KUCHING, March 26 — Nearly a quarter of Sarawak’s workforce or 240,000 will be out of jobs overnight if the Barisan Nasional (BN) state government strictly enforces the law to protect its forests, Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem said today.
He added that the timber-related industries have contributed significantly towards the state’s socio-economic growth as well as being a source of foreign exchange earnings.
“In 2015, the government received forest revenue amounting to RM617.36 million with export earnings from timber and timber products about RM6.57 billion,” he said during his speech to mark the national-level celebration of the International Day of Forests here.
As such, he said the state government would act gradually and not take drastic action to protect its forests from further exploitation.
“What we do is to gradually reduce the exploitation of forest over a period of time.
“Based on the statistics, about 90,000 workers are directly and another about 150,000 others are indirectly employed in timber industry,” he said.
Adenan said the figures represent about one-quarter of the total workforce in Sarawak.
“If we take drastic and sudden change in our timber policy, these timber workers and their families will be economically and socially affected,” he added.
But Adenan gave an assurance that his administration is fully committed to protecting the state’s forests and ensuring its resources are managed sustainably according to global principles as set by groups like the International Tropical Timber Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
He said the government aims to keep six million hectares of land area as Permanent Forest Estates and one million hectares as Totally Protected Areas.
“Up till now, we have achieved about 4.35 million hectares or 72.5 per cent of the state land mass as the Permanent Forest Estates and about 0.85 million hectares for Totally Protected Areas,” he said.
He then accused the state opposition parties and singled out the DAP as being irresponsible when pressuring the state to do more to stop exploitation of the forests, saying they did not take into account the welfare of the timber workers and their families.
Resource-rich Sarawak is Malaysia’s biggest state and much of it is still under jungle cover compared to states in the peninsula.
However, documentaries have been made by international green groups alleging much of its tropical rainforest cover has ravaged over the decades when Governor Tun Mahmud Taib was chief minister due to greed.
Adenan who took office in February 2014 and is seeking reelection this year.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version incorrectly referred to exploitation of forests as illegal logging in Sarawak. Malay Mail Online sincerely regrets the error which has since been amended.