Criticised for timber policies, ex-Sabah CM Shafie says losses nothing compared to past profiteering

Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal speaks during a joint interview in Kuala Lumpur July 14, 2020. — Reuters pic
Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal speaks during a joint interview in Kuala Lumpur July 14, 2020. — Reuters pic

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KOTA KINABALU, March 25 — Former chief minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal has refuted claims by a former high-ranking civil servant that Sabah lost RM10 million in timber income during Warisan’s administration of the state.

The Parti Warisan Sabah president said that former chief conservator of forests Datuk Sam Mannan made the claims in retaliation for his sacking in July 2018 after the state government takeover.

“He is trying to hoodwink people into thinking that some RM10 million was ‘lost’ from the 40,000 logs that were seized due to illegal felling and extraction, when in reality, billions of ringgit that should have gone to the state coffers ended up in the deep pockets of a timber lord,” said Shafie in a statement here today.

He said that the Warisan government put a stop to logging export activities to prevent any “highly corrupt politicians and equally corrupt Sabah Forestry Department officials from allowing billions of ringgit of timber to leave Sabah so that only a certain few could reap the profits”.

Shafie said that his government’s move stopped the cartel and ensured that state timber money would stay within Sabah and not go to “Hong Kong banks” and profit certain individuals chosen by someone who he described as “a one-time prominent politician”.

“Actually, there was only one timber lord in Sabah,” he said, ostensibly alluding to his predecessor Tan Sri Musa Aman, who was linked to convicted timber tycoon Michael Chia. The latter was arrested in Hong Kong by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in 2012 allegedly for trying to smuggle RM40 million into Malaysia.

The report from the ICAC suggested money was coming into Chia’s accounts from companies related to timber production in Sabah and flowing out to overseas accounts allegedly being managed on behalf of Musa.

Shafie said that any profit from log exports within Yayasan Sabah’s concessions should have been returned to the Foundation, to be used for providing loans and scholarships to Sabahan children.

“If indeed RM10 million was lost from one concession, it was just a pittance compared to what Yayasan Sabah had lost to crooked deals.

Shafie also criticised Mannan for allowing valuable species of timber to be smuggled out of Sabah, or under-declared, before adding that allegations of illegal logging were commonplace for years.

“Serious illegal logging was the order of the day. While the kingpins got off scot-free, those caught were only small fry. Large tracts of timber land were given away to timber barons just before the 2018 elections.

“What has Mannan to say about all this, as after all, he was the chief conservator of forests of Sabah then?” he said.

“Why didn’t Mannan query this when he was the chief conservator? There were lopsided deals. The logger is the same person who buys back the logs, and then exports them for profit. Yayasan Sabah never got these profits.”

He also attacked Mannan for portraying himself as a dedicated environmentalist and claimed that many parts of Sabah are protected forests.

“Yet, it is widely known in the logging circles that he issued licences to his timber cronies that let them into the pristine jungles of Danum Valley so they could chop down the trees and once they had finished plundering these areas, Mannan would then suddenly declare them as First Class Forest Reserves,” he said.

Mannan had yesterday said that nothing came from all the allegations made by Warisan during its administration and there was no evidence of illegal felling and extraction of logs, adding the log seizures were “most certainly a Sabah record”.

“It remains a mystery for Sabah as to how the story ended,” he said, referring to the case in July 2018, which also saw government-linked and public-listed companies becoming among more than 10 concessionaires investigated for allegedly breaching forestry laws.

“All in all, I was told that 20,000 logs perished, a value approaching RM10 million, not taking other costs into consideration,” said Mannan, who is now technical adviser (forestry) to Perikatan Nasional chief minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor.

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