Laying waste to the whole country?

Writer: 
Marn Thu Shein
A pile of timber along Chindwin River (Credit: Myo Min Htet).

Recently, a peasant woman committed suicide. The reason was not being able to succeed in tending her farms after they had been flooded. She was depressed.

Like her, countless people were forced to accept their fate after the flood had left their farms buried deep under mud destroying their crops.

Due to the flood and mudslides, no less than 122 people died and more than 800,000 acres of farmlands were devastated. On average, a farmer owns 25 acre of farmland. As a result, more than 32,000 families lost their livelihoods.

Economically alone, the damage was 174 billion kyats (about 174 million USD). 476242 houses were damaged while government figures stated 17764 houses were completely demolished.

In 11 different states and regions, people are still suffering the damage of the flood.

Experts already said that is a result of deforestation. During the last 15 years, roughly about 15 to 30 million trees were cut down.

However, the log extractors and people giving them the permission show no sign to stop. In 2015 alone, more than 700,000 tons of teak and hard wood were allowed to extract.

Therefore, it needs to be asked that if the businesses extracting wood and people giving the permission are intentionally flooding the country even though the illegal log extraction by Chinese and local businesses cause climate change. The public has to suffer the consequences.

‘Better’

During the first year of the new quasi-civilian government the 2011-12 fiscal year, nearly 2.4 million tons of teak and hard wood were extracted. In the next year, the amount was 1.7 million tons.

During the third year, the government allowed extraction of 1 million tons of wood. The amount was 720,000 tons in the fourth year.

In the last year of the government tenor, the government permitted extraction of 730,000 tons of wood.

Altogether, the quasi-civilian officially permitted to extract 6.4 million tons of wood. (From this year’s quota, the businesses are not able to extract wood from the flooded areas.)

To compare it to the previous government, in 2009-10 fiscal year 1.65 million tons of wood were extracted. That was the highest record.

Under the democratic government, a new record was set in 2011-12 fiscal year by permitting the extraction of 2.4 million tons.

In the following year, the amount was 1.66 million tons and higher than the previous regime.

To be blunt, the current government is ‘better’ at giving the permission on wood extraction.

The combined amount extracted in the past 15 years was more than 21 million tons.

Suppose a tree is weighted 1.5 ton, more than 15 million trees were cut down in the last 15 years.

However, objections can come saying ‘That was the amount permitted, not the actual extracted amount’. Still, by looking at the statistics from the last year, 90 percent of the permitted quota was cut down. That proved that almost all the quotas permitted were cut down. If you want to argue, look at the official statistics first.

That was only the legally permitted amount. That did not include the amount extracted by Chinese loggers, who were sentenced for life imprisonment but pardoned in eight days. They illegally cut down trees in Myanmar.

According to logging businesses, the illegally extracted amount range from 50 to 100 percent of the officially permitted amount. (They say the actual figures may be higher.)

That means 20 to 30 million trees were estimated to have been cut down in the last 15 years.

The current government is not only better at permitting wood extraction, but also at allowing log export.

For 16 years from 1996 to 2011, the previous government’s highest record for log export was 2007-2008 fiscal year. The amount was 1 million.

Under Thein Sein’s democratic government, 1.2 million logs were exported in 2012-2013 fiscal year and 1.5 million in 2013-2014 fiscal year, beating the old record.

A case in point is exporting 10,400 tons of logs in 2014-2015 fiscal year while log export was officially barred. Therefore, a question must be raised: why was it allowed?

Excessive log extractions are the main factor in climate change. The official saying is ‘Climate depends on forests’. The extreme climate changes are a result of deforestation. Therefore, it is the extractors and people permitting such actions that make the public suffer from natural disasters.

Those who permit and those who do not hesitate

It is not thousands of businesses or people officially cutting down the trees, rather the government only allowed 86 businesses. They were also the main log extractors under the previous government.

The top ten companies are Myat Noe Thu, Tin Win Htun, Nature Timber, Htoo, MRT under IGe, Global Star, Lucre Wood, Momentum, Wood World and Htun Myat Aung Company.

The biggest extractor is Myat Noe Thu, owned by U Kyaw Soe Lwin. It is followed by Tin Win Htun Company, owned by U Tin Win. Nature Timber is a company under U Kyaw Sein who has connections to Jewellery Luck. Htoo is owned by Tay Za. (It is known that Htoo only run the business until 2012-2013 fiscal year and stopped wood extraction since then.) IGE\Myanmar Rice Trading is owned by U Nay Aung, son of late U Aung Thaung. Global Star Company is founded by UMFCCI’s chairperson and Dagon Group of Companies founder U Win Aung. Lucre Wood is a subsidiary under Asia World, owned by U Htun Myint Naing. The directors of Momentum Company are U Chein Saint Eain, U Chit Maung, U Kyi Swe, U Thein Han, and Daw Myo Myo Khaing. Moreover, the company has close ties with U Kyi Sein. are U Chein Saint Eain is also a director for Wood World. Htun Myat Aung Company is headed by U Htay Aung and U Sai Htun Myat.

It is not only the 86 people that do not hesitate to cut trees. The most responsible persons are from the ministry. They permitted a larger amount than the previous government. They permitted to cut trees without a second thought so the businesses extracted wood. Therefore, those who gave the permission must take the upmost responsibility followed by the extractors.

