RAINFORESTS, TIMBER AND DEFORESTATION IN MALAYSIA

RAINFORESTS IN MALAYSIA

Peninsular Malaysia's primary forests are mostly gone, though some magnificent forest still exists in Taman Negara, a national park. Scientists believe that at 130 million years old, the rainforests of Taman Negara are the oldest in the world. Most of Malaysia's remaining primary forest exists on the island of Borneo in the states of Sabah and Sarawak, but the majority of the forest area in Malaysian Borneo—especially the lowlands—has been selectively logged, resulting in reduced biodiversity. [Source: Mongabay]

Malaysia's forests contain 3,212 million metric tons of carbon in living forest biomass. Biodiversity and Protected Areas: Malaysia has some 1671 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles according to figures from the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. Of these, 13.9 percent are endemic, meaning they exist in no other country, and 9.3 percent are threatened. Malaysia is home to at least 15500 species of vascular plants, of which 23.2 percent are endemic. 4.1 percent of Malaysia is protected under IUCN categories I-V.

Malaysian rain forests contain massive tualang and merbau trees, palms, rattan, ferns, figs, mosses, climbers, creepers and suckers. In one 25 acre tract in Malaysia, scientists recorded 750 species of trees. In contrast there are only 700 species of tree in all of North America." A Japanese scientist found 1,175 different tree species with a 129-acre tract of forest within the Lambir Hills National Park in Sarawak, making it one of the most diverse forests in the world. Many of the trees are tall Asian hardwoods known as dipterocarps, prized for their timber. [Source: Edward O. Wilson, National Geographic, December 1991 [┱];

Rainforest Statistics in Malaysia

According to the U.N. FAO, 62.3 percent or about 20,456,000 ha of Malaysia is forested, according to FAO. Of this 18.7 percent ( 3,820,000 ) is classified as primary forest, the most biodiverse and carbon-dense form of forest. Malaysia had 1,807,000 ha of planted forest.

Malaysia Forest Figures: A) Forest Cover: Total forest area: 20,890,000 ha, percent of land area: 63.6 percent; B) Primary forest cover: 3,820,000 ha, percent of land area: 11.6 percent, percent total forest area: 18.3 percent. C) Forest Classification: Public: 93.4 percent; Private: 6.6 percent; Other: 0 percent; D) Use; Production: 56.6 percent; E) Protection: 18.2 percent; F) Conservation: 5.4 percent; H) Multiple purpose: 19.8 percent; I) Forest Area Breakdown’ Total area: 20,890,000 ha; Primary: 3,820,000 ha; Semi-natural: 15,497,000 ha; Annual change rate (00-05): -17,200,000 ha; J) Carbon storage: Above-ground biomass: 5,661 M t; Below-ground biomass: 1,359 M. K) Number of tree species in IUCN red list; L) Number of native tree species: 2,650; Critically endangered: 50; Endangered: 99; Vulnerable: 403.

Malaysia: Forest Cover, 2010: Total Land Area (1000 square kilometers), 32855; Total Forest Area (1000 ha), 20456; Percent Forest Cover, 62; Primary Forest Cover (1000 ha), 3820; Primary Forest, percent total forest, 19. Breakdown of forest types, 2010; Primary forest (1000 ha, percent of forest area), 3820, 19; Other naturally regenerated forest (1000 ha | percent of forest area), 14829, 72; Planted Forest (1000 ha | percent of forest area), 1807, 9. [Source: mongabay, Sassan Saatchi of Caltech's Jet Propulsion Lab, paper in PNAS. May 2011]

Deforestation in Malaysia

Malaysia used to have the highest rate of deforestation in the world. In 1960, 1.2 million cubic meters of rain forest timber was cut in Sarawak. The rate increased ever year after that. In year 1991 saw the most intense logging, 19.4 million cubic meters of logs were cut. At that time scientists warned that if current deforestation rates continued there would be natural forest left in 50 years. In the 1990s Malaysia had 47 million acres of natural forest and another 12 million acres of rubber and palm oil plantation. Combined, they covered 75 percent of Malaysia's territory. In Sabah between 45 to 74 percent of the trees left after logging have been damaged or destroyed.

