Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Malaysia the HUB

The headline says it all. Malaysia is again getting international attention for the wrong reasons. Malaysia for the past few years, even though denied by the authorities have become known as a hub for a multi BILLION ringgit global trade in illegal wildlife.

The extent of activities has attracted the attention of United States to do a sting operation on a Malaysian, Mr Anson Wong who was apprehended and sentenced to prison. Can you imagine how lucrative and big the value of this illicit trade is? Apparently the trading and smuggling of wildlife/animal parts is second only to drug trafficking. The Interpol estimates that illegal wildlife trade worldwide is worth RM35bil to RM70bil a year as reported in the media. That is even more than what Petronas gives the government back yearly and at RM70bil it is half of Malaysia’s estimated revenue for 2009!!!

Why is wildlife smuggling and trade so rampant and Malaysia is considered a hub? One of the main reasons is that Malaysia has multiple transit points and is located at a strategic location in Southeast Asia. This is clear as there have been numerous cases of seizure on wildlife or animal parts since 2006 and the value are in millions. Those seized only represent a tip of the iceberg. The problem is compounded by the fact that there is a lack of resources in Wildlife department to enable effective enforcement or monitoring. From pangolian, tigers parts to even Indian star tortoises the list is extensive on the wildlife intercepted in Malaysia.

They say when the buying stops the supply chain will naturally also cease. But it is also equally important to curb supplies through education and punishment. The existing law in Malaysia is known as the toothless tiger and has been a major setback in serving as a warning to the culprits. There has been no amendment in the present law in terms of offence and penalty since 1988 and I would not be surprised if the definition of wildlife or endangered species is also incomplete.

It is reported a few months ago that a new law would be proposed to replace the Protection of Wildlife Act 1972. A new law is long overdue and I hope that it could be tabled in parliament as soon as possible. I would strongly support the amendments especially if heavy penalties are provided and more offences are included. I hope that the proposed amendments or law will be strongly supported by both BN and the opposition to enable the Wildlife department to have more bite. For example, under the current act the maximum fine is not more than RM15,000 maximum regardless of the number of wildlife being trafficked. In addition the court is reluctant to put the culprits behind bars. In 2006 a poacher caught was only given a slight slap on the hand with a fine of RM7,000 when the value of his chopped up tiger is valued at USD50,000 and no jail sentence was meted.

Now if I am the poacher, I would pay the fine willingly and then after that it would be business as usual. Based on what is reported in the media, the new proposed act can carry a maximum fine of RM500,000 for offences committed in possession of a most endangered wild animal without permit. In addition there are a few new provisions that I believe would help the authorities in curbing the wildlife trade and prevent Malaysia from being a hub in the future, whereby importing any totally protected wildlife without permit is an offence.

Even though there is a new proposed law with stiffer penalties, unless the court is willing to sentence the culprit with maximum penalty and jail terms, the proposed law will just be good in paper. Furthermore, it is also important that enough resources are allocated to enable the new proposed law to be fully enforced to avoid Malaysia being under the spotlight for the wrong reasons again. Furthermore there should also be clear guidelines, regulations and control over the issuance of wildlife permits to avoid abuse or loopholes. The moment a more strict and encompassing law is passed, automatically permits would be more valuable and the temptation of some to allow the trade to continue must not happen.

We cannot afford another Anson Wong in Malaysia. He has changed based on the media report and I wish the rest of the poachers will spare a thought for the crimes they have committed for they are also depriving their future generation as the animal they kill maybe the last.

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