The bigwigs eyeing Selangor's forest reserve

Orang Asli stand to be the biggest losers as the state excises half of KLFNR.

An aerial view of the Kuala Langat North forest reserve. Pic credit: Nandakumar S. Haridas / Greenpeace Malaysia

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Sarawak timber tycoons and a former Umno Youth leader are among the high-profile names behind the company seeking to develop a degazetted area in the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve (KLNFR).

Gabungan Indah Sdn Bhd has been awarded the right to turn slightly more than half – or 536.7ha of the initial proposed 931.17ha – of the forest into a mixed commercial property project, Selangor’s tourism, environment and green technology exco Hee Loy Sian (Pakatan Harapan-Kajang) said yesterday.

Incorporated on November 2 last year, Gabungan Indah’s nature of business is that of a holding company, which includes, among others, “buying, selling, renting and operating of self-owned or leased real estate-residential buildings,” according to company filings.

The company’s sole director is Mohd Fadil Muskon, a former Johor Umno Youth chief, while its sole owner is Vibrantscape Sdn Bhd, which in turn is held by Perdana Parkcity Sdn Bhd, the developer of Desa ParkCity in Kuala Lumpur.

The Desa ParkCity neighbourhood is the brainchild of Sarawak-based conglomerate Samling. Pic credit: Desa ParkCity

Perdana Parkcity’s sole director is Joseph Lau while shareholders are Parkcity Property Holdings Sdn Bhd, Samling Strategic Corporation Sdn Bhd and Yaw Chee Siew.

Perdana Parkcity’s ultimate beneficial owner is Yaw Holding Sdn Bhd whose directors are Yaw Chee Chik, Yaw Teck Seng and Yaw Chee Meng while owners are Yaw Chee Weng, Teck Seng and his wife Su Khuan Ying, Yaw Chee Yun, Chee Chik and Chee Meng.

The owners and directors of Yaw Holding Sdn Bhd and its subsidiaries hail from the same Sarawak-based Yaw clan that controls the Samling group of companies.

Founded in 1963, Samling’s main business is in logging but the tightly-held group diversified into plantations, property and quarrying. It also distributes Bentleys.

The Sarawakian conglomerate – currently run by father-son duo Teck Seng and Chee Meng – has also been linked to the state’s governor Abdul Taib Mahmud, especially when its plantation arm, Glenealy Plantations (Malaya) Bhd (now Glenealy Plantations Sdn Bhd), was listed on the Bursa Malaysia.

Among its shareholders back then was Abdul Hamed Sepawi, via his vehicle Perkapalan Damai Timur Sdn Bhd, and Wan Morshidi Abdul Rahman. Abdul Hamed is Taib’s cousin while Wan Morshidi claims to be the Sarawak governor’s “good friend”.

Glenealy Plantations was delisted on October 25, 2012, with Abdul Hamed and Wan Morshidi relinquishing their stakes in the company.

Today, Samling operates three main vehicles: logging arm Samling Strategic Corporation, Glenealy Plantations and Perdana Parkcity, its property business.

Perdana Parkcity and Samling Strategic are cash cows. The former posted RM222.57 million for the financial year ended December 31, 2020 (FY20), compared to RM130.78 million last year.

The latter posted RM641.61 million for FY20 compared to the previous year’s RM12.83 million.

Glenealy Plantations, however, remains in the red, posting a greater net loss of RM48.21 million for FY20 compared to RM18.24 million a year earlier.

'Degraded by fire'

Hee received backlash from backbenchers and opposition assemblymen following his revelation that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) state government de-gazetted the forest reserve in May.

During yesterday’s sitting, he said the degazettement was made under Section 12 of the National Forestry Act (Adoption) Enactment 1985 in the state executive council meeting last May 5 and validated in another meeting on May 19.

His defence was that the land to be handed over to Gabungan Indah was “degraded” land affected by a fire several years ago.

“It is empty. There are no tall trees. It is degraded by fire.”