Malaysia's deforestation rate is accelerating faster than that of any other tropical country in the world, according to data from the United Nations. The shrinkage of Malaysia's forest cover has accelerated to 0.7 percent over the five years to 2005, nearly double the figure of 0.4 percent seen over the decade to 2000, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation said in a recent report. Forest cover has fallen dramatically in Malaysia since the 1970s. While FAO says that forests still cover more than 60 percent of the country, only 11.6 percent of these forests are considered pristine. Analysis of figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) shows that Malaysia's annual deforestation rate jumped almost 86 percent between the 1990-2000 period and 2000-2005. In total, Malaysia lost an average of 140,200 hectares—0.65 percent of its forest area—per year since 2000. For comparison, the Southeast Asian country lost an average of 78,500 hectares, or 0.35 percent of its forests, annually during the 1990s. [Source: Mongabay]

In Sabah (Northeastern Borneo), cutting has slowed over the years after a period of rapid deforestation. Timber production appears to have shifted to Sarawak (Northwestern Borneo), where about half the forest cover is slated for logging. About 8 percent of the land area in Sarawak is designated as reserves, but these protected areas are generally understaffed and threatened by illegal logging and encroachment by colonists who settle along logging roads.

Deforestation has already left thousands homeless. Without trees and plants to absorb heavy rainfalls, deforestation has caused erosion and faster runoff, which has led to larger and more frequent flood in Sarawak and Sabah. Rivers far from the timber harvesting areas are fouled by erosion run off. In many places were rainforests once stood, rows of palm trees extend for as far as the eye can see. Most rain forest animals can’t live on the palm oil plantations.

Deforestation Statistics for Malaysia

A) Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005Annual change in forest cover: -140,200 ha; B) Annual deforestation rate: -0.7 percent; C) Change in deforestation rate since '90s: 85.1 percent; E) Total forest loss since 1990: -1,486,000 ha; Total forest loss since 1990:-6.6 percent. D) Production plantation: 1,573,000 ha; E) Plantations, 2005: 1,573,000 ha; percent of total forest cover: 7.5 percent; F) Wood removal 2005: Industrial roundwood: 20,600,000 m3 o.b.; Wood fuel: 3,414,000 m3 o.b.; Value of forest products, 2005Industrial roundwood: $2,081,000,000; Wood fuel: $69,000,000; Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): n/a; Total Value: $2,150,000,000. [Source: mongabay]

Change in Forest Cover: Between 1990 and 2010, Malaysia lost an average of 96,000 ha or 0.43 percent per year. In total, between 1990 and 2010, Malaysia lost 8.6 percent of its forest cover, or around 1,920,000 ha. [Source: FAO Data]

Total Forest Cover (1000 Ha): 22376 in 1990; 21591 in 2000; 20890 in 2005; 20456 in 2010. Annual Change Rate (1000 ha, Negative number represents deforestation): 1990-2000: -79; 2000-2005: -140; 2005-2010: -87; Annual Change Rate (percent, Negative number represents deforestation): 1990-2000: -0.36; 2000-2005: -0.66; 2005-2010: -0.42. [Source: mongabay, Sassan Saatchi of Caltech's Jet Propulsion Lab, paper in PNAS. May 2011 <^>]

Trends in Natural Forest Cover (Deforestation), 1990-2010; Forest Cover (excluding planted forests) (1000 ha); 20420 in 1990; 19932 in 2000; 19317 in 2005; 18649 in 2010; Annual Change Rate (1000 ha, Negative number represents deforestation): 1990-2000: -49; 2000-2005: -49; 2005-2010: -128; Annual Change Rate (percent, Negative number represents deforestation): 1990-2000: -0.2; 2000-2005: -0.24; 2005-2010: -0.64. Primary Forest Cover (1000 ha): 3820 in 1990; 3820 in 2000; 3820 in 2005; 3820 in 2010. <^>

Planted Forest Cover (1000 ha): 1956 in 1990; 1659 in 2000; 1573 in 2005; 1807 in 2010; ; Annual Change Rate (1000 ha, Negative number represents deforestation): 1990-2000: -30; 2000-2005: -17; 2005-2010: 47; Annual Change Rate (percent, Negative number represents deforestation): 1990-2000: -1.63; 2000-2005: 1.06; 2005-2010; 2.81; Malaysia: Primary designated function (percent); Production: 62; Protection of soil and water: 13; Conservation of biodiversity: 10; Multiple use; 15. <^>

Carbon Stock in Living Forest Biomass; (Million Metric Tons): 2822 in 1990; 3558 in 2000; 3362 in 2005; 3212 in 2010; 74 in 2000; -39 in 2005; -30 in 2010; Annual Change per Hectare; (T/ha/yr): 3.9 in 2000; -0.8 in 2005; -0.8 in 2010. <^>

