Min­is­ter is­sues bald-faced de­nial of log­ging

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - – Trans­la­tion by Win Thaw Tar SI THU LWIN sithul­win@mm­times.com

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.”

Photo: Si Thu Lwin

Colonel Myo Min Aung, min­is­ter for se­cu­rity and bor­der af­fairs in Man­dalay Re­gion, ad­dresses the Man­dalay Hlut­taw on Septem­ber 20.

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