Kuala Langat forest reserve: Degazettement inconsistent with Malaysia’s international obligations

We, representatives from various civil society organisations, are writing to raise serious concerns related to the proposed development and degazettement of the Kuala Langat north forest reserve.

Our organisations are extremely disappointed with the Selangor state government over the manner in which they handled the town hall meeting that took place on 29 September 2020 in Pulau Carey to discuss this issue.

Town hall meetings are important for public participation in policymaking and they must be not be merely cosmetic. The manner in which they are held is of utmost significance. Originally limited only to invited participants and held at a location and time that severely constrains participation, the town hall organised by the Selangor state government can hardly be held up as an example of good governance.

The fact that the Menteri Besar Incorporated applied for this degazettement, while the menteri besar himself sits on the decision-making committee, throws in another element of poor governance – conflict of interest.

A major concern made evident during the meeting was the failure of the authorities to clearly explain the critical need for the proposed development that will remove 931 hectares of swamp forest reserve from the protected list. The peatland forest, estimated to be around 8,000 years old, was gazetted as a forest reserve in 1927 and was said to have covered almost 7,247ha at the time.

The degazettement will also critically endanger species such as the Malayan sun bear, the Selangor pygmy flying squirrel and the Langat red fighting fish at a time of worsening climate change. Even the Peninsular Malaysia Forestry Department is against the degazettement.

The lack of transparency surrounding the degazettement of the Kuala Langat north forest reserve is very worrying, particularly in view of its status as an environmentally sensitive area to be protected under the Third National Physical Plan, the Selangor State Structure Plan 2035, and the Kuala Langat Local Plan 2030.

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What is the purpose of gazetting these plans if they can be easily changed? Until today, the Selangor government has not provided valid and scientifically backed justifications on why they wish to degazette the forest, nor have they outlined the benefits that the degazettement will bring to the people of Kuala Langat.

Kuala Langat north forest reserve is a peat swamp forest, the most efficient natural carbon sink on the planet. With another two massive paper recycling plants on the verge of being approved and expanded in the vicinity of the forest reserve (on top of an existing plant), both with on-site waste incinerators close to residential areas, there is a dire need for the forest to store carbon dioxide and other harmful air pollutants. Forests have the capacity to affect air, water and nutrient cycles, and upsetting this balance could severely affect climate change

The development of Kuala Langat north forest reserve will release 5.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, unaligned with Malaysia’s Paris Agreement commitment to a 45% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2030.

The degazettement also goes against the Selangor State Structure Plan 2035 goal to maintain 32% of the forest area in Selangor, and it is also not aligned to the National Action Plan for Peatlands (2011-2020) and Act 313, the National Forestry Act 1984 as well as other international conventions we are part of.

Since its was gazetted in the 1920s, the Kuala Langat north forest reserve has lost 90% of its original size. The decision to destroy what is left of the unique habitat transgresses its status as an environmentally sensitive area (ESA/KSAS) – Level 1 under the Selangor State Plan 2035, which prohibits any development in the area as it will lead to detrimental environmental, economic and social impacts not only to the 2,000 Temuans that have a holistic connection to the forest. [The prohibition is] also to minimise flood risks for the people living in the district.

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Further, members of the public, including representatives from the indigenous peoples of Malaysia (Orang Asli) were vocal in their objection and displeasure of the proposed step to degazette this land. Reports indicate that almost 2,000 Temuans will be displaced from their ancestral land by this Selangor state government proposal. More than 45,000 objection letters were sent by members of the public earlier this year objecting the degazettement proposal.

Malaysia is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which clearly outlines that indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories without their free, prior and informed consent.

Further, in November 2018, during Malaysia’s human rights review at the UN Human Rights Council the Malaysian government was urged to ensure the rights of indigenous peoples in law and in practice, in particular regarding their right to traditional lands, territories and resources; to strengthen policies and measures for the wellbeing of the indigenous peoples in Malaysia; to uplift their economic and social status [so they can] benefit from the country’s economic development; and to strengthen the rights of indigenous peoples through the incorporation of the principles of the UNDRIP in judicial and administrative procedures.

This whole issue highlights the urgent need for the government to institute a culture of openness. Transparency, accountability, freedom of information, and public participation are crucial to prevent corruption, protect human rights and the environment, cultivate public trust in the government, and promote good governance.

The people of Kuala Langat especially the Orang Asli communities have a right to know who is behind the degazettement, what the plans for the land are, and how they will benefit. And if they are not convinced, the state government must listen to them.

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The concerned groups had a meeting on 7 October 2020 and decided to move on with the struggle to stop the degazettement of the Kuala Langat north forest reserve.

The public hearing on 29 September 2020 was not the final point of participation. The room for democratic involvement to stop the degazettement is still wide open, and we urge other concerned groups and individuals to join forces on this issue.

Therefore, we urge the Selangor government to:

  • Honour the promises made to the people of Selangor during the previous election, that it will always act in the best interest of the people and the environment
  • Clearly explain the need for the proposed development that will come at a high cost and at a time when environmental and climate crises are major concerns globally
  • Ensure all development projects undergo rigorous reviews before being approved and implemented, especially when this involves the degazettement of forest reserves and displacement of communities from their homes and livelihoods
  • Provide leadership towards the creation of a new green deal for the country, where jobs, industries, and economic development do not come at the expense of the environment and the most vulnerable communities.

Signatories:

  • Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
  • Persatuan Tindakan Alam Sekitar Kuala Langat
  • Persatuan Kesedaran dan Keadilan Iklim Malaysia (Klima Action Malaysia – Kamy)
  • Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam (Peka)
  • Empower Malaysia
  • Greenpeace Malaysia
  • Gerimis Art Project
  • Five Arts Centre
  • Persatuan Aktivis Sahabat Alam (Kuasa)
  • Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center)
  • Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)
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Politi Scheiss
25 Nov 2020 6.18pm

I don’t expect that the PH government of Selangor will pay attention to your protests, any more than the PH government of Penang has paid attention to the protests of environmentalists and concerned citizens.

If they were in opposition, which they are at federal level now, PH would be out there with you protesting against this de-gazettment but now that they are in government at state level, they quite literally pass wind in the faces of those who supported and voted them into power.

After all, the PH pact parties represent one faction of the capitalist class against another faction of the capitalist class, so it is totally naive to expect that they will serve the workers’, farmers’, fishermen’s, etc interests once in power.