Causes of Deforestation in Malaysia

Declining forest cover in Malaysia results primarily from urbanization, agricultural fires, and forest conversion for oil-palm plantations and other forms of agriculture. Logging, which is generally excluded in deforestation figures from FAO, is responsible for widespread forest degradation in the country, and green groups have blamed local timber companies for failing to practice sustainable forest management. In late 2005—despite photographic evidence suggesting otherwise—the Samling Group denied claims from NGOs accusing the timber giant of recklessly harvesting timber in one of its Sarawak concessions on the island of Borneo. [Source: Mongabay]

Decades of mining in peninsular Malaysia have left a heavy mark on the environment. Deforestation, pollution of rivers, and siltation have resulted in agricultural losses, and road projects have opened new areas to colonization. Like Indonesia, the Malaysian government sponsored transmigration programs to open up rainforest for cash crop production. Between 1956 and the 1980s, Malaysia converted more than 15,000 square kilometers of forest for resettlement programs.

Periodic fires, usually coinciding with the el Niño events, burn thousands of hectares across Malaysia, especially on the island of Borneo. The haze from these fires and the fires in Kalimantan (Indonesia) cause serious pollution and health problems in Malaysia. Back in the 1990s, the Malaysian government reacted to fires by ordering media blackouts to avoid spooking tourists and inciting panic over the health impact. Today this has changed as the government increasingly blames Indonesia for failing to control wildfires.

Timber in Malaysia

At one time, Malaysia was the world’s largest exporter of tropical hardwoods, but sustainable management policies have reduced timber exports. Log production was 19.1 million cubic meters in 1975, peaked at 40.1 million cubic meters in 1990, and declined to 20.6 million cubic meters by 2002.

Malaysia was the second largest timber exporting nation after Indonesia in the early 2000s. But by that time Malaysia's exports of raw logs dropped to only 17 percent of the nation’s 35 million cubic meters of felled trees. The rest is domestically processed for furniture and other products.

Timber exports brought in $5 billion in 1993, an increase over the previous year and the second largest earner of foreign exchange after petroleum. Top 5 hardwood log producers (millions of cubic meters a year): 1) Brazil (34.9); 2) Malaysia (31); 3) USA (31); 4) Indonesia (24); 5) former USSR (21). Ten largest timber exporters (1989): 1) the U.S.; 2) Malaysia; 3) former USSR; 4) Australia; 5) France; 6) Chile; 7) New Zealand; 8) Papua new Guinea; 9) Germany' 10) Canada. Ten largest timber importers (1989): 1) Japan; 2) China; 3) Sweden; 4) South Korea; 5) Italy; 6) Finland; 7) Austria; 8) Belgium; 9) Norway; 10) Spain.

Tropical wood is valued for its strength durability, texture and beauty. For a time much of the wood was used in the construction industry in Japan as forms for concrete. Furniture made from Malaysian tropical timber and rubberwood are sold at Sears and J.C. Penney under various brand names. Rubberwood is made from plantation rubber tress that have been felled to make room for replanting.

The wood industry employees 200,000 people, the rate is expected to decrease with automation In an effort to boost profits and preserve the forests, the Malaysian timber industry is increasing the export of processed timber products and reducing the shipments of raw logs. of the saw milling sector.

Japan imports more than half of the tropical timber cut in the world and more than half of that comes from Sarawak where clear-cutting leaves the land looking almost like a dessert. After petroleum and palm oil tropical timber is Malaysia's biggest source of income, employing in one way or another over 100,000 people. In 2002, Japan imported 40 percent of its timber products from Sarawak.

Sandalwood is an aromatic, fine-grained evergreen shrub found in southern India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and tropical islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. There are several species of sandalwood. White sandalwood, a tree that seldom exceeds 20 feet in height and a foot in diameter, is raised in plantations in India.

Timber and Forestry Statistics for Malaysia

Forest Ownership and Management Rights 2005 (Percent); Ownership Pattern; Public Ownership: 98; Private Ownership: 2. Holder of Management Rights of Public Forests; Public Administration: 90; Business Entities and Institutions: 10. [Source: Mongabay, Sassan Saatchi of Caltech's Jet Propulsion Lab, Paper in PNAS. May 2011 <^>]

Trends in Removals of Wood Products 1990-2005; Industrial Roundwood; Total Volume (1 000 M3 over Bark): 48428 N 1990; 21946 in 2000; 26706 in 2005; Woodfuel; Total Volume (1 000 M3 over Bark): 4613 in 1990; 3831 in 2000; 3557 in 2005; Value of Wood and Nwfp Removals 2005; $2.706 Billion. Employment in Forestry 1990-2005 Full-time Employees): 78,000 in 1990; 68,000 in 2000; 127,000 in 2005. In Primary Production of Goods-forestry (Full-time Employees): 76,000 In1990; 66,000 in 2000; 125, 000 in 2005. In Management of Protected Areas-conservation (Full-time Employees) 2,000 in 1990, 2000, 2005; Malaysia: Forest Policy and Legal Framework 2008 National Forest Policy (Year): Yes (1992); Sub-national Forest Policy: Yes; National Forest Program (Year) - Status: Yes (2006) in Implementation; National Forest Law (Year): Specific Forest Law (1984) Sub-national Forest Law: Yes. <^>

