Malaysia: Hill stripped for oil palm projects

Nik Imran Abdulla New Straits Times 30 Dec 12;

INSENSITIVE: Aggressive land clearing choking up streams with silt

GUA MUSANG: A HUGE part of a hilly terrain in Sungai Relai near here has been almost entirely deforested. A few hills have had their vegetation stripped from top to bottom.

Travellers using the road linking this town with Kenyir Lake in Terengganu would not miss the spot near Km65, as the eyesore is clear even from a distance.

The deforestation is alleged to be part of a massive oil palm and rubber estate project, in which Perak DAP chairman Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham and his cousin, Nga Kor Ming, reportedly have a stake.

A check by the New Sunday Times revealed that a logging company had set up office at the foothill. There was also a cluster of workers' kongsi and plots of oil palm nursery, all within a perimeter fence, with a security guard manning the entrance.

A worker, who introduced himself as Jali, said 10 Indonesians were hired to tend to the nursery.

"The rest are mostly loggers. The pile of logs you see nearby came from this place."

He said oil palm saplings at the nursery were likely to be planted at the site once the logs had been cleared from the area.

The valley close by is bearing the brunt of the soil erosion, especially with the heavy rainfall over the past week. Mud and silt from the logging site had flowed into nearby streams, causing the water to turn brown.

A youth, who identified himself as Adi, said he was familiar with the area as his father owned durian and dokong orchards just outside the logging site.

"This stream used to have clear water but it has been muddy since the land clearing began."

He said the stream emptied into a river nearby, which had also become polluted.

The site is alleged to be part of a 4,260ha piece of land, which the state government had admitted awarding to the Kelantan Islamic Foundation, which in turn, had entered into an agreement with Upayapadu Plantation Sdn Bhd for a joint land development project.

There was controversy after an allegation that the state government had given the land to Ngeh to make way for Pas leader Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin to be Perak menteri besar in 2008. The Kelantan government has insisted that the project was a legitimate business deal.

Bernama reported yesterday that Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Dr Awang Adek Hussin denied having any part in the alleged approval of land in Gua Musang to Perak DAP leaders.

He said a letter, dated Jan 16, 2006, which he signed when he was the deputy rural and regional development minister, was to recommend research and development for an integrated farming project to be carried out in the area. He said the letter was meant to get aid to develop the site.

"The letter was issued following an application by Upayapadu Plantation general manager Bazlin Ab Hamid to be given assistance to carry out economic activities in Kelantan. That was what was stated in the letter and I have no knowledge about ownership or lease of the land to the DAP leaders concerned."