By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
The general feeling of the 100-odd participants at the start of the recently-concluded discourse on Perak’s crown jewel, Belum Forest, was one of pessimism. I could virtually feel the vibes emanating from the invitees as they sat anxiously in the hall for the grand opening by Perak Menteri Besar. Such an ostentatious start to an equally remarkable event is nothing new, insofar as Malaysians are concerned. In fact it has become a norm, a culture which is observed, revered and practised by all and sundry.
Why have we reached such a precipitous edge is mind-boggling, to say the least. Maybe it is the hazard of being Malaysian. The pomp of an officious launching does not necessarily mean that everything is hunky-dory. It is much like a golfer addressing his ball on the T-box. How he addresses the ball does not mean that he would execute a perfect drive. A poor swing or a slice or a shank would see his ball sailing into another fairway or into the hazards. In golf a good putt on the green depends on how well your follow through is. And a good follow through is what Malaysians generally lack.
The Royal Belum Intellectual Discourse held at Syuen Hotel on October 13 and 14 was timely. However, this was not the first time the state park was the subject of debates. Similar forums were held before but the resolutions never got beyond the walls of the seminar halls.
One ought to thank the initiatives taken by the Perak Tourism Association to organise the event in spite of some unsavoury comments from doomsayers. Association President, Hj Odzman Kadir (pic, left) took it upon himself to get the ball rolling. It was a bold move considering that pitfalls were aplenty. The chances of it becoming another futile attempt were great but that did not deter the man from trying. It would have come to one sad ending had he not had the resolve to make it work. For that he had to thank his association members who rallied behind him when it mattered most.
Odzman’s efforts would have come to naught had it not been for the backing and support by Dato’ Nolee Ashilin, the Executive Councillor for Tourism and Culture. A RM50,000 allocation from the state government plus some generous donations from well-wishers got Odzman to a perfect start. And the rest is history.
Royal Belum is the largest continuous forest complex in Peninsular Malaysia. Belum is located north of the East-West Highway while Temengor, south. The state government had gazetted part of Royal Belum as a state park on May 3, 2007. Plans to convert the deforested areas bordering the East-West Highway as plantation forest are underway.
Although claims of unlimited access into the forest are made, they are untrue, as only the western half of the region is accessible to tourists while the remaining is not. The northern portion is still a controlled area with little or no activity less for research works by Pulau Banding Foundation.
Five expeditions into the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex have been done so far; the most recent being the one into the Sungei Enam area. A number of new flora and fauna have been discovered. What other animals and plants are waiting to be found beats me.
Turning Royal Belum into a huge research centre was one of the subjects discussed. Bio-prospecting for new active compounds for the pharmaceutical industry is an area worth considering, as the potentials are vast. In order to make this possible, placing the management of whole forest complex under one dedicated body is desirous. The Sabah experience should be the benchmark for future planning.
How effective the discourse would be depends on a number of factors. Acceptance of the resolutions made is numero uno. The RM60,000 expanded would go to waste if recommendations and proposals derived, ended on the shelves of Dato’ Nolee Ashilin’s office and gather dust in the process.