Hee was replying to written questions by Elizabeth Wong (PH-Bukit Lanjan), Lim Yi Wei (PH-Kampung Tunku), Ahmad Yunus Hairi (PAS-Sijangkang), Mohd Imran Tamrin (BN-Sungai Panjang) and R. Rajiv (PH-Bukit Gasing).

The state government, he said, decided against allowing all of KLNFR to be used following objections last year and, this time, three other parcels of forests will be gazetted to replace the excised area.

The three new forest reserves total 581.8ha and are located in the Sungai Panjang, Ampang Pecah and Broga areas.

“The government is still ensuring that permanent forest reserve areas are not less than 30% (of the state’s landmass).”

Hee also claimed the degazettement was done to meet future housing needs.

Past royal interests

Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari told the state assembly in March last year that two companies – Titian Jutaria Sdn Bhd and Menteri Besar Incorporated Selangor (MBI Selangor) – had proposed to develop KLNFR.

Titian Jutaria, now wound-up, had as directors, Raja Muda Tengku Amir Shah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah and Syed Budriz Putra Jamalullail, the son and nephew, respectively, of Selangor’s Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah.

Syed Budriz and Sultan Sharafuddin were 60:40 shareholders of the company.

But, a public hearing on the planned degazettement was held in September last year with participants pushing back.

About 45,423 objections were filed against the plan, including from the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), Institute of Landscape Architects and Orang Asli Development Department.

The state assembly also voted unanimously to abandon degazetting KLNFR following a relevant motion by Najwan Halimi (PH-Kota Anggerik).

Just a guide?

But, during yesterday’s sitting, Hee said the motion was non-binding as “a private member’s motion guides us. It does not bind the executive council. The council can make its own decisions.” The executive council decided unanimously, he added.

Wong said Selangor has enough land for development and therefore the state cannot afford to sacrifice a forest reserve for commercial purposes. She argued that the government erred in removing a rare peat swamp as a forest reserve.

Rajiv went on to ask whether the planning department stated “that there’s not enough land for housing, necessitating the use of a forest?” He said there was plenty of land in Batang Berjuntai, Rawang, Selayang and Shah Alam to meet housing needs.

Lim raised that few federal government agencies objected to the degazettement such as FRIM as well as the Water, Land and Natural Resources Ministry.

Ahmad Yunus said the forest reserve had been categorised as a Category 1 area for natural disasters and asked whether the government had considered this when allowing development.

Hee went on to argue that the “replacement” in Sungai Panjang was also a peat swamp and that a consultant had advised the state government that the value of biodiversity in the “replacement” forest reserve was closely similar as the KLNFR.

He also said the area would also benefit from the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) if it was not realigned, adding that the developers will still have to submit an environmental impact assessment report that would deal with these issues.

Wong told news publication Malay Mail that she and others are mulling legal action, among others, to halt development.

'Behind closed doors'

Activists, too, criticised the Selangor government over the move with the likes of Shahar Koyok saying the move to degazette said portion of KLNFR would threaten his home and identity.

“The jungle is near my village, this jungle is part of (my) Temuan identity. Soon it will be gone, along with my Orang Asli identity.”

Some 2,000 Temuan, who live in several villages on the fringes of KLNFR, will be affected by the degazettement.

This includes residents of Kampung Orang Asli Busut Baru, Kampung Pulau Kempas, Kampung Bukit Cheeding and Kampung Bukit Kemandol.

In a statement yesterday, Greenpeace Malaysia public engagement campaigner Nur Sakeenah Omar questioned why the degazettement was pushed through despite strong opposition.

“Why was this decision made in secret? Is the town hall just a smokescreen to distract and exhaust the NGOs, CSOs, and the rakyat in general before throwing this decision in our faces? We want these questions answered now, and publicly. Not 117 days later, behind closed doors.”

KLNFR consists mostly of peatland swamps and is home to several endangered species including flora such as the meranti bunga and meranti bakau and fauna such as the Malayan sun bear, panther and clouded leopard.

The 8,000-year-old forest also contains endemic species such as the Selangor pygmy flying squirrel and the Langat red fighting fish.

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