happen, we have to escort the suspected driver and the lorry to the nearest weighing station, and the nearest one in Bakun and Murum areas is at Skaloh, which is a three-hour journey. … Meanwhile, when one team escorts the lorry to Skaloh another team will take over. We are trying our best with our limited manpower.”

An honest officer, this. I should have thought a lorry loaded roughly twice as high as it should be could also be estimated to be overweight, without going into the tons, pounds and ounces of the thing!

Still we must not get side-tracked in our quest for an answer to the riddle. This overloading, even though a serious problem in itself – is also a red herring. The authorities must get to the root of the matter. We have had enough of this antu problem for so long and it seems to be a hopeless case for the law enforcers at the time of writing.

It looks like a Halloween tale of an elephant, a red fish, some invisible ghosts who drive lorries, and some hidden hands. All we still need are three weird sisters or a good competent bomoh.

Happy Halloween to you all!

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