High tension: Tempers flare at dialogue session between SFC and Sarawak’s bird’s nest operators

Bird's nest operators in discussion during the ‘Dialogue between SFC and Sarawak Bird’s Nest Industry’ at the Kuching Chinese General Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s KCGC Innovation Hub here today (May 30, 2023).

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By Ashley Sim

Understandably, the dialogue session between Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) officers and Sarawak’s bird’s nest industry players which took place at Kuching Chinese General Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s KCGC Innovation Hub here was a fluctuation of emotions, resembling a rollercoaster ride, with the atmosphere quickly shifting from one of ease to one of tension and back again.

In this meeting attended by more than 150 people, moments of chaos ensued within the room when SFC and the bird’s nest operator engaged in a heated exchange of views, with each party expressing their standpoints in raised voices.

The recent incidents involving the seizure of bird’s nests have made the industry’s operators anxious, to the point where one operator became agitated when he voiced his concerns to SFC during the dialogue session.

As a result, multiple individuals, comprising security personnel, had to intervene to restore order.

The onset of the conflict can be traced back to May 3, when SFC Sibu and Sibu Marine Police Zone 5 reportedly seized 882.657kg of bird’s nests valued at approximately RM2.5 million.

According to a statement by SFC on May 15, four bird nest premises were investigated and discovered to have committed various offences, including operating without a licence and procuring from illegal sources.

To solve the impasse, a dialogue session was held between the bird’s nest industry players, SFC with Deputy Minister of Public Health, Housing and Local government Michael Tiang being the intermediary, with hope to come to an amicable solution where the long standing issue of illegal bird’s nest farms may be resolved.

In the course of the dialogue session, the thorny issue was brought up by another bird’s nest operator who only wants to be known as Mr Wong from the Bird’s Nest Traders Association Sarikei Division.

He observed that a mere 491 licences have been issued, while more than 90 per cent of bird’s nest farms in Sarawak or more than 800 bird’s nest farms are still illegal and points to the urgent need of legitimisation of illegal bird’s nest farms in Sarawak. The question is how and when.

Tiang acknowledged that the laws governing the bird’s nest industry were no longer practical and promised to bring the issue to the attention of policymakers so that the law could be revised to continue to allow the million-ringgit industry to grow.

At the same time, Tiang also advised the bird’s nest operators to apply for the necessary licences to stay legitimate and legal.

Tiang’s affirmation to the operators instilled a sense of optimism among them, as evidenced by the enthusiastic round of applause they gave him in appreciation of his efforts.

How big the bird’s nest industry in Sarawak is still unknown.

During the meeting, SFC chief executive officer (CEO) Zolkipli Mohamad Aton had urged bird’s nest operators to be transparent about their farms and other data so that the agency can assist them in applying for business licences.

In addition, Zolkipli noted that to date, when SFC is trying to collect information on bird’s nest farms in Sarawak to deal with the issue once and for all, only the Bird’s Nest Traders Association Sarikei Division has submitted its data, while other divisions including Bintulu, Miri, and Mukah refused to do so.

This had led him to say, “We are not collecting information to arrest you.”

His comments drew gales of laughter among the operators and amid the laughter, a participant clearly said, “Want to avoid income tax” mischievously.

Following the laughter where tension in the room had clearly evaporated, many of the bird’s nest operators nodded in agreement, showing that they agreed with him and would submit their data as soon as possible.

A formal letter titled ‘Legislature Dilemmas Confronting Swiftlet Farming Industry in Sarawak’ was then handed to Zolkipli by Federation of Malaysian Bird’s Nest Merchants Association president Allen Tan, witnessed by Tiang.

The formal letter included recommendations for SFC and the Sarawak government to address the challenges faced by bird’s nest industry players.

The meeting ended amicably when Tiang frankly admitting the outdatedness and impracticality of the law concerned and would bring the issue up to the policymaking level.

The engaging dialogue session came to a close at around 1.30pm, following which the attendees socialised and convened for a midday meal.

In the meantime, DayakDaily has sent questions to relevant authorities requesting additional information regarding bird’s nest legislation; this article will be updated once we receive a response. — DayakDaily