Sabah timber men plead for state aid
KOTA KINABALU, Jan 31: The lingering death of the timber industry in Sabah has got the last remaining people still in it pleading for life-support from the state government.
“We are asking for the government to at least assist to subsidise us to get by during this recession period,” Sabah Timber Industries Association (STIA) president James Hwong said this week in acknowledgement that the good times are over.
It’s a tough sell but he said: “If a helping hand is not forthcoming then there is a risk that many more of the industry players may go bust.”
Hwong argues that his people need to be rescued in anticipation of the day when Sabah’s forest will once again be ready for harvesting.
“When the forest is ready already then there won’t be any of us industry players around to do the logging as the industry has already collapsed.
“What I want to say here is don’t kill the industry as we are behaving properly now but let us survive and maintain our strength so there will be a seed left for the industries future.”
It’s a disingenuous argument that appears to acknowledge that those in the industry did not “behave properly” when there was millions to be made and they failed to see the forest from the trees and the day when there would be nothing more to take.
Hwong said he agrees with Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun that tourism has nudged aside timber from its position as the main revenue earner for the state.
The state’s fledgling and mainly-eco tourism industry is now worth over RM5 billion and growing.
But Hwang insists there is a way back for the timber men in what is now a more environmentally-conscious world.
He sees sustainable forest management as their way out with only planted trees being harvested.
“We feel that the state’s current direction and goals are correct… we hope that in the next 10 to 15 years, our sustainably managed forests, including plantations, will mature and the timber industry can carry on in the proper manner where we will only cut sustainably managed and certified timber,” he said
Learning from mistakes
Hwong insists that timber is needed in daily life.
“No matter what wood, it is still the cheapest renewable construction material we have. Everybody needs it. If there is a demand we should produce it. If we don’t produce, someone else will do it.
“Sabah is where trees can grow well. So we also feel it is a waste if we just abandon after so many years of experience in the industry which employs a lot of people and after gaining a lot of know-how.
“We have no complaints about the government closing down the commercial forests and together with the Forestry Department we have embarked on sustainable forest management and try not to cut down any trees unsustainably,” he said.
He was fending of claims that industry players would return to their old ways and Sabah was better off without such an industry.
“For a long sustainable policy, we must make sure that our timber is legally and sustainably produced to meet the demand in the market,” he said, adding that the timber industry would never be a sunset industry.
“It’s how you manage it properly. It is only a cycle where we need to replenish our timber supplies and forest stock.
“We know that in the past we over-harvested and now we are letting the forest grow back. We want to rebuild the forest so that in future we only take what the forest can ‘afford’ to give sustainably.
“Trees have an age limit as well and if its old enough and not cut down to be utilised it would die anyway. So might as well cut it down and use it properly for timber. This is the principle for sustainable management,” he said.
For this to be properly implemented, he said, the industry has to step back and this was a consequence of past mistakes when the state’s forests were mown down without regard for the future.
“That is why I have told my members, we are paying for the past mistakes. We admit that last time every party was wrong in the management of the forests.
“Now the three parties have to come together – the government, forestry department and timber industry must work together hand in hand for the long term future.”
Hwong believes that the industry in Sabah could be back and up and running in as little as 15 years due to the Forest Management Units (FMU) system which suffered some teething problems because no one was convinced of its efficacy.
“Finally they realised that this was the only way and now everyone has understood,” he said adding that the government should now help them survive.