Report: Malaysian logging firms party to PNG deforestation

 

Source:  Azril Annuar / Malay Mail

Malaysian companies from Sarawak are allegedly trespassing while carrying out logging activities in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and contributing towards deforestation in the island nation, Sarawak Report (SR) wrote today.

The online investigative portal accused Sibu-based Rimbunan Hijau Group (RHG) and WTK Group as well as Amanab 56 Timber Investments Limited as among those stripping the resources of PNG.

“In August 2019, Sarawak Report toured and filmed the massive tropical timber island of PNG to investigate first-hand how the resource-rich country has been decimated by Sarawakian logging companies,” it said.

“During our investigations in PNG, we documented numerous instances of exploitation, environmental destruction and corrupt practices conducted by the same handful of companies, which first made their fortunes back home in Sarawak under the protection of the [Tun] Taib Mahmud regime.

“Testimonies gathered by SR from numerous stakeholders in PNG demonstrate that vast tracts of land have been handed to Sarawakian loggers through a combination of bribery of local officials and coercion of indigenous landowners, who were not granted their rights to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC),” it added.

It then claimed that the biggest player in PNGs logging industry is RHG, headed by tycoon Tan Sri Tiong Hiew King.

SR stated that the company’s involvement in PNG has long been criticised by both local and international environmental groups such as Global Witness, Act Now!, Greenpeace, and the Oakland Institute.

It claimed that local environmentalists were outraged when Tiong was awarded an honorary knighthood in 2009 for “services to commerce, the community and charitable organisations in Papua New Guinea” and demanded that he be stripped of the title.

“In 2016, The Oakland Institute published a report on the financial records of 30 RHG subsidiaries involved in various activities and services related to logging or agri-business in PNG.

“According to the financial records of 16 of the companies they scrutinised, RHG has been working at a loss for over a decade. The report questioned how the largest logging operator in PNG had managed to operate at a loss for such a long period yet remained in business.

“The report also exposed ‘massive tax evasion and financial misreporting’ allegedly resulting in the non-payment of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes by the Group.

“The report called for relevant authorities including PNG’s Internal Revenue Commission, to urgently take action to defend the interests and rights of PNG citizens,” read the article.

The expose also pointed out that the extent of RHG’s investments in PNG — including a 12-page list of companies it owned that are operating there.

Another Sibu-based company that came under Sarawak Report’s crosshairs was WTK Group.

It was founded by the late Datuk Seri Wong Tuong Kwang as a swamp logging contractor and is currently run by his sons Datuk Wong Kie Yik and Wong Kie Chie.

The late senior Wong was also the uncle of RHG founder Tiong. Before venturing out on his own, Tiong had worked for his uncle first.

“Information on WTK’s involvement in PNG is less transparent than the RH Group, but companies linked to WTK have been criticized by non-governmental organisations including Oxfam of violating human rights and causing environmental destruction.

“Evidence of such bad practices were also exposed in the 2016 documentary Bikpela Bagarap (Big Damage) by French director, David Fedele.

“Despite such condemnation, Wong Kie Yik received a CMG award in 2019 for ‘services to commerce and the community through significant investments in rural business enterprises, human resource and infrastructure development’ in PNG,” said the article.

The report also named Amanab 56 Timber Investments Limited as one of the other culprits behind the deforestation and environmental devastation in Papua New Guinea.

“The company involves a combination of businessmen from Sarawak, including those with links to Sarawak’s ‘big six’ (the state’s six biggest logging firms including WTK and RHG),” said the article.

Some of the individuals named include businessman Peter Hii Hung Kai; Ah Teck Cheng who is a former business partner of Sarawak Governor Tan Sri Taib Mahmud’s cousin, Hamed Sepawi; and other individuals such as Kie Yii Ling, Patrick Sui Chai Chiong, Siih Hoe Lu and Taiwanese Shih-Feng Lo.

The expose also included a one-hour documentary on YouTube with environmentalists, officials and critics slamming the Malaysian companies and accusing them of alleged unethical logging activities.

Malay Mail is seeking comments from the companies named in the report.