Rep hopes amendments will mitigate contentious issues

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THE Forests (Amendment) Bill 2022 introduced should further iron-clad the state constitution to tie up the loose ends on matters pertaining to the protection of Sarawak’s land and forests.

Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh (PSB-Bawang Assan) in support of the Bill said this was to put Sarawak on a more concrete footing in relation to the state government’s pursuits of restoring and protecting the state’s rights and interests as enshrined in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).

“That being the case, we would most gladly give our nod and ensure that bipartisan support for ‘what’s good for Sarawak is good for all Sarawakians’.

“However, we also wish to reiterate and remind the state government that land and forests issues have been thorny if not sensitive issues among the communities, especially those touching on Native Customary Rights (NCR). We need no reminding that there are still many outstanding NCR land issues remaining unresolved in our courts.

“With that in mind, the cultural and historical character of Sarawak’s forests and land needs to be taken into account when creating ‘new forests’ as well as making changes to existing forests and land,” he said during debate time on the Bill today.

Wong also expressed hopes for the amendments affecting both land and forests to go a long way to mitigate, if not resolve, these contentious issues.

“For the record, Sarawak still has a long way to go as far as land and forests issues are concerned. As much as 20 per cent of state land in Sarawak are classified as NCR land but only a small percentage of this land has been surveyed and titled.

“No recognition shall be given to any NCR over any land in Sarawak created after Jan 1, 1958. However, the NCR may be extinguished by the government for public purposes.

“The right to NCR would be lost by abandonment of the land by emigration.”

Wong said according to Malaysia’s annual forest and tree cover data, Sarawak topped the nation in terms of ‘Primary Forest Loss’ with 1.60 million hectares out of its total Primary Forest Cover of 7.46 million hectares for the period 2001-2020.

“Main contributors to this primary forest and tree cover loss, among others include Belaga, Marudi, Bintulu, Tatau, Kapit, and Mukah with 345,000 hectares, 237,000 hectares, 148,000 hectares, 147,000 hectares, 127,000 hectares and 81,000 hectares respectively from 2001 to 2020.

“This is obviously something pertinent for our state government to look into with urgency as these are ‘coincidentally’ located in government-controlled strongholds.”

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