KUCHING, Sarawak, Malaysia, November 17, 2014 (ENS) – For the first time in the 50-year history of the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Borneo, a chief minister has taken the timber industry to task.

Chief Minister Adenan Satem Monday gathered the tycoons of the state’s big six logging firms, KTS, Rimbunan Hijau, Samling, Shin Yang, Ta Ann and WTK for a meeting during which he publicly accused them of using “corrupt” practices,” according to Malaysian media reports.

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Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem addresses a Forest Management Certification Seminar, August 2014 (Photo courtesy Chief Minister’s Office)

Adenan described the state of corruption in Sarawak as “very bad, a reflection of what enforcement officers have not been doing.”

“Some, of course not all, pretend they don’t know. The reason is very simple; either they are stupid, cowards or corrupt,” “The Star” newspaper quotes Adenan as saying.

Adenan avoided mentioning his predecessor and Sarawak’s current governor, Taib Mahmud, under whose 33-year tenure as chief minister corruption has become endemic in Sarawak. Taib’s family members became billionaires during his time in office.

In February, Adenan was named chief minister by Taib, who was forced to resign by the Malaysian government under allegations of graft and an investigation by Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Commission.

Adenan became Sarawak’s fifth chief minister in March. Monday he became the first minister in Sarawak to sign an integrity pledge in which he committed not to award public contracts to his family members.

Adenan said his cabinet members also would be signing the integrity pledge after all the state government departments, statutory bodies and its related companies and subsidiaries had all signed the pledge, as endorsed by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the Bernama news agency reported today.

As chief minister Adenan has mounted a major crusade to save the remainder of Sarawak’s rainforests by putting a stop to illegal logging.

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Penan man watches a Shin Yang Timber truck loaded with logs leave his territory, February 2011. (Photo by Igor Podgorny / Greenpeace)

Despite the protests of the Penan, nomadic aboriginal hunter-gatherers who resisted logging operations in their home territories, the valuable trees of the lowland rainforests are nearly gone.

On September 24, Adenan announced that the state would arm 50 Forestry Department enforcers with guns to combat illegal logging and corruption.

“I’ve seen it from the air. I’ve received reports on timber smuggling, illegal felling of trees and non-payment of royalties,” the chief minister told reporters.

In October, Adenan blew his stack when illegal logging was discovered inside two national parks in Sarawak – Bukit Tiban National Park and Maludam National Park, the largest totally protected peat swamp in Sarawak.

Declaring that “enough is enough,” Adenan ordered Sarawak’s forestry officials to “nail the culprits” behind illegal timber harvesting.

At today’s meeting in Kuching, Adenan warned the timber executives not to “mess with me” and threatened to “put the fear of God into people who are dishonest.”

“Today is a day of celebration for Sarawak and Malaysia,” said Lukas Straumann, executive director of the Bruno Manser Fund, a Swiss nonprofit that advocates for the environment and Sarawak’s indigenous people in memory of the late Swiss environmentalist Bruno Manser.

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Some of the last untouched rainforest in Sarawak (Photo by APUI80)

Manser died in Sarawak under mysterious circumstances after a six year stay with the Penan from 1984 to 1990. Declared legally dead in 2005, his body has never been found.

“These are the clearest words ever we have heard from a leading Malaysian government minister to combat corruption as a root cause of deforestation and under-development,” said Straumann, who called Adenan’s warnings to the timber executives “a stunning development.”

Logging in Sarawak, for years the world’s largest exporter of tropical timbers, has been controversial since the mid-1980s. Some of the world’s largest timber conglomerates, including Rimbunan Hijau and Samling, have their origins in Sarawak and are currently active all over the globe.

The timber industry has for decades been the state’s economic backbone, but yields are now decreasing due to non-sustainable harvesting practices, conservationists say.

“We commend Chief Minister Adenan Satem for his courageous stance and important leadership in this question”, Straumann said from Berkeley, California, where he is touring to promote his book “Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia.”

Straumann said, “The international community and civil society are ready to assist Sarawak in the badly-needed reforms, not only of the forestry practices, but also its governance and institutions in a wider sense.”

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