Planted Forest Cover (1000 ha): 1956 in 1990; 1659 in 2000; 1573 in 2005; 1807 in 2010; ; Annual Change Rate (1000 ha, Negative number represents deforestation): 1990-2000: -30; 2000-2005: -17; 2005-2010: 47; Annual Change Rate (percent, Negative number represents deforestation): 1990-2000: -1.63; 2000-2005: 1.06; 2005-2010; 2.81; Malaysia: Primary designated function (percent); Production: 62; Protection of soil and water: 13; Conservation of biodiversity: 10; Multiple use; 15. <^>

Timber Companies

Malaysia's biggest logging company, the Riumbunan Hijau Group, has moved aggressively into timber markets in other countries. By the early 2000s, it controlled more than 60 percent of the timber concessions in Papua New Guinea.

Ethnic-Chinese-owned Malaysian timber companies made millions by harvesting timber from millions of acres of land in Sarawak and stashing away their profits in tax havens like Hong Kong. In effort to keep their timber profits at home, the Malaysian government created policy to encourage timber to be processed in Malaysia.

Having exploited the easy to harvest timber in their home countries, Indonesian and Malaysian timber companies are now cutting down virgin rain forests in Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, Cameroon, Gabon, Guyana, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru.

see Indonesia

Logging and Deforestation

By the early 1980s about two-thirds of the lowland forests on the peninsula had been heavily logged and converted to oil palm and rubber plantations. During the 1980s, rampant logging in the Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak allowed Malaysia to temporarily outpace Indonesia and become the world's largest exporter of tropical wood. On paper, Malaysia has probably one of the best rainforest protection policies in developing Asia, but in practice logging still carries on as it always has. The majority of Malaysia's remaining forests are managed for timber production, and each state is empowered to formulate forest policy independently. During the past two decades, sustainable forest management has been non-existent. While Malaysia has the policy framework for sustainable forest management in the form of the National Forestry Act of 1984, it has failed to enforce the legislation.

The majority of the forest area in Malaysian Borneo—especially the lowlands—has been selectively logged, resulting in reduced biodiversity. Loggers are now operating in more marginal areas on rugged mountain slopes, which increases the risk of soil erosion and mudslides. Bulldozers climb up 30 degree slopes and cables are use to ferry down logs from steeper inclines. In the 1980s the vast majority of its tropical timber used in Japan came from Sarawak and Sabah in Malaysia.

By the early 2000s, logging contracts had already been signed for 73 percent of the remaining forests. Half of Sarawak—a state nearly the size of England—is zoned for selective logging. Nearly 150 logging companies have concessions there. Pressure from international groups and lack of trees have made timber companies look to Guyana, Russia and other places for wood.

The logging companies claim they only engaged in selective logging. The problem is that roads have to be built and machines pushed into the jungle to drag the logs out. From the air the rainforest doesn’t look badly disturbed, just occasion jagged wounds left behind by tractors and bulldozers.

"Since I have come to Borneo in 1979, there has been something of deterioration of forested land but not on a gross scale," Dr. Junaidi Payne of the World Wide Fund told National Geographic. "One senses that the government is in control here, and the law generally works in Malaysia." Payne said that assertions that logging companies were "raping the rain forest" are unfounded. "You don't clear cut for logs in a tropical forest because there are no large stands of a single species. The chance of wiping out any single species are very low." Payne said, "The rather hopeful factor is the growth of tourism. That creates economic incentives to preserve virgin forests so people will come to see it. One expects this to be an important activity here, and that would help maintain a natural state of balance."

Slash and Burn Agriculture and Deforestation

Local people in Sarawak cut and burn patches of forest and grow crops such as hill rice, cassava and fruit crops in the ash-enriched soil. People traditionally raised crops and let the land lie fallow to allow the forest to regenerate itself. But that is less the case today. Illegal logging, new roads for the exploration of oil increases accessibility.

Palm Oil and Deforestation

In many places, after the logging companies clear the forest, palm oil trees are planted and plantations are established.

