Natural resources minister wants harsher penalties against reserve forest trespassers

Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Dr A. Xavier Jayakumar speaks to reporters after the launch of the ‘Hutan Kita’ exhibition in Kuala Lumpur August 23, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Dr A. Xavier Jayakumar speaks to reporters after the launch of the ‘Hutan Kita’ exhibition in Kuala Lumpur August 23, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 23 — Seeking to protect Malaysia’s rainforests, Putrajaya is looking at amending the National Forestry Act 1984 and increase the punishments for those who enter the country’s permanent forest reserves when they have no business to be there.

Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Dr A. Xavier Jayakumar told a press conference after attending the Hutan Kita launch today that he expects the amendment to be tabled in Parliament next March.

“We are looking at the Forestry Act to make it more stringent. We are going to amend the law and make it more severe for those caught loitering in the forests without permission of the agencies involved.

“If you are found loitering without proper reason, whether in permanent forest reserves, you can be charged,” he said.

The minister said a draft of the proposed amendments have been submitted to the Attorney General’s Chambers with consultation at the state level and that the federal government is looking at increasing the fines and jail terms.

Currently those found guilty of trespassing into closed forests can be fined up to RM10,000 and/or be jailed for not more than three years.

Dr Xavier also said his ministry has prepared a new standard operating procedure (SOP) for degazetting forest land at the state level.

However, he admitted that the new SOP is not binding as land falls under the purview of the state government and not the federal government.

“This SOP is not binding because land is prerogative of state. This SOP published by us, if any land is degazetted or use for deforestation or plantation it should follow this SOP. This SOP will be published, and fine tuning it right now,” he said.

Dr Xavier said the federal government is waiting for the states to respond. 

He admitted that if they refused to follow the SOP, there was nothing the federal government could do.

“But the people will be informed of the SOP and the people can take necessary action against the state,” he said.

At the same time, Dr Xavier said his ministry is working closely with the Housing and Local Government Ministry (KPKT) to ensure that forest fires in Malaysia will not reach the same scale as is currently happening in the Amazon.

The minister said Malaysia’s rough terrain makes management of forest fires difficult, requiring aircraft to extinguish such infernos.

“We have put into place certain regulations and we need to spend money to put off forest fires as soon as possible. 

“Knowing the terrain and how difficult it is to manoeuvre in a rainforest, we also work with KPKT because they have the necessary equipment such as Bombardier planes to waterbomb forest fires.

“We know that the drought is becoming more serious and when a forest fire starts, we will act accordingly,” he said.

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