NAYPYIDAW — Disciplinary and legal action has been taken against more than 2,000 employees of the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry for collusion in illegal logging, ministry officials claimed on Friday.
The ministry’s deputy director-general, Zaw Min, told a press conference on Friday that the figures included more than 770 senior officials.
“We suspended or expelled them according to related by-laws,” he said. “We even prosecuted some in connection with illegal logging.”
Around 160,000 tons worth of timber was illegally logged between April 2010 and March 2015, according to Zaw Min. He added that while police and the military were cooperating to combat the trade, there was a lack of effective enforcement mechanisms available to authorities.
Observers have warned that an inadequate legal framework had left Burma’s forests vulnerable to exploitation.
Earlier this year, Forest Trends reported that forest reserves had been de-gazetted to award large-scale agricultural land concessions. According to the Washington-based non-profit, government data suggested the agricultural concessions were being exploited to bypass the more difficult task of obtaining a logging concession, and the allocation of land concessions was “highly susceptible to corruption and patronage politics.”
A 2014 report from the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency concluded that 72 percent of Burma’s timber exports between 2000 and 2013 were unauthorized and unrecorded, at an estimated total value of US$5.7 billion.
“Illegal exploitation of forest resources incurs great losses,” Khin Maung Yi, the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry’s permanent secretary, at Friday’s press conference. “The ministry has adopted a special plan, formed taskforces and occasionally mounts crackdowns on this practice.”
The ministry’s most recent seizure of illegally harvested timber was in Sagaing Division’s Katha District on May 8. The following day, state-run newspapers reported the arrest of seven people and the seizure of 31 teak logs weighing 600 tons.
Additional reporting by Sean Gleeson in Rangoon.