Malaysia prepares to hand out tougher penalties to illegal loggers

The Malaysian government seeks to strengthen Malaysia’s decades-old forest laws this year to protect the nation’s rainforests from illegal loggers.

Stiffer penalties, including fines and jail terms, will be handed out to those charged with illegal logging, Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Xavier Jayakumar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Last year, hundreds of environmentalists demanded changes to the constitution and laws to stiffen punishments for illegal forestry, corruption and pollution in a march at Malaysia’s parliament.

The government is ready to revise Malaysia’s forestry legislation that is likely to be tabled in parliament by June and become law before the end of the year, Jayakumar said.

“In terms of (a) deterrent it is very good. It will make a difference,” he said in an interview in the government’s administrative capital of Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur.

“We have introduced (draft) laws whereby if you’re caught in the jungle, you have got to have a reason why you are there.”

According to Global Forest Watch, a monitoring service, the wold lost 12 million hectares of tropical tree cover in 2018, or 30 football pitches every minute.

Malaysia was among the six countries with the biggest forest shrinkage last year.

Malaysia’s forest management falls largely under state, not federal control. That has resulted in  economic interests being prioritised over the environment and rights of indigenous people, green groups say.

Jayakumar said states were reluctant to give up their right to manage and control their forests, making it “very difficult” to change the constitution.

“That is a no-go area,” he said.

But states have taken on federal government messages about the need to curb deforestation and change the economic model, he added.