Be fair to Sarawak, environmental critics told

Awang Tengah presents a memento to Joyce at the closing of IAIA Symposium 2018 at Hilton Kuching last night.

KUCHING, Oct3: Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan regrets that despite Sarawak having done much to protect its rich biodiversity over the years and being fair to its indigenous people, the state is still relentlessly being accused by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the international community of genocide and total destruction of its forests and peatland, among others.

Officiating at the closing of the two-day International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA) Special Symposium 2018 at Hilton Kuching here yesterday (Oct 2), he told those present that Sarawak had been very responsible in conserving its biodiversity and in looking after its many races.

For instance, the state remained committed to gazetting one million hectares of biodiversity hotspot areas under Totally Protected Areas (TPA) by 2020. So far, 792,510 hectares have been gazetted under TPA. This excludes territorial and aquatic ecosystems, which covered 1.243 million hectares.

The state has also established the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre in 1997.

“We are committed to designating six million hectares under Permanent Forest Estate (PFE) and gazetted 29 water catchment areas, covering an area of about 4.08 million hectares. Another 58 catchment areas spanning roughly 4.1 million hectares have been identified for future gazettement.

“In addition, the state has established the Tropical Research Peat Institute (TROPI), set aside two million hectares for the Heart of Borneo initiative, which is being conserved as a contiguous network of protected areas and sustainably managed forest,” he said,

The state government has also amended the State Land Code to recognise natives’ rights to territorial domain, in addition to the existing Native Customary Rights (NCR) land. To date, 869,072 hectares of NCR land has been surveyed.

Emphasising that Sarawak had not reneged on its obligations towards environmental excellence and conservation of biodiversity, Awang Tengah pointed out that after the Rio Summit 1992, Sarawak immediately gazetted its own environmental law — Natural Resources and Environment (Amendment) Ordinance 1993 or (NREO).

Subsequently, the Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) was established in 1994 to enforce environmental compliance for all development activities in the state to ensure that emerging environmental issues are properly addressed and mitigated.

On a related matter, Awang Tengah said the state was keen to learn how to enhance its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) processes since such a symposium served as a forum for discussion and sharing of experiences on the implementation of impact assessment in many parts of the world

“The implementation of EIA in Sarawak, to a great extent, has succeeded in tackling emerging environmental issues and reduced adverse impacts of development to the ecosystem,” assured Awang Tengah, who is also Second Minister for Urban Development and Natural Resources.

To encourage greater public participation, the state had introduced the Social and Environmental Impact Assessment for many sensitive and mega projects implemented across the state, such as hydroelectric dam projects, industrial parks in Samalaju and the proposed Pan Borneo Highway project.

“To enhance environmental stewardship within the private sector, we have also introduced self-regulation under the Natural Resources and Environment (Audit) Rules 2008,” he said.

Under these rules, developers are required to carry out internal audits to determine the status of compliance to the EIA terms and the approved conditions issued by NREB. These internal audits are to be externally audited by a third party.

Awang Tengah also disclosed that the state had equipped its enforcement agencies, like the NREB, with adequate resources and trained manpower to carry out enforcement work to deter illegal activities that could undermine and threaten environmental integrity of the state.

A section of the delegates at the closing dinner of IAIA Symposium 2018 at Hilton Kuching.

Meanwhile, he thanked NREB and Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak for convincing IAIA, USA, to hold their special symposium here.

In his speech earlier, Swinburne University Technology Sarawak Campus deputy vice-chancellor-cum-chief executive Professor John Wilson lauded the success of the symposium and hoped that the participants would continue to network with each other while continuing to promote best practices in impact assessments.

The symposium attracted delegates from 13 countries to discuss the use of impact assessment to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Asia. The next symposium, IAIA 2019, will be held in Brisbane, Australia.

Also present at the dinner were IAIA acting executive director Susan Joyce, Assistant Minister for Tourism, Arts and Culture Datuk Lee Kim Shin, Assistant Minister for E-Commerce Datuk Mohd Naroden Majais, Assistant Minister of Agriculture Dr Abdul Rahman Ismail, Assistant Minister of Local Government Dr Penguang Manggil, Deputy State Secretary Dr Sabariah Putit and Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Urban Development and Natural Resources Wan Liz Osman Wan Omar. — DayakDaily