Promoted by incentives which give plantation owners a 100 percent tax exemption for 10 years, thousands of hectares of forest have been cleared for palm oil and other types of plantations. While plantations on cleared and degraded forest lands are ecologically and economically beneficial, clearing natural forest for plantations results in increased erosion and biodiversity loss.

See Palm Oil

Malaysian Government and Deforestation in Malaysia

Massive palm oil and rubber plantations created with the Malaysia government help have gobbled up hundreds of thousands of square miles of the nation's tropical rain forests. In a typical government-sponsored program: first the trees are cut down; then, three months later, the area is burned. After seven months the area is cleared and burned again. Then palm trees are planted, sprayed and fertilized. At 28 months the trees are pollinated palms by hand and not long after that the first fruit is ready. [Source: Peter White, National Geographic January 1983 ┧]

The Sabah agency, a government office that earns money from the harvesting of lumber, takes in enough cash to finance scholarships, provide medical services and give cash directly to the citizens of Sabah. In the 1980s, the agency took in $150 million dollars a year in revenues.

The Malaysian government has promised that 50 percent of Malaysia will remain covered by forests and has urged other developing countries to make similar commitments. About 5 million acres is protected by parks and wildlife sanctuaries. The government has created Permanent Forest estates (PFEs) on which it hopes to produce timber at sustainable levels by cutting on a rotating basis. Cutting rates were reduced in the 1990s from what they were in the 1980s. Full grown trees are selectively harvested at a rate of three to five trees per acre.

Mahathir accused people from the west are being hypocritical by protesting his countries harvest of rain forest timber and displacement of indigenous people when they did the same thing years before.

Dams, Development and Deforestation in Malaysia

Despite the government's pro-environment overtones, the heavy-handed Malaysian government tends to side with development more than conservation. As of 2004, no court had ever ruled favorably in a major case on behalf of the native forest peoples displaced by rainforest destruction. In the 1990s, the government overturned a High Court decision that would have prevented Bakun dam, a huge hydroelectric project that would flood 170,000 acres (69,000 hectares) of forest. The $2-billion-dollar project has since been plagued with cost overruns and delays. It now appears that the dam—scheduled for completion in 2003—will only be expected to begin generating electricity in late 2009. Further, the local Sarawak market has no need for the power, and undersea transmission lines that would have connected the dam to peninsular Malaysia will not even be laid. Some local commentators say the only purpose behind the project was to benefit Sarawak politicians and their cronies. [Source: Mongabay]

Cronyism and Deforestation in Malaysia

Many government officials have large stakes in the timber companies. The chief minister in Sarawak drive around in a vintage Rolls Royce, something he unlikely could afford on his government salary.

Cronyism extends into other industries as well, including palm oil. Many of the largest producers have strong political ties.Promoted by incentives which give plantation owners a 100 percent tax exemption for 10 years, thousands of hectares of forest have been cleared for palm oil and other types of plantations.

Malaysia’s Timber Godfather

Niluksi Koswanage of Reuters wrote: “The Malaysian anti-corruption agency said it has been investigating Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud since 2011 in response to environmental activists' complaints about corruption in the forestry industry. The activist group Global Witness posted a video in March 2013 that went viral. It showed Taib's cousins and associates apparently offering thousands of hectares of forest land to the group's undercover investigators and formulating plans to book the land sales in Singapore to avoid Malaysian taxes. The cousins could not be reached for comment. Taib publicly denied the allegations raised as a result of the video. "I saw the so-called proof. It has nothing to do with me," he told local media. "Everything has to be done with government procedure." [Source: Niluksi Koswanage, Reuters, April 3, 2013 +++]

Jonathan Miller wrote on Channel4.com, “This scandal surrounds the godfather of the timber trade, who, for 32 years has plundered the forests of the country's biggest - but second-poorest - state, Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. His family and closest associates were the subject of a spectacular sting operation by environmental investigators from the London-based group Global Witness. The timber "godfather" just happens to be Sarawak's chief minister, Taib Mahmud. It has been widely reported in Malaysia that Taib serves as private banker to some of Malaysia's political elite and that his millions help bankroll the ruling party, UMNO. He seems to have has long considered himself untouchable. [Source: Jonathan Miller, Channel4.com, May 4, 2013 >>>]

“Barisan Nasional, UMNO's ruling coalition, has long had a stranglehold on state politics in Sarawak, and Taib's voters there have long-delivered one fifth of BN's seats in the federal parliament. That's just how it works. Even the Wikileaks cables included repeated references to him as "highly corrupt" and to his relatives as having cashed in on "most major commercial logging contracts". >>>

