By Joseph Tawie
KUCHING: The state government’s refusal to anwer questions related to native customary rights (NCR) on land and the issuance of timber licenses, during the recent State Legislative Assembly sitting, has set the ball rolling for more legal cases against Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s government.
Describing the government’s refusal as ‘fishy’, PKR Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How said some of the licenses were signed by former Forestry director Len Talif @ Len Salleh just before he quit his post to contest in the April 16 election.
Len Talif had contested, under Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu banner, and won the Belawei seat.
“Len Talif should have helped Adenan Satem, Minister with Special Functions to come up with the answers.
“But he chose to keep quiet (when asked the questions).
“Only licences issued during the election were signed by the acting director of forests,” said See, adding that already several groups of NCR landowners were preparing to file legal actions against timber license holders and the governmenmt for encroaching into their land.
He said it was the final recourse for the landowners because he had raised the questions on the timber licences during the sitting of the state assembly but the government not only refused to answer them, but also rejected the questions for the ‘questions and answers’ session of the assembly.
“Since the government does not want to answer my questions in the assembly, they will have to answer me in the court because we are going to sue the government,” said See who is himself an NCR lawyer.
Expressing his disappointment at the government, See said he was curious as to why the government ‘rejected and refused’ to answer his questions.
“There must be something that the government does not want to discuss the issues openly.
“They rejected it on the grounds that I could not substantiate them (accusations).
“But I have given them the licence numbers of the 11 (errant) timber concessions.
“I was specific with my statement and accusation that the concessions encroached into either water catchment areas or native customary right (NCR) lands.
“Water catchment areas and NCR lands are protected under the law. But my question is why the licences are given to extract timber from these areas?.
“I am also curious to know why the licences were given just before and during the state election.
“There must be something fishy,” he added.
He said a group of NCR landowners in Lubok Antu were already suing the timber licence holders and the government.
“In one case at Batang Ai, the people are suing the government and the licence holders and the case will be filed very soon.
“And the rest (of the cases) will come later,” said See.
According to him the licences, signed by Len Talif, were to extract timber from over 3,281 hectares of NCR land at Lemanak Area and from another 830 hectares within the Batang Ai/Sungai Engkari area which was within the water catchment in the Lubok Antu District.
Another licence was issued for 2,250 hectares area near the Batang Ai water catchment.
All the three licences were issued in March 2011.
In April two licences were issued to extract timber from 3,367 hectares at Sungai Dangap/Sungai Bian in the Pakan District, Julau, and at the Sungai Tu and Sungai Sangang at the west side of Sungai Sarawak Kiri, which is where the Bengoh water catchment area is situated.
The size of the area is 2,612 hectares.
Licences were also given to areas in Balai Ringin, Kanowit and Bakong (Baram) in April this year.
Describing the timing of issuance of the licences as “improper”, See said: “It is a blatant contravention of our laws to issue timber concession licences over catchment areas and known NCR lands.
“The public demands answers from the government.” - FMT