Minister issues bald-faced denial of logging
Confronted with photo and eyewitness evidence, a Mandalay minister denied that any illegal logging was taking place aroung the Sae Taw Gyi lake area.
TAKING a brazen step in a he-said-she-said argument in Mandalay’s parliament, a region minister denied photographic and first-hand evidence of illegal logging.
Lawmaker U Kyaw Oo was presenting on his visit to Sae Taw Gyi Lake, Madaya township, where he witnessed an abundance of sawmills and illegal logging, he told parliament on September 20.
Speaking on the first day of the resumed parliamentary session, U Kyaw Oo (NLD; Aung Myay Tharzan 2) asked regional Minister for Security and Border Affairs Colonel Myo Min Aung what was being done to curtail the activity.
“It was very easy to see all the sawmills along the banks of the Sae Taw Gyi, as well as the many mills on the hills and foothills. It is clear that they [the mill owners] should be arrested if the officials investigate,” he said. “Three- or 4-foot logs are being sent to the furniture making shops in Mandalay, transported under the false pretense of being firewood. The logs are carried at night, and in order to get them in to the city, the carriers must pass at least 10 official checkpoints where they pay K10,000 at each gate.
“According to our investigation, we are aware now that to obtain the logs, it is necessary to go deep into the protected forest. And yet, we found stockpiles of large timber at these riverside sawmills. These logs must have been carried there by big, 12-wheel trucks or by boat. So I want to know why all this illegal activity, occurring so close to Mandalay city, is not being controlled.”
Staring down photos projected for the assembly, the minister said no such illegal sawmills exist in the alleged area.
“In Mandalay Region, foresters have never seen a case like this, and we have never punished any person related to such an offence,” said Minister Col Myo Min Aung.
He added that perhaps the MP had been mistaken in what he had seen.
“The people who reside along the Sae Taw Gyi area make their living cutting bamboo and bamboo shoots, and selling them, also through fishing and local agriculture. There are more than 200 motorboats in operation on the Sae Taw Gyi. But there are no illegal sawmills, or illegal extraction of timber,” he said. “It is also not true that there are 10 checkpoints from Sae Taw Gyi to Mandalay. There is only one official gate at Shwe Kyin and no payment is necessary.”
Col Myo Min Aung added that the closest crackdown on timber had been in Singu township, where officials seized 221.5 tonnes of illegal hardwood – including gum kino trees and teak – 25.1 tonnes of firewood and 11.7 tons of charcoal in the 2015-16 fiscal year. In Mandalay district, 47.2 tonnes of illegal timber and 19 vehicles were seized and 17 people were arrested in relation to logging in the same year. So far this year, 61 tonnes of illegal timber have been confiscated.
In a bid to curb deforestation, the government implemented a nationwide ban on logging for the 2016-17 financial year.
U Kyaw Oo told parliament that Mandalay has retained only 21.9 percent of its forest coverage.
After the parliamentary session, U Kyaw Oo told The Myanmar Times that he was disappointed in the minister’s evasiveness.
“I am not satisfied with his answer because I asked this question with evidence and proof,” he said. “It is possible that he answered like that to avoid creating tenstion between the hluttaw and the cabinet. I will follow up in person with the security and border affairs ministry over the case.”
U Maung Maung Oo, an environmentalist with local CSO Sein Yaung Soe, separately confirmed that he has also personally seen logging conducted in the Saw Taw Gyi area.
“The minister’s response is very different from the real situation. I think he must not be aware of what is happening,” he said. “I agree with lawmaker U Kyaw Oo’s questions and presentation.”
Colonel Myo Min Aung, minister for security and border affairs in Mandalay Region, addresses the Mandalay Hluttaw on September 20.