Some degazetted forest reserve land were for schools, Perak MCA says

BY SYLVIA LOOI & JOHN BUNYAN
Beruas MP Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham together with other DAP members questioning the state government over the issue of degazetting permanent forest reserves in Perak. — Picture by John Bunyan

IPOH, Apr 16 — Perak’s forest reserves were degazetted for the people’s benefit, including to build vernacular schools, state MCA chairman Dr Mah Hang Soon said.

“For example, under the leadership of caretaker Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Zambry Abd Kadir, 1,010ha of land was given to Chinese independent schools while 808ha of land was given to Tamil primary schools to allow them to be self-sufficient,” he said.

Speaking to reporters at the state secretariat building here today, Dr Mah, who is also a member of the caretaker state executive council, said it was not wrong if the de-gazetted land benefited the rakyat.

“As long as it is done with the people’s welfare in mind, there is nothing wrong,” he added.

“(The people’s welfare) is good enough justification.”

Dr Mah pointed out that Perak still has 47.3 per cent of forest reserves.

“We have the highest amount of forest reserves in the Peninsula. We have received praises and our forests have received accreditation for being well managed,” he said.

Dr Mah said Opposition parties would raise issues only when the election drew near, describing it as part of their political game.

“They have also brought up the issue in the state assembly,” he added.

Incumbent Beruas MP Ngeh Koo Ham told a press conference earlier that the state government did not answer his question on the de-gazettement of 3,847ha of permanent forest reserves.

Ngeh, who is also incumbent Sitiawan assemblyman, said the state failed to disclose who the land was given to.

“State Rural Development, Agriculture, Plantation, Information and Human Capital Development caretaker Committee chairman Datuk Saarani Mohamad told the media on Friday that the forest reserves were de-gazetted for group agriculture schemes and Orang Asli.

“He, however, did not list down how much land was allocated for these purposes. They might also allocate the land to other individuals or companies. We don’t know,” he said.

Ngeh noted the forest reserves, as mentioned by Saarani, did not match the ones he highlighted.

“He was referring to Hutan Simpan Bukit Slim, Hutan Simpan Bukit Tapah, Hutan Simpan Bujang Melaka and Hutan Simpan Piah but based on our investigations, these forest reserves had been de-gazetted in 2012 and 2016.”

“The forest reserves I was referring to are Hutan Simpan Larut (124.7ha), Hutan Simpan Pondok Tanjung (177.9ha), Hutan Simpan Bubu (335.4ha) and Hutan Simpan Bintang Hijau (3,209ha),” he said.

“It is clear that Saarani was being evasive and talked about other forest reserves which were not related to the land that I brought up,” Ngeh said.

Ngeh also said that it does not make sense to measure a 3,847ha of land for 20 years.

“Spending 20 years to measure that amount of land is something crazy. You can measure it within six months,” he added.

Ngeh had on April 13 demanded Zambry to explain the de-gazettement of forest reserves and accused Zambry of doing it hastily before he leaves office.

Ngeh said since Zambry had taken over as mentri besar in 2009, a total of 23,243ha had been removed as forest reserves.

He added the land size is equivalent to an area measuring 1km in width and 232km in length.

To this, Saarani denied the de-gazettement was done in haste. Instead it was coincidental that the de-gazettement came in two months before Parliament was dissolved.