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Sarawak open to independent inspection

This was published in SARAWAK REPORTS, a week ago.

Kuching, March 22, 2011The Chief Minister of Sarawak has announced plans to invite independent and international inspection teams to visit Sarawak in order to verify and document the fact that more than 70% of the State’s rain forests remain intact.

In a clear response to British and other international environmental critics who have alleged in recent weeks that logging in Sarawak has led to massive deforestation of the rain forests, Abdul Taib Mahmud said that state officials would provide full cooperation and assistance to inspectors from any certified international industry or environmental organization that wished “to make a serious study.”

“I know that there are exaggerated claims that 90% of Sarawak’s forests have been destroyed by logging,” the chief minister said in an interview here in Kuching, the capital of the state of Sarawak. “These are probably claims by people who are well meaning and care for the issue of deforestation just like I do. But the fact is more than 70% of our forest are still intact.”

The Chief Minister noted that in addition to the 70% of primary rain forest which remains intact in Sarawak, “another 14% of our secondary jungle has been replanted and is undergoing plans for replanting. This is the simple fact and if people want to verify it, then they are welcome to come to Sarawak.”

In recent weeks, the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has teamed up with opposition critics in Malaysia to make a series of harsh accusations against Sarawak and against the Chief Minister himself.

At the heart of this campaign in the British online and print media, launched by Clare Rewcastle Brown, has been the repeated claim, based on reports by an environmental NGO, that logging in Sarawak will have wiped out 90% of all rain forests by 2020. Gordon Brown himself endorsed these claims in a recent article in The Independent.

The Chief Minister’s interview with www.sarawakreports.org marks the first time he has spoken out on the allegations being made by Gordon Brown’s sister-in-law, who together with the former British prime minister, was herself at the centre of a British scandal over the abuse of personal expense claims in 2009.

The Chief Minister, in this interview, chose to focus on the issue of sustainable development in Sarawak and to answering the claims of deforestation being made in London and elsewhere.

“People can make many claims, but my government has been very deeply committed to sustainable management of our forest,” he explained.

The Chief Minister also spoke out against illegal logging.

“The truth is that we in Sarawak are committed to practicing sustainable management of our forests. In our traditional forest we practice what is called ‘fill-in planting’…. where there is a bald area, where we see this we plant trees.”

“On top of that we want to make sure that the timber industry will not be touching the traditional trees by illegal logging,” the Chief Minister added. “So we have converted some areas to be planted with quick growing species and the timber industries which are still expanding must also add to the greenness of our forest. I would expect that one million hectares can be planted within the next ten years.”

In announcing plans to invite independent inspection by qualified experts, the Chief Minister said his government and forestry officials would provide full cooperation. At the end of the day, he explained during the half hour interview, he was interested in seeing the truth documented to avoid misunderstanding and distortions.

“I have the greatest respect for the people of Britain or anywhere else in the world who care about the issue of deforestation, as I myself do,” he noted. “And because of that I’m ready and willing to open up the country for independent and international inspection. They will see that we still have much more rain forest than people give us credit for, to be preserved for the next generations.”

The Chief Minister also noted that there had been allegations about the extent of poverty in Sarawak, and it was time to set the record straight here too.

“When I took over in 1981, the rate of poverty was close to 40%,” he recalled. “We have worked hard on this top priority over the years and got some results which encourage me by 1985 it went down to 32%. And now the rate of poverty is 5.3%.”

When asked his opinion on why a few critics in London, cheered on by opposition politicians in Malaysia, have been gunning for Sarawak on the logging issue, and whether this might be related to the fact that the State Assembly is being dissolved and elections are being called here, the Chief Minister declined to speculate on the motivations, and repeated his announcement of Sarawak being open to international inspectors.

“The truth,” he said, “is that we have nothing to hide.”

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