16,000 trees planted,
no conflict of interest

A-      A+

Sunday Mail recently interviewed Landskap Malaysia’s board of governors members Tun Jeanne Abdullah, Dzulkifli David Abdullah and its corporate communications division manager Siti Hafizah Mohd Zahrom on the 2009 Hutan Kita-Kiara project. Below are excerpts from the interview.

Sunday Mail (SM): Why was a reforestation programme conducted in an existing forest?

Dzulkifli: Our role is to green the forest. But this (Bukit Kiara) is a secondary forest. Many trees had degraded. We stepped in to help as we are involved in enrichment of forests. The presence of rubber trees had also seen people illegally encroaching to tap rubber. We want to enrich this degraded urban forest. Reforestation is about bringing back native trees like rainforest species.

SM: Were saplings planted in the area during the programme?

Jeanne: Not saplings. Saplings will never survive in a forest. We planted hardened young trees. They were hardened in the nursery for a year or a year-and-a-half, and were about 1.5m at a minimum for survivability.

SM: Those who contributed to the programme said some trees planted died.

Dzulkifli: There were some which died. Our audit after the second year showed less than three per cent died. But these trees were replaced by the contractors. Some of the trees were less than 1.5m and we made the contractors replace these trees.

SM: Where were the trees sourced from?

Dzulkifli: There were two nurseries, with one being Tunas Harapan in Tanjung Malim. The nursery not only supplied trees, we also engaged their services for tree planting.

Siti Hafizah: The other nursery was Usaha Landcape. The nurseries were nominated by the committee undertaking the project. The decision to select the nurseries was a consensus by Institute of Landscape Architects Malaysia, Friends of Bukit Kiara and the Taman Tun Dr Ismail residents association, City Hall and the Malaysian Landscape Advisory Panel. It was also agreed that the trees planted would be maintained by the National Landscape Department.

SM: Isn’t Tunas Harapan’s owner James Kingham, a member of Landscape Malaysia’s board of governors?

Jeanne: Landscape Malaysia was not set up then. They (Tunas Harapan) taught us everything, guided us on everything and they worked with us. James Kingham started as a supplier then. Later, he was an advisory member of the Malaysian Landscape Advisory Panel. In fact, Pak Lah (referring to her husband and former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) was the one who brought me to his (Kingham’s) nursery. I was amazed by him because this man had helped the (old) Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (previously). But, there are so many others besides Kingham on the advisory panel.

SM: Isn’t there a conflict of interest? He (Kingham) was not only on the advisory panel, but was also supplying trees?

Dzulkifli: During the selection process, we evaluated (all suppliers). Everyone put in their price and the entire panel decided this made business sense. The price was right. It was a group decision and if you look around Malaysia, he (Kingham) is the only one in town supplying endangered species. We had no choice. The panel had to make sure the pricing was right. But Tunas Harapan supplied 10 to 15 per cent of the total number of trees purchased for the project. He was part of the advisory panel of the Malaysian Landscape Advisory Panel but when we (Landskap Malaysia) first started. He was not on our board.

SM: How much did these 1.5m trees cost?

Dzulkifli: The trees were endangered rare species and paying RM50 for one tree was a steal. We were lucky to get those trees at that price.

SM: How many trees were planted in Bukit Kiara?

Siti Hafizah: There were 16,000 trees planted under the project in Bukit Kiara.

SM: In our previous report, the National Landscape Department said the cost of maintenance for one tree was between RM200 and RM300, but only RM60 was collected, and RM50 went to the purchase of a tree.

Dzulkifli: Yes, it cost a lot to get into the forest and maintaining these trees can be expensive. The National Landscape Department only paid RM10 for maintainence for three years … I think we got a good deal.

SM: Was the National Landcape Department aware they would only be paid RM10 to maintain a tree?

Jeanne: Yes but they accepted because it was in their ministry’s (Housing and Local Government) agenda that they must plant trees in the area. So, we helped them start (the project).

During the interview, representatives from Landskap Malaysia also clarified on contributions made by Friends of Bukit Kiara co-founder Liew Khooi Cheng and Taman Tun Dr Ismail resident Pola Singh.

While Sunday Mail reported the duo claimed they had contributed three trees and one tree respectively, Landskap Malaysia said they had jointly contributed five trees. The NGO also insisted on setting the record straight, saying the Trail Association of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor had contributed RM30,600 for the project and not RM30,000 as reported.