To highlight how far they went, the ministry had allowed Chinese-based CIFG company to extract wood together with local companies even though foreign companies are not legally allowed to extract wood.

For example, permissions were given to Momentum, Zar Ni Zaw and Kaung Myat to operate alone while different permissions were given as Momentum (CIFG), Zar Ni Zaw (CIFG), and Kaung Myat (CIFG). Does the president know about the permits?

The Myanmar companies might be the one cutting the trees. However, it is clear to see that the Myanmar companies were being used to provide a quota to a Chinese company.

The reason I am introducing them is to let the public know who cut down the forests and who are responsible for the natural disasters.

Another reason is the successive governments had never disclosed the details on the log extractors. Therefore, I am presenting this information to the public so that the information is widely known.

Moreover, if the public ever face natural disasters in the future, remember the people permitting log extraction and the ones who deforested Myanmar.

What is the benefit for the country as a result of deforestation?

Even though forests were cut down, did the country benefited from that? It is questionable to look at the price per ton exported as set by the national planning for any fiscal year.

Under the previous regime, the price was 1235 USD per exported ton of teak in 2010. In 2011, the price dropped to 1059 USD per ton.

In 2012, a ton of teak was only 674 USD in 2012. Likewise, it was 700 in 2013.

Lately, Myanmar mostly exports Sawing Grade 7 (SG-7) standard teaks since the higher standard SG-6 or SG-5 become more and more rare.

SG-7 grade prices around 1,500 to 2,000 USD in the country. (The price is without transportation charges nor any profit which could amount to 300 to 400 more.)

Why are they exporting for 600-700 USD while it can be sold within the country for 1,500 to 2,000 USD? Why are the listed prices much lower?

It is suspicious to see that the country suffers from deforestation while the export price yields less than the local price.

Moreover, look at the taxes of the log extractors. I will highlight the top ten companies.

From 2011-12 fiscal year to 2013-14 fiscal year, the government released top 100, 500 and 1,000 taxpayers list.

During the three years, only Htoo Company out of the top ten extractors appeared in the list for every year.

MRT appeared in the list for the first two years and in the last year, it showed up in late taxpayers list.

Myat Noe Thu, Tin Win Htun, Momentum and Wood World appeared only twice in the lists.

Lucre Wood, Nature Timber and Global Star only showed up in 2013-14 fiscal year’s top 1,000 taxpayers list.

The statistics show that the wood extractors were permitted to do the most profitable business yet most of them did not appear on the top taxpayers list. It needs to be asked whether the ones showed up in the list really pay the correct amount of revenue and why the others were not included in the list.

What did the country get in return for the deforestation? The extractors and people who permit them are responsible for the loss of the country and they must be held accountable.

Where did the logs go?

Under Thein Sein administration, logs were allowed to export from 2013 to 2014. I want to raise a few questions by contrasting the amount extracted to the amount exported.

From 2011 fiscal year to 2014 fiscal year, 5 million tons of wood were allowed to extract.

However, the export for the three years was 3.6 million tons.

Where did the remaining 1.4 million tons go? Local businesspeople stated the locally auctioned amount did not cover the difference. So, where did they go?

Report to the public

By looking at the EIA report, gathered from detailed evidences, it is clear to see how many trees were illegally cut down and exported to China, who are doing that and how the Chinese accept it.

The illegally exported amount of wood to China was 300,000 cubic meters in 1997. It jumped to 1.6 million cubic meters in 2005. The amount increased by fivefold.

However, in 2006 media reported the illegal actions and environmentalists reported on the issues. As a result, Chinese law enforcement managed to prevent the illegal extractions. In 2008, the amount dropped to 170,000 cubic meters.

However, in 2013 under Thein Sein administration, 938,000 cubic meters of logs were illegally exported and combined with other wood extraction; the total was 1.7 million cubic meters. Once again, the current government beat the highest score of the previous regime.

In 2015, the amount illegally exported to Yunan Province is no less than 1 million cubic meters, says the report.

To make the point, from 2000 to 2014, 2.7 billion worth of wood were illegally exported. That was only the amount of illegal extraction. It does not cover the amount legally permitted by the government.

Tamalan and Padauk woods are on the edge of extinction due to excessive extraction. These woods will go extinct within three years if the extraction continues as usual, the report says.  

It is estimated that about 30 million plants—15 million (legally) and other (illegally) were cut down in 15 years.

Now, there is no closed forest left as about 10 percent of forest area remains in the country.   

The government continues allowing timber extraction despite a ban on exports of raw timber logs in 2014.

According to the photo evidences dated June 28, 2015, the exports of raw timber logs have not stopped yet. It is just a nominal stoppage. In practice, it amounts to giving the green-light for exports of the raw timber logs.

The government still turns a blind eye to the deaths of people caused by natural disasters even though scholars and media put their fingers on negative impacts of it. As a last resort, I would like to inform the public about it as the government continues granting the permit for commercial timber extractions.

People will decide

I would like to raise a question to government officials and those involved in timber extractions and timber smugglers (including foreigners). Do all of you know that cutting off a single tree amounts to putting all people under water, causing damages to farms and making people homeless?

People would certainly regard all of you as culprits who put the public in dire straits if all of you continue doing so.

People are the real owner of the country’s authority. Now, time has come to decide whether people will give their authority to the one who can safeguard their homes, farms, businesses, life and future. People themselves will decide it.