Illegal logging is widespread in Sarawak.

Illegal logging is widespread in Sarawak.

LOSSES incurred by the federal and state governments from illegal logging could run into billions of ringgit if the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) four-month Op Tukul in Sarawak is anything to go by.

A task force formed to investigate the illegal logging activities in Sarawak, which is said to be continuous and widespread for many years in the state, found that the state government had lost more than RM45 million to illegal loggers in just four months from May to August this year.

The task force comprised senior investigating officers from the anti-graft agency’s headquarters in Putrajaya, the Sarawak state government and Forestry Department.

“The losses are not RM100 million per year as reported in the dailies. It is very, very high… much, much more than that. We are talking about RM45 million in just four months and in Sarawak alone,” he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

He said if illegal logging in other states was taken into account, losses could well reach into the billions.

Op Tukul is MACC’s most comprehensive operation in recent times, with an all-out crackdown on illegal logging expected to last a few years.

Last week alone, MACC had arrested 30 people in Johor and Sarawak, including a senior police officer with the rank of assistant commissioner.

Photos of alleged illegal logging at Punan Bah.

See more photos of illegal logging >>

MACC also froze 30 bank accounts with RM18 million, belonging to more than 10 companies suspected of being involved in the activities.

Last Tuesday, 26 MACC enforcement officers raided a kongsi near the Seluyut forest reserve in Johor and arrested 20 foreigners involved in illegal logging.

The raid placed the Johor Forestry Department under the microscope as there was extensive illegal logging near a dam under construction at the site.

The source said MACC had made it “very clear” to both the federal and state governments of the inevitable dire consequences of illegal logging in the next few years if the problem is not curbed.

“We are talking not just in terms of revenue losses to both governments, but also the massive ecological destruction and condemnation by the international community.

“The state governments and relevant agencies such as the Forestry Department should be serious about wanting to put a stop to these activities.”

The source added that MACC had proposed long-term steps to the state governments in dealing with illegal loggers.

“In Sarawak’s case, the MACC suggested to Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem recently, that all logging companies or concessionaires must sign an anti-graft pledge.

“If they are involved in illegal logging, the state government must blacklist these companies and terminate their logging concessions.

“The state government must not entertain any appeals from these companies, no matter how established they are.”

The source said Adenan had directed that a special task force be set up to put an end to illegal logging in the state.

A total of 89 compound fines totalling RM1.6 million were slapped on illegal loggers in Sarawak since early this year.

“But these loggers are not bothered about the fines they have to pay. To them, even though they have to pay RM1 million in fines, that is considered nothing to them because they know that they can gain much more.

“They are not worried because it is business as usual for them.”

The source said it was impossible for the MACC and state governments to deploy officers to mount frequent operations against illegal loggers.

“They (logging companies) must be made to sign the pledge so that those who commit illegal logging can be taken to court without delay.” — NST