“Sarawak boasts just half of 1 percent of the world's tropical rainforest but in 2010 its tropical timber trade comprised a quarter of the world's total hardwood exports. Today just 5 percent of Sarawak's rainforest remains intact. Despite this, more deforestation still occurs there than anywhere else in the world, according to Global Witness. This wholesale looting has enriched a tiny elite surrounding chief minister Taib Mahmud. Since then, his relatives, known widely as "Sarawak's royal family", have apparently cashed in on an entire jungleful of tropical hardwood, despite of the fact that he also holds the posts of state finance minister and resource planning, land allocation and environment minister. >>>

“The video evidence from the Global Witness investigator posing as a foreign investor features Taib's close associates and family explaining exactly how it's been done. A representative of one of Sarawak's biggest timber tycoons said the chief minister would receive a multimillion dollar kickback from one deal. His relatives were caught red-handed trying to sell off land they'd been allocated for a 3,600 percent markup. They proposed illegal transactions designed to evade Malaysian tax. >>>

"The film showed for the first time what people in Malaysia have long suspected, that Chief Minister Taib and his family have grown spectacularly rich through their systematic abuse of his public office," Alex Helan, forests campaigner for Global Witness, told Channel 4 News. "It has had a profound impact because this kind of corruption is a massive concern for ordinary people in Sarawak and Malaysia more broadly.” >>>

Sabah’s Chief Minister, Corruption and Rain Forests

Niluksi Koswanage of Reuters wrote: “Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman, who is also the state's top UMNO official, has been under scrutiny after whistleblower website Sarawak Report published documents from the Hong Kong and Malaysian anti-corruption agencies. The two agencies started investigating Musa in late 2008. The probe was based on a tip-off that the chief minister was extracting money from businessmen seeking timber concessions and funneling it to UBS bank accounts in Hong Kong and Singapore, sources close to the investigations said. They declined to say who gave the tip-off. [Source: Niluksi Koswanage, Reuters, April 3, 2013 +++]

“The Hong Kong anti-graft agency froze a UBS account managed by a lawyer on behalf of Musa, the sources said, and began a joint investigation with its Malaysian counterpart. The agencies closed the case three years later and unfroze the funds after the Malaysian government publicly said the money was donations for UMNO, not bribes. The Malaysian government has not explained why political donations had to be routed through Hong Kong and Singapore. +++

“Musa told Reuters in a statement that he has been cleared by both anti-graft agencies. However, an independent panel overseeing the Malaysian graft agency has recently requested the case be reviewed. "These are the same old stories, rehashed over and over again," Musa said. "It is just the usual silly season before the general election, when the opposition gets up to their usual monkey business." The opposition, which argues the fruit of Malaysia's brisk economic growth is largely concentrated in the hands of a well-connected elite, has vowed to keep pouring it on. "How Musa manages Sabah in favor of the government rather than the people will certainly be a prominent part of election rallies on the opposition side," said Lim Kit Siang, a leader in the opposition coalition headed by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. +++

“The Hong Kong anti-graft agency told Reuters it investigated a number of Malaysian nationals, including a government official, for breaching the prevention of bribery ordinance in connection with the UBS accounts. It neither confirmed nor denied that Musa was the focus of the investigation. Malaysia's anti-corruption agency said it provided assistance to its Hong Kong counterparts but declined to give details. Malaysian anti-corruption officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the leaked documents obtained by Sarawak Report were genuine and Musa was, indeed, the focus of the investigation. +++

Illegal Logging Money from Sabah in a Suspicious Hong Kong Account

Niluksi Koswanage of Reuters wrote: “Sarawak Report said the Hong Kong and Malaysian anti-graft agency documents it acquired showed that $90 million in illegal logging proceeds from Sabah were channeled to the UBS accounts. That prompted Swiss prosecutors to open a criminal money laundering probe into UBS last August. The investigations into UBS and its relationship with Musa are continuing, a spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland said. UBS said it was fully cooperating with the authorities but declined to give more details. [Source: Niluksi Koswanage, Reuters, April 3, 2013 +++]

“As chief minister, Musa is in charge of the Sabah Foundation, which manages a state forest reserve covering 3,861 square miles, nearly half the size of New Jersey. The foundation allows timber companies to annually log a tiny fraction of that area. The logging proceeds are supposed to fund education and welfare projects in the state. As chief minister, Musa signs off on all the logging permits that its board of directors agree to award to timber firms, or at least in one case, to a family member. +++

“One of the Malaysian anti-corruption agency documents listed companies that won permits from the foundation. It shows the foundation awarded 2,000 hectares (7.7 sq miles) of primary forest to Musa's younger brother, Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, at a special board of directors' meeting on May 7, 2004. The same Malaysian anti-graft document shows Musa consistently signed off on concessions that exceeded, or even doubled, the allowable timber cut. While not illegal, it shows the state was exceeding its own guidelines on deforestation. +++

