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Media Release: NGOs and CSOs Express Alarm Over Legal Implication of Shah Alam Community Forest Degazettement

The Shah Alam Community Forest (SACF), part of the Bukit Cherakah Forest Reserve, is facing a legal loophole that sets a dangerous precedent for the protection of all forest reserves. 

Any degazettement of forest reserves must be announced in the government gazette to be legally valid. Otherwise, it remains legally a forest reserve until the date of a gazette notification that changes this. However, on 5th May 2022, the Selangor government published a gazette notification (Selangor G.N. 1645 of 2022) that refers to a decision by the Selangor State Executive Council on 20th November 2000 to announce that an area which includes the SACF was no longer a protected forest. In effect, the Selangor government has backdated the degazettement of the protected area by 22 years!

Furthermore, the Selangor National Forestry Act (Adoption) Enactment 1985 was amended in 2011 to require a public inquiry before any forest reserve land could be removed from protection. By backdating the decision to remove the SACF's protection to 2000, this important requirement was bypassed.

Gravely concerned, the Shah Alam Community Forest Society (SACF Society) and Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia (PEKA) challenged the degazettement in court via the judicial review process.

The judicial review mechanism is an important avenue for the public to ask the judiciary to review and examine any decision made by the government. It is a check and balance process to ensure that decisions by the government are made in accordance with the law and without abuse of power.

However, both the Shah Alam High Court and the Court of Appeal (on appeal) rejected their application for a judicial review. The reason seems to be a technical one: the judicial review application had been filed out of time. The Court of Appeal ruled that the judicial review application should have been made within three months of the backdated date (ie. 20th November 2000), not the date it was actually made public in 2022. 

Since the decision wasn't made public until 2022, this creates a loophole allowing the government to avoid judicial review by delaying the gazettement of controversial decisions. If the degazettement of forest reserves can be backdated, we would never know if a forest reserve has already lost its legal protection via an executive decision that has yet to be gazetted. It would be too late. Concerned citizens would be time-barred when the decision is then gazetted, after the three-month time frame to file a judicial review has passed. 

Many individuals and environmental NGOs work actively to improve the governance of our forests. We rely on gazette notifications to confirm the status of protected areas and forest reserves. Allowing backdated gazette notifications manipulates this system and undermines our conservation efforts. This backward step threatens to undo the progress we've made in protecting our forests, which is vital for the well-being of all Malaysians.

The SACF case goes beyond just one forest. It challenges the principles of good governance, transparency, accountability, public participation, and environmental protection. If this precedent stands, it will undermine conservation efforts across Malaysia and weaken our legal safeguards. It is regressive and undermines the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Malaysia. 

Now, the case is before the Federal Court for its final chance at appeal, scheduled for 11th July 2024. The decision of the Federal Court, our apex court, will be of critical importance as it has far reaching consequences in upholding procedural and environmental justice. 
Call for Support 
The following NGOs and CSOs stand in solidarity with SACF Society and PEKA in their last appeal to the Federal Court and call for the support of the general public in this cause:-

  1. Malaysian CSO-SDG Alliance

  2. Malaysian Nature Society Selangor Branch

  3. WWF-Malaysia

  4. Treat Every Environment Special (TrEES)

  5. Sustainable Development Network Malaysia (SUSDEN Malaysia)

  6. Alliance of River Three (ART!)

  7. Gabungan Darurat Iklim Malaysia (GDIMY)

  8. Free Tree Society Kuala Lumpur (FTS)

  9. Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)

  10. Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP)

  11. Forum Kedaulatan Makanan Malaysia (FKMM)

  12. Persatuan Aktivis Sahabat Alam (KUASA)

  13. Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY)

  14. Sustainable PJ Association (SPJA)

  15. Friends of Bukit Kiara (FoBK)

  16. Friends of Bukit Gasing (FoBG)

  17. RimbaWatch

  18. Center to Combat Corruption & Cronyism (C4 Center)

  19. Environmental Protection Society Malaysia (EPSM)

  20. Wild Bird Club of Malaysia (WBCM)

  21. Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)

  22. Jawatankuasa Rukun Tetangga Seksyen 6, Petaling Jaya

  23. Persatuan Tindakan Alam Sekitar Kuala Langat

  24. Residents Association Section 5 Petaling Jaya (RA5PJ)

  25. Tijani South Homeowners Bhd

  26. Youths United for Earth (YUFE)

  27. Malaysian Environmental NGOs (MENGO)

  28. Wetlands International

  29. Pusat KOMAS

  30. Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK)

  31. Jejak Liar

  32. B·E·A·CC·H· (Biodiversity · Environment · Agroecology · Climate Change · Habitats)

  33. Malaysia Stop Waste Trade Coalition

  34. Sabah CSO SDG Alliance

  35. Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM)

  36. Friends of Bukit Dinding (FoBD)

  37. Gerimis Art Project

  38. Kota Damansara Community Forest Society (KDCFS)

  39. Kuala Lumpur Residents' Action for Sustainable Development (KLRA+SD)

  40. Setia Ecopark Duta Residence Association

  41. Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)

  42. Freedom Film Network​
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About WWF-Malaysia
World Wide Fund for Nature Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) was established in 1972 and is part of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the international conservation organisation. Working to sustain the natural world for the benefit of people and nature, WWF-Malaysia’s efforts to conserve nature focus on six major themes: forests, oceans, wildlife, food, climate and energy, as well as freshwater. Our mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature.

Find our latest news here:  https://www.wwf.org.my/media_and_information/media_centre_and_updates/

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