Despite state efforts, illegal logging remains rampant in Sarawak

KUCHING - Although there has been progress, Sarawak's journey to curb illegal logging is still a long and winding road, with many potholes to show for decades of destruction.

Sungai Asap residents - resettled Dayaks displaced by the Bakun dam a generation ago - know this too well.

They call overloaded logging trucks lori hantu or ghost lorries.

Tony Akit, a deliveryman and an Uma Bawang resident, said poor response from the authorities in the past had left many feeling voiceless and that there was no point in complaining.

"A lot of loggers are always using the road. Day or night, you see trucks carrying logs every day, which is why the road is so bad," he said.

Talk to any Sungai Asap resident and it would seem that everyone has a story about a relative or friend who has been in an accident due to the poor road conditions or the trucks.

"Sometimes you hit a pothole when you are driving fast, or a lorry appears and suddenly you end up in a ditch.

"I know a person who died after hitting a logging truck two or three years ago," said Tony.

The 129km-long Jalan Bakun, which was completed in 2001, is the only way out of Sungai Asap. The nearest airport is almost 200km away in Bintulu.

This is almost as rural as Sarawak gets. Here, there is no petrol station (fuel is sold literally by the barrel and hand-cranked into vehicles) and no post office.

Along the single carriageway to Bakun, the road is lined with timber yards and sawmills. The road itself is a perpetual work in progress, with pothole repairs and recently, the installation of height barriers.

These barriers were installed around the time Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem announced his anti-illegal logging campaign.

Barriers act as a passive defence against overstacked logging trucks. Measuring 4.2m high, all vehicles can pass, including trucks with the legal limit of logs.

According to the Road Transport Department, the only type of vehicle taller than such trucks are double-decker buses.

But in just one year, more than half of all the barriers have been damaged or dismantled. The evidence, twisted yellow steel bars, are strewn by the side of the road for all to see.

Near the end of Jalan Bakun is a new road to the Murum dam.

Locals, including Tony, say this new road, which goes another 67km inland, is sometimes sealed off.

No one here is quite sure how this can happen. But what is clear is that the road damage to Murum is even worse although it was only completed last year at a cost of RM600mil.

In an interview with The Star, Sarawak Public Works Department director Zuraimi Sabki confirmed that more than half of all the height barriers were dismantled this year.

Between February and April, three barriers along Jalan Bakun (at KM1, KM39 and KM54) were spoilt on purpose. In fact, the one at KM1 has been replaced twice. Along Jalan Murum, two barriers (KM3 and KM18) were taken down in July.

Zuraimi said new and better engineered barricades, each costing RM150,000 (S$49,000), were being installed.

"They take one down, we will build another. They thought we would just give up but no, they don't know we are serious.

"We are not surprised that they damaged the barriers. Based on past experience with road damage, we knew there was quite a lot of these activities going on," Zuraimi said last week.

The replacement barriers would go up at different locations, he explained, as the loggers could go off-road onto their own network of mountain passes.