Communities clearly demonstrate flaws in consultation process for timber certification during briefing at a hotel, but no one takes responsibility and questions are left unanswered.

MIRI – Members of the communities within the Gerenai concession were invited by Samling, the owner of the Forest Management Unit (FMU), to attend a one day seminar, at Mega Hotel, Miri to learn about the certification process under the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS). During the briefing, community participants demonstrated that there is (i) a lack of transparency (ii) the process for getting the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) is flawed, and (iii) there is a lack of a functioning or responsive complaints mechanism.

Erang Ngang of Long Tungan expressed the disappointment of many of the participants from the villages: “SIRIM and MTCC acknowledged the shortcomings in Samling’s consultation and information policy during the Gerenai certification process. But no one takes the responsibility for it. We have clearly shown that our communities were not consulted, why can no one take action now and revoke the certificate? Samling clearly failed to follow requirements of the MTCS such as obtaining free, prior and informed consent. So, how can they keep the certificate? This renders the MTCS certificate meaningless.”

“The management of the FMU, must ensure full participation of the community affected especially as regards to the physical boundaries on the ground so that any activities of illegal logging can be monitored by the communities themselves. The act of giving maps of the FMU to the affected villages may be good but may not be very meaningful if the villages do not know how to relate the coordinates to the physical area or point on the ground”, he added.

Some of those in attendance were open to logging but felt the consultation process was inadequate, others sought to halt all logging activities on their land. Whether communities support logging or not, they expect to be properly informed and consulted as the standard requests. “The meeting we had in Miri was not productive or transparent as they did not respond to our questions,” explained Boyce Ngau from Long Selawan. “Samling didn’t discuss this with the people from my village. We don’t know of any agreement between Samling and our community. So, how can we monitor? What is the role of our community committee in the management? You have to give us the answers to our questions before we can make a decision on this project and might participate. Otherwise our answer is no, we are against it.”

Panelist and speakers at the event were from Forest Department Sarawak, Malaysian Timber Certification Council (MTCC), SIRIM QAS International Sdn. Bhd., World Wide Fund (WWF), University Putra Malaysia Bintulu (UPMKB) while participants included The Community Rights Action Committees (CRC), various government agencies, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Samling’s staff.

During SIRIM’s session, auditor Khairul Najwan explained how complaints should be made. Any form of written complaint must be addressed to the Manager of the FMU and forwarded to SIRIM if the manager of the FMU Manager does not resolve the issue. These complaints will be noted by SIRIM and will be used in future audits. Samling must be able to comply with this as it would affect the certification process. This opens up a channel for the communities to express their discontent.

This complaint mechanism, however, is flawed in reality. Prior to the Movement Control Order in March 2020, a letter written by the Long Tungan community, addressed to Samling’s Chief Forester, David Marsden was responded to quite poorly. He did not offer any form of solution but instead pushed the matter elsewhere, quoting, “please note that all official correspondence should be addressed directly to Samling’s COO (…) Matters concerning allocation of forest areas, proposed land use, etc,  (…) should be addressed directly to the Director of Forests.”

Because of this curt and dismissive response, communities were keen to speak with Mr Marsden at the briefing last week, but he was never introduced during the meeting. His lack of participation in the event raised a lot of questions with the community, as he was aware of the complaints made. No representatives from the Forest Management Unit (FMU) were present during the questions and answers session, highlighting that Samling is not ready to face the community and the seminar was just a facade to fulfil their corporate obligations.

Peter Kallang, speaking on behalf of JOAS, questioned whether Samling really understood what Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) means in the context of consulting indigenous communities. “If you are only visiting the villages now, with only a few people there, that could not be considered as majority consent. If you are only speaking with headmen, that is certainly not FPIC.”SAVE Rivers urges Samling to take heed of the matters raised at the seminar and take responsibility. In the meantime, we encourage all concerned to sign the petition to stop the destruction of Sarawak’s forests and stop certification without compliance by heading to saverivers.org/stopthechop.