“Some of the companies on that list made payments into a UBS corporate account belonging to a former Musa associate, bank statements on the account obtained by Reuters shows. From the same account, withdrawals were made by the associate to fund Musa's sons who were studying in Australia, the statements show. +++

“Two timber firms in Sabah transferred two payments totaling $4.04 million on August 16, 2006 into the corporate UBS account belonging to the former Musa associate. Six days later on August 22, the exact same amount was transferred into a personal UBS account belonging to Musa's lawyer. The Hong Kong anti-graft agency described that account as "held in trust" for Musa, according to the bank statements and investigation documents. That same day, the firms won a 32,000 hectare (124 sq miles) timber concession and a contract to maintain a road to a logging camp, according to the Malaysian anti-graft agency document. The owners of those two timber firms confirmed to Reuters that the $4.04 million transactions were "donations" to Musa and UMNO to secure the contracts. They requested their names and the names of their firms not be identified. Malaysia's government has said all the funds in that UBS account were ultimately sent to UMNO as political donations. +++

Less Logging Revenues in Sabah and the Push for Plantation Money

Niluksi Koswanage of Reuters wrote: “While there is no published data on how much forest has been cleared within the Sabah Foundation forest reserve, official data shows significant deforestation throughout the state. In 1992, the state's total forest cover stood at 17,000 square miles, about half the size of Ireland. By 2011, it had shrunk to 13,900 square miles, based on the latest available data from the forestry department. Primary or virgin forests have been particularly hard-hit, declining from 1,595 square miles in 1992 to just 348 square miles in 2011. With diminishing forests left to cut, logging revenues fell by half over five years to less than 250 million ringgit in 2011 ($80.6 million). [Source: Niluksi Koswanage, Reuters, April 3, 2013 +++]

“Musa has made a push for Sabah to diversify into agriculture and oil and gas, which helped state budget revenues hit a record 4.1 billion ringgit last year. But the state's unemployment rate remains at 5.4 percent, the highest of any state in Malaysia, where the national average is 3.0 percent. Musa's popularity ratings have declined as well, to 45 percent in 2012 from 60 percent in 2009, according to a survey by the Merdeka Centre, Malaysia's most respected pollster. +++

Combating Deforestation in Malaysia

On paper, more than 30 percent of Malaysia's land area is under some form of protection, although some "conservation" areas are specifically managed for logging. The Long-term forest management system—the Malaysian Uniform System—was devised by British foresters.

Beginning in 1992, the Malaysian government and a Dutch foundation began replanting deforested areas of Sabah. Saplings have been planted there at a rate of over 2,000 hectares a year. Mitsubishi has financed reforestation programs in Malaysia

Deforestation and the Penans

Penans, a tribal people that live un the rain forest of Borneo, claim that lumber companies have destroyed their forest home and made wild fruit hard to find for both and the wild animals. Increases in logging, settlers and hunters from logging camps has led to decline in the wild fish and game populations. Logging destroys the sago palm trees they depend on for food and dirties up and pollutes the rivers where they catch fish. Intensive logging of Penan areas began in the 1960s. Now there are rivers are filled with silt not fish. Their villages become muddy quagmires every time it rains.

Many Penan have moved to the cities where they get sick from drinking polluted water and have trouble growing rice. When one Penan woman was asked what she would like if she could have anything in the world the world she answered, "Wild shoots, the animals. Wild leaf for waving. The open sky, the cool jungle canopy-and our freedom!"

Malaysian lumber merchants ask why should logging be given up for around Penan, who are still nomadic. Some Malays look down on the Penan as backward and lazy.

See Minorities

Penan Fight Back Against Deforestation

In the 1980s, the Penan attempted to stop logging in their traditional homeland through roadblocks and sabotage of logging equipment. Their protests were ruthlessly and savagely put down by the Malaysian government, which blocked media access to the region until the unrest was settled and the forest dwellers cleared. The attacks on the Penan brought international attention to the logging of Borneo's forests but appear to have had relatively little long-term impact, since logging increased dramatically in the following years.

The set up human barricades on the logging roads that lead to areas where the logging companies had major operations. Hundreds of them camped out at logging sites and demanded the government recognize their rights to their native land and fair compensation for land taken away. There was occasional violence. In 1999, four land-clearing contractors were killed near Niah near the northeastern coast part of Sarawak.

