Response to minister’s statement on govt inability to compensate states to stop logging — Azrina M Yusof-Ong

SEPTEMBER 9 — I am in dismay reading the latest statement by the Minister of Water, Land and Natural Resources, Dr Xavier’s, that the Federal Government is unable to compensate several state governments if they are told to stop felling trees.

I think this is a poor excuse to allow the Kelantan state to continue its practice of clear cutting forest just because the federal government is unable to compensate them so that they can stop destroying their forest.

Kelantan’s forest is contiguous to the rainforest of the entire backbone of Peninsular Malaysia, that includes Taman Negara, our national park. Our Malaysian rainforest is known to be the oldest in the world, older than the Amazon Rainforest.

The rich biodiversity in Kelantan’s forest flows to other states and forms an interconnected network with the forests in other states. Forests, water, natural resources are the country’s treasure, and cannot be chopped up by man-made boundaries.

Clear cutting Kelantan’s forest will cause problems in other states, for example, already wildlife such as elephants escape into other states like Perak and into Thailand as well, causing human-elephant conflict. So any policy on forests should be holistic and not ad-hoc.

Back to compensating Kelantan to stop clear-cutting of their forests, my question:

Is there a law or a policy on this? Must we compensate a state so that they do not fell trees as their primary source of revenue?

And if there is, then I think, it is time to REPEAL this!

What needs to be done is not compensation. It gives the wrong message.

What the federal government can do is to provide incentives such as increase their petrol royalty, provide loans with low interest, and perhaps also to provide professionals to help Kelantan develop their other economic and cultural resources, so that they do not rely on the logging licenses and taxes which forms a third of their state income.

As a carrot, the federal government could give them a higher royalty and loans to kickstart a managed state intervention on the more sustainable business practices but only with an agreement with the federal that they must come off its business of felling trees.

Kelantan has many natural, cultural, historical resources that can be developed into industries withgood pay-offs to the state government and its people if developed and managed properly.

1. Eco tourism and adventure – the forests areas of Gunung Korbu and various Orang Asli places can be developed into indigenous culture tourism, jungle trekking and eco-adventure activities. The beaches can be cleaned up and various homestays set up to experience the local fishing kampong culture. The Orang Asli can be employed as tour guides and skilled trekkers.

2. Heritage sites – the pasar besar Kota Bharu can be cleaned and turned into a heritage centre not too different from Central Market in Kuala Lumpur ripe for trades – for cottage industry, and batik arts, the playing of Gasing and showcasing the beautiful Wau (kites).

3. Islamic tourism – being known as the ‘verandah of Mecca’ – Kelantan can develop Islamic architectures and showcase that as well, including Chinese Muslim mosques.

4. Traditional arts and skills – revive the traditional art form extinction – wau playing and wau making, gasing, wayang kulit, songket, batik art. The batik industry can be revived and centres can be open to teach Batik making and the art of batik printing, painting, and trading of batik clothing.

5. Folk arts and performing arts – can be a centre for the traditional Malay performing arts such as Mak Yong, Wayang kulit, Silat and Dikir Barat.

6. Cottage industry – develop and modernise cottage industries such as production and packaging of keropok, dodol, budu, mat weaving, and silver crafting.

7. Creating food havens or centres – for Kelantan delights such as Nasi Kerabu, Nasi Dagang, keropok, budu and other local delights that can be accessed easily for trade.

From all the seven areas above – if well implemented, the Kelantan state government can then collect taxes, licensing and rentals from the centres and from the traders, and collectively this can be a sustainable revenue to support the state development.

And because the state land regulations does not fall under the federal, then the federal must also enact a Climate Change law as deterrent. So that any state in Malaysia that fell forest trees after such incentives and support is given, they should then be fined hugely as a key deterrent. And if they are an oil - royalty dependent state, as part of the fine, it should include that their oil royalty should be deducted in order to pay the fine.

It is about time that we come together to support the state and not merely condemn it, and the state should also be open to changing its policy to a more sustainable one, as it is also currently receiving the highest financial aid from the federal government in the country. This was mentioned by the Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng only recently, as reported by NST:

Now by virtue of that, don’t the rest of the country who are paying taxes to support this aid, have a say on what the Kelantan people’s choices are too?

It is time to put aside politics but to focus truly on a long term and sustainable solution focused on the state economic, social and environmental wellbeing – and that also includes the Orang Asli’s customary land rights which should be respected and put in priority, both by the state and the federal government.

**This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.