Revisiting Rampant Corruption Attempts in Forest Lands of Malaysia
Posted December 16, 2008on:
Monday, March 14, 2005
The Malay Mail
GREEDY DEVELOPERS AFTER FRIM LAND
By P. SELVARANI
Kuala Lumpur: “Envelopes of cash” were offered to Datul Dr Salleh Mohd Nor by developers when he was the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) director-general to “persuade” him to approve their land applications.
But Salleh, now the president of the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), declined them all.
“I was offered money. I wouldn’t even hazard a guess on the amount which the envelopes contained. But, if I had accepted them, then FRIM may not be where it is now,” revealed Salleh in an exclusive interview with The Malay Mail.
This is just one of the kinds of “pressures and temptations” which some civil servants and people in authority have to with, when it comes to applications for land and development projects by the private sector.
“It would be easy for them to take the bait. But once you bite, you are trapped,” said Salleh.
Salleh was FRIM’s first director-general, a post he held for 10 years from Oct. 1, 1985. Before his appointment to the post, he was the institute’s director from 1977.
Relating his personal experience, Salleh said he constantly received letters from developers applying to the State Government for a portion of the prime land in Kepong.
“They would come and see me with these letters on which (former Menteri Besar) Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib had put a note to say that the application was ‘disokong’ (supported) only on condition that I agreed to it,” he said.
“But when I said ‘no’, they would argue that the Menteri Besar had given his approval. I told them that it was only on condition that I said ‘OK’. And I never said ‘OK’, so they would go off disappointed.
For that Salleh is grateful to Muhammad for never putting any pressure on him to accede to the requests of the developers.
“He never once called me to say,”Salleh, give your approval.” For that I am thankful to him. I was never put under any kind of pressure to give up the FRIM land,” he said.
Often, he said, the developers would walk into his office and put envelopes of money on his table, just to “persuade” him to say “Okay”.
Asked how much he was offered, Salleh said he did not know as it never even crossed his mind to open the envelopes.
“But it was an indication that if you were willing, there was more to come. We were talking about projects that would run into millions of ringgit, so I won’t even venture to guess how much they were willing to offer.
“Its easy to succumb to temptation but you can never sleep easy after that,” he added.
What saddens him is that FRIM is slowly losing parts of its land to development.
The areas include the Pine Plantation Research Area and the Sungai Buloh Forest Reserve, both of which have been taken over for housing development.
Salleh said the pressure was even greater on decision-makers in the developed States.
“The problem is the whole authority lies in the hands of the Menteri Besar or Chief Minister and his executive council. That is why, I have always stressed that any opening of land, especially those gazetted as forest reserves, should be debated at the State Assembly or in Parliament.
“Land is such a critical issue. Members of Parliament, especially the backbenchers must be more pro-active and question every application to open land for development.”
He also called on the authorities to impose more deterrent penalties on those caught illegally clearing land, as in the case of the Bukit Cahaya Agriculture Park in Shah Alam.
The law which provides a RM2,000 penalty on errant developers has to be repealed. It’s pittance. It is just the cost of a meal for some of them. The fines should be increased to a sum which would act as a deterrent to reflect the severity of the damage they have caused.”
Together with fellow environmentalist Gurmit Singh (who is the director of the Centre of Environment Technology and Development). Salleh has been urging the Government not to impose a limit on the size of an area for which EIA reports are required.
It is good that they have reduced the land size requirement from 50ha to 20ha. But we have been saying that an EIA should be done on any piece of land that is going to be developed as every development, no matter how small, will have an impact on the eco-system.” He said.