By MUSA AMAN
COMMENT: AS leader of this state, I am duty-bound to serve the people and ensure their needs are taken care of.
I accept the fact that there are limits to what I can achieve as the chief minister, but I try my best and accept criticisms where due.
But, when false allegations are hurled at the administration that I lead, I will not accept it without defending those who make sure my instructions are followed.
There are leaders who act, and those who pay lip service.
Recently, the opposition accused the Barisan Nasional-led government of clearing more than 100,000ha of forest reserves to be converted into oil palm plantations.
I have dealt with this by setting the record straight at the recently-concluded State Legislative Assembly sitting and reminded the opposition that their responsibility entails more than just criticising the government.
The government is open to suggestions that will bring progress to the state and benefits to the people, even if they come from the opposition.
But, I will not tolerate those who voice out baseless allegations to confuse the people or deliberately exploit issues for political mileage.
For those leaders who are sincere, I told them to come and see me if there are things they do not understand.
Preserving the forest is an important agenda for me.
One of the milestones in Sabah’s conservation effort was when the state resolved to protect the area that harbours the largest orang-utan population, as well as other wildlife in Sabah, in the Ulu Segama and Malua forest reserves.
After almost 60 years of continuous logging, this activity was phased out by the end of 2007.
While there were some sceptics, it sent a strong message on our seriousness about conservation.
To reiterate that we mean business, during an official visit by then prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to Deramakot Forest Reserve in June 2006, I announced that logging would be phased out in Ulu Segama, Malua and Kalumpang the following year.
The eventual halt to logging in the areas would translate to a forfeiture of at least RM1 billion in timber royalties to the state.
The move has led to 240,000ha being placed under Sustainable Forest Management for the conservation of orangutan and reforestation of an area that is also part of the broader Heart of Borneo due to its rich biodiversity.
Efforts have been put in place to recreate healthy and productive forests in these and other forest reserves, each with their own management plans.
In areas not fully protected, extraction of timber is done on a sustainable basis and high conservation value areas, such as watersheds, are protected for their many benefits.
Through Sustainable Forest Management, 53 per cent of Sabah, or 3.9 million hectares, of state land have been permanently set aside as Forest Reserves, Protection Areas and Wildlife Conservation Areas.
The state government has also decided to set aside 30 per cent of its total landmass, or 2.2 million hectares, as Totally Protected Areas, which we hope to achieve in the next few years.
The current 26 per cent has already exceeded the International Union for Conservation of Nature target of 10 per cent.
It must be noted that Sabah has restored and planted forests well over 600,000ha, presumably the largest such undertaking in the tropics.
On top of that, we also have the three natural gems in the form of the Maliau Basin, Danum Valley and Imbak Canyon conservation areas under the full protection of Yayasan Sabah.
The latest development to show our commitment is the scrapping of the proposed Sukau bridge across Kinabatangan river, after considering views about the environmental impact from various quarters, including non-governmental organisations and environmentalists.
The Sabah government has and will continue to promote the state as a hub for tropical rainforest research involving renowned international research organisations, such as the Royal Society of the United Kingdom, the Nature Conservancy of the United States of America, Sime Darby Foundation, Abraham Foundation, WWF-Malaysia IKEA, Petronas, as well as key local higher learning institutions.
We must grow and enrich our forests with a variety of timber species. It will be most regrettable if we leave tracts of barren land to the future generation.
- Musa Aman is Sabah chief minister. This article first appeared in nst.com.my