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DCM bullish on NCA project

Jeffrey (right) and Frederick

KOTA KINABALU: The State Government will consider allowing certain non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to participate in a committee overseeing the implementation of the Nature Conservation Agreement (NCA) project, said Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan. 

“Well, we will look into that. We may open up a certain portion of the role for the NGOs,” he said in a press conference held after giving a briefing on the project to various NGOs at Sokid Villa in Bukit Padang, here, Thursday.The NCA, set to be announced in January but was leaked by conservation website MongaBay, would initially involve 600,000 hectares, with the potential to go up to two million, if successful.

The agreement has irked NGOs and groups who blasted it for a lack of transparency, free, prior and informed consent, and for involving a foreign company that is set to get a 30 per cent profit share.Jeffrey said the State has already established a joint monitoring steering committee for the project.

But another committee can be set up at the State Legislative Assembly (DUN) level if there is a need, he said, adding the matter is also expected to be raised during the next DUN sitting, which will start on Dec 3.On Nov 12, Sabah Chief Conservator of Forest, Datuk Frederick Kugan, said the State Government has agreed to a provisional framework with Hoch Standard Pte Ltd (HS), a private Singapore company. 

DCM

According to him, HS had made several representations to the State Government that it has access to financial networks which are capable of funding and realising the objectives of the NCA. His statement came in response to allegations made in the Nov 9 article by Mongabay.The conservation website, in a report, claimed that two million hectares of forest in Sabah – the size of Slovenia and more than half of Sabah’s forest land – are apparently being signed over to a group of foreign companies to monetise the State’s natural assets – namely carbon.

Backing the Singapore-based company handling the NCA project, Jeffrey expressed confidence the project would come good, citing the company’s experience in the field.He said due diligence was done on Hoch Standard, the private firm that signed an agreement with the State on October 30.

“The company is not an issue. We are confident in their background. It is backed by several multi-billion private equity funding institutions. “I am told that they are dealing with other countries, such as Indonesia, Australia, South America dealing with monetising natural capital,” he said.

On the briefing session, Dr Jeffrey said he was satisfied with how it turned out although there are issues that can be directly dealt with during the event. 

“But, in general, I am happy with the dialogue and I am sure they (the representatives of the NGOs) are also happy with it. 

“I am here to ensure NCA is accepted and implemented. We will do rectification on whatever that needs to be rectified. “But I would like to mention here a lot of the comments and negative comments are baseless because they did not know what the NCA is all about. 

“Some people even said that it is a lease, when actually it is not, and there were also those saying NCA is an agreement between party A and party B, which is also not. These are factually wrong. “

Some are concerned about the Free, Prior and Informed Consent. We have dealt with that as well because we are dealing with Totally Protected Areas (TPAs) which have gone through that process and where the law also requires so. 

“And on the issue of conservation, the Forest Enactment has gone through debates in the DUN way back,” he said. Apart from that, Jeffrey said there were also people concerned about the deal, what it needs, what if the State is being conned and so on.

 “We accepted all those concerns because we are equally concerned about being taken for a ride. That is why we are making sure that we are dealing with proper people, a proper group, a capable group, competent group and connected group that are able to deliver what they said. 

“And, if they don’t deliver, the Government can use two available provisions, namely the policy of two-year agreement not being implemented is automatically revoked, and secondly, the provision where if they don’t perform, then the Government has the right to terminate. 

“And if there is a dispute, then they go for mediation as the first step, before they go to court. Because sometimes it is better to go through some kind of mediation, discussion and settlement, rather than going to court. 

“So these are the issues. The issue concerning the native rights, actually we know what the issues are and we will make sure that these concerns are addressed,” said Dr Jeffrey, adding the NCA is not new as there have been some experiments done some 10 years, 15 years ago. 

“Some successful, some not. And this has been mentioned by the former Chief Conservator of Forests, Datuk Sam Mannan,” he said.Mannan, who is currently the Technical Advisor (Forestry) to the Chief Minister, was reported on Wednesday saying the NCA is not about Sabah losing its forests or putting any forest in somebody’s pocket as suggested by critics and this matter about “selling off” the State’s biological asset while keeping it is also not new to Sabah.

“We did it long ago using the Malua Forest Reserve, which was called the Malua BioBank, which was launched in 2008. Someone trying to sell the biological assets that we owned without taking them away but just leaving them alone.

“That concept was organised and implemented. Unfortunately, it failed because I reckon the time had not come yet for that concept then. But at least they paid the deposit and somehow made up for some number of years that we had participated in the programme,” he said.

Jeffrey said this matter is becoming controversial now because carbon is now becoming something of a global concern.

 “It has now become the concern of the United Nations (UN), the concern of every country, to ensure they achieve a carbon neutral status by a certain period. For Malaysia, it is 2050.

 “That is also one reason why this agreement (the NCA) is for 100 years. To ensure that there is proper planning and conservation, where the trees can grow for a longer period. Meaning we are conserving our trees for a longer period, so we can harvest the benefit and also ensure the future generation can also benefit. 

“I don’t want to cut the trees and then 100 years from now we don’t have anything left. We will be cursing ourselves 100 years later because we don’t do the right thing today.

 “That’s why we need to do the right thing today, which is conservation. And conservation pays, apart from allowing the forest to regenerate, the animals to breed and the river to grow back to its normal size, as well as allow other life forms to thrive. 

“This is why nature plays an important part not only economically, but also in sustaining the nature ecosystem services. “The cloud that is generated, the vapour that is generated, the water that is generated by our forests goes all the way to Australia for example, and then it becomes rain and provides them with water and help sustain the life of others,” he said. 

He said carbon trading is not like selling cakes, as they were made to understand, because everything needs to be scientifically verified and then it also has to be audited. 

“So there will be transparency. So eventually this will be digitised and they will use a blockchain,” he said. To another question, Dr Jeffrey said what was agreed by the State Cabinet is that they set aside certain areas for conservation for the purpose (NCA). 

The Sabah Forestry Department was reported to have said that the NCA has as its main objective the conservation and protection of tropical rainforests through the monetisation of carbon stored in standing trees, in addition to natural capital benefits in the natural forest environment.The focus of the NCA will be on forests classified previously as Totally Protected Areas (TPAs).

TPAs are areas already locked in for conservation and protection under various state laws and international treaties.As such, these areas are under no threat from any mining, logging or industrial agriculture, contrary to the allegations made in the Nov 9, 2021 article by Mongabay.

To be clear, the TPAs in question “were not, are not and will never be in danger of commercial exploitation or deforestation.”

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