In May 2001, a court barred a pulp company access to part of a land concession. The decision could establish a “significant precedent: fir native hand rights in Malaysia.

Some Penan are not so upset about pushed being into the modern age. They are more upset with the way they have been deprived of the spoils of development; that well connected developed make money from timber taken from their ancestral lands not them.

Mutang, a Kelabit Penan leader, was arrested and placed in solitary confinement for organizing resistance and human barricades against logging operation in Sarawak. In Malaysia he had to move to a different house every night to avoid authorities. To get through customs to address the Conference on Indigenous Peoples in Rio de Janeiro he wore a disguise.

In 1992 Mutang was exiled from his country and faced a nine year prison sentence if he returned. He said he was not afraid of prison but he debated what is the best strategy: traveling the globe telling the world of his peoples's plight or endure prison and hope people take up his cause. The Malaysian government offered him a lot of money to renounce his campaign and support logging.

Borneo Conservation Trust

The Borneo Conservation Trust plans to buy 5,936 hectares of land along the Kinabatangan River and 270 hectares along the Segama River at a cost of about 6 billion yen ($10 million). The trust was the brainchild of Toshinori Tsubouchi, a wildlife specialist dispatched by the Japan International Cooperation Agency to Sabah, and is promoted by Saraya Co., an Osaka-based company producing soap made from palm oil made in Sabah. [Source: Takahiro Tsujimoto, Daily Yomiuri, December 16, 2006]

The was established in October 2006 to create preservation areas for elephants, orangutans and other animals in Sabah State in Borneo."We want many companies and individuals to cooperate with us before it's too late," said Saraya President Yusuke Saraya, who was alerted through an interview for a TV documentary of the damage plantations of the palm oil industry are inflicting on the rain forests. The trust comprises executives of nonprofit organizations, companies involved in the plantation business and Sabah government officials. Sabah is popular with tourists due to its unique wildlife, such as orangutans and Borneo elephants--also known as Bornean pygmy elephants, the world's smallest elephant. Another major industry in the area is palm tree plantations for producing palm oil.

Rain Forest Versus Muslim Graveyard

Reporting from Kota Damansara outside Kuala Lumpur, Clarence Fernandez wrote in PlanetArk, “Malaysia - Geckos splash in a green pool and chattering, beady-eyed monkeys swing through the trees in one of Malaysia's oldest patches of forest as bulldozers crunch jungle nearby to build a cemetery for Muslims. A clash is shaping between the demands of environmental protection and devotion to religion in mainly Muslim Malaysia as protesters prepare for a last-ditch bid to persuade authorities to spare a rare wildlife haven on the edge of the capital. "Why dig up a valuable tree to bury a corpse?" asked Noor Lelawati Khalid, who is preparing to take on developers and town planners in a battle to preserve the forest on whose fringes she has lived with her husband and five sons for the last four years. [Source: Clarence Fernandez, PlanetArk, May 28, 2007]

Local officials say the cemetery will occupy just a small part of the forest, but residents fear the move is only the first step in a campaign to cut down trees, level the hill on which they stand, and build hundreds of homes on the razed ground. Forestry officials say more than half of Malaysia is swathed in permanent forest reserves, but environmentalists say fears are growing that rampant development and illegal logging are putting the country's forest cover at risk.

"We're reaching a point where, if we don't make a real good effort to reverse the situation, it will become irreversible," said biologist Loh Chi Leong of the Malaysian Nature Society, which is supporting the Kota Damansara residents' protest. Razing the forest patch outside Kuala Lumpur will increase the risk of floods and landslides and drive up temperatures, say residents, many of whom are Muslim themselves.

"This is not a religious issue because I know that tolerating poor planning and deception by authorities and developers is not something that Muslims are called upon to do," Malaysian Nuraini Mohamed Arsad wrote in a letter to the New Straits Times daily. Before cutting down forest, officials should have studied the possibility of reusing graves in existing cemeteries, she added.

Formerly one of the country's oldest forest reserves, the forest at the Sungai Buloh site had shrunk to just about 340 acres by 2005, from more than 4,000 in 1898. Development is nibbling it up even faster after Malaysia dropped plans for a national botanical garden there. Experts say the same story is being played out elsewhere in the country, with cemeteries encroaching on three more forest locations near the capital alone. Striking the correct balance between development and environmental protection is hard, one forestry expert said. "This is the issue that we are grappling with, development versus conservation," Abdul Razak, head of the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, told Reuters. "There have been plans since the 1960s to convert some areas from forest areas to cultivation or some other use," he added. "But you will see a lot of protests now as people clear the forest, because as we develop, our standard of living rises, and people want to keep these things."

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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