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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Greenpeace Takes On A Malaysian Timber Giant

First of RSC's election campaign stories : Below is a story from from March 2004

"The Untouchables - Rimbunan Hijau's World of Forest Crime and Political Patronage," a searing report issued by Greenpeace International, profiles Malaysian timber giant Rimbunan Hijau ("Green Forest"). A billion-dollar business owned by Sarawak tycoon Tiong Hiew King and his family, Rimbunan Hijau "appears to be protected by an extensive and well- established network of political patronage and media control," according to the Greenpeace the report.

Tiong's ties with the "political elite" and his former position as a Malaysian senator representing the Chinese-dominated Sarawak United People's Party have blurred the distinction between government and logging interests, Greenpeace charges. This, the report added, has led "to changes in legislation that favor corporate activities and which result in the disregard and repression of many actors within civil society."

Tiong has since made forays into the media business, and is the owner of three newspapers: Malaysia's Sin Chew Jit Poh, Hong Kong's Ming Pao and Papua New Guinea's National newspaper, among others. Interest groups have in the past charged that his control of National, in particular, helps the tycoon influence public opinion over his Papuan businesses.

Rimbunan not only dominates Papua New Guinea's logging industry, the company also has interests in Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Malaysia, Vanuatu, Indonesia, New Zealand and Russia. The Greenpeace report focuses particularly on Rimbunan's logging activities in Papua -- where its activities have long been the target of criticism by local communities and environmentalists. Papua's annual $100 million timber exports are largely destined for China, Japan and South Korea.
Although a number of its logging permits have been declared unlawful by government investigators, no action has been taken against its 60-plus companies doing business in Papua.

Some of these logging subsidiaries have also managed to avoid open bidding on logging licenses, possibly due to its "close connections to Papua New Guinea's political elite," according to Greenpeace.

Meanwhile, the environmental organization reports that Papua's prime minister has been "directly involved in the logging industry and his deputy has been criticized in an Ombudsman Commission report for 'arbitrary and irresponsible' interference in directing the unlawful allocation of logging concession to Rimbunan Hijau."

Despite these revelations, enforcement is almost non-existent and the same commission found that the head of the Environment and Conservation Department supported the timber conglomerate, Greenpeace charges.

Two weeks after Greenpeace issued its report, Papua New Guinea's forestry minister, Patrick Pruaitch took out advertisements in the country's two main daily newspapers to deny Greenpeace claims that Rimbunan Hijau had been logging without legal permits.

"All logging operations in the country are legal," Pruaitch said in the advertisements.

Pruaitch said suggestions that illegally felled timber was being exported were "libellous and malicious" and defended the Rimbunan Hijau Group as "one of the most committed logging companies in PNG".

The Greenpeace report also points out that Rimbunan's influence extends even further. In November 2003, a Papua airline was ordered by the company to only fly Rimbunan-approved passengers to its logging concession area and to deny travel to any non-government organization.

Military Links
Elsewhere, Rimbunan's Indonesian subsidiary PT Rimbunan Hijau Jaya, has been accused by Greenpeace of using its ties with the Indonesian military to threaten locals opposed to its logging plans.

Rimbunan's negligent logging practices appear to be widespread and not just limited to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

In the Solomon Islands, Rimbunan has also faced criticism from residents and interest groups for environmentally destructive practices, illegal logging and other irregularities such as under reporting of log receipts, and payments made to parliamentary members.

In Malaysia, Rimbunan owns a 20 to 25 percent share of the timber industry. Its activities there are well known for infringing onto native customary land rights, according to Greenpeace.

Similar to the situation in Papua, Malaysian government officials and police work in the interest of logging companies, according to Greenpeace. Faced with inaction by authorities, native communities have blockaded logging roads, denying access to timber companies.

"Police and forest department officials have arbitrarily arrested and detained those indigenous people who put up any form of protest, even though such protests are undertaken within the confines of their own lands and they have legitimate rights under the law to such forms of protest," it Greenpeace said.


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