Reforestation project above board, say organisers

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KUALA LUMPUR — There were no irregularities in the implementation of the 2009 Hutan Kita-Kiara tree planting programme, its organisers said.

Landskap Malaysia board of governors member Tun Jeanne Abdullah also refuted allegations the programme launched on Feb 15, 2009 lacked transparency.

She said less than RM1 million was collected for the project and not millions as some claimed.

“Only RM800,000 was collected for the programme and Khazanah (Nasional), which donated RM90,000, was the biggest contributor,” she said.

Sunday Mail had in its front-page report on May 22 highlighted the project was under scrutiny after several participants questioned the manner in which money contributed to the project had been spent.

The community reforestation programme was initiated by the Malaysian Landscape Advisory Panel.

The organising partners were the National Landscape Department, Kuala Lumpur City Hall, the Institute of Landscape Architects Malaysia (ILAM) with the cooperation of Friends of Bukit Kiara and the Taman Tun Dr Ismail residents association.

Some of those who had contributed funds claimed the project implementation details lacked transparency as trees planted had allegedly died shortly after the programme was launched.

They also claimed they had not been able to get an explanation from the organisers on the matter.

Landskap Malaysia, however, said only three per cent of trees planted died.

The non-governmental organisation added it had not received complaints on the matter.

The NGO also said a total of 16,000 trees were planted in Bukit Kiara for the programme, with each costing RM50 (donors paid RM60 for a tree).

The remaining RM10 was channeled to the National Landscape Department, tasked with maintaining the trees for three years.

Those who had participated in the programme had previously said their donation of RM60 included the handling and maintenance of trees for three years.

On claims by those familiar with the project that saplings planted had died as they were planted between existing trees, Jeanne said this was untrue.

She said hardened young trees had been planted “as saplings will never survive in a forest”.

“The trees were hardened in a nursery for about a year and were about 1.5m in height,” she said.

On how funds contributed by the public had been spent, Jeanne, who was then chairman of the Malaysian Landscape Advisory Panel, said ILAM acted as treasurer for the project, with the National Landscape Department being the main organisers.

“ILAM had opened a separate bank account for the project in 2009 under the Hutan Kita-Kiara project and also managed funds collected. They were also able to give out tax exemption forms,” she said.

Landskap Malaysia said a trust fund was not set up for the project.

Sunday Mail was also informed there was a surplus of RM71,000 in the bank account set up by ILAM in 2012 and a cheque for this amount was handed to Landskap Malaysia.

The advisory panel was subsequently dissolved after the project.

“The surplus funds could not go to planting of trees in Bukit Kiara. So, they were spent elsewhere for other Hutan Kita projects,” said Jeanne.

On claims that tags on trees with names of contributors had been washed away after the launch, Jeanne said: “Tags will fall off, (but) residents did not complain. Not even once.”

Jeanne added the project had seen encouraging participation but not everyone filed for tax exemption returns.

“We invited a lot of people to plant trees, forms were filled and they were told when they registered that they could claim tax exemption with their receipts.

“I called up some of the participants and they said they still have the receipts. But a lot of people did not do so because they bought one tree and did not bother to claim,” she said.

The National Landscape Department had previously told Sunday Mail that while it had agreed to bear the cost of care for the trees, it did not receive fundings for the upkeep of trees.

Its Bukit Kiara park director, Saharudin Abu Rohan, had said it did not receive funding for the maintenance of trees besides that allocated in its annual budget.

Saharudin had also said that even if the department had received funds, it would not be enough as the cost of maintenance for one tree could be as high as RM200.

It was previously reported the organisers of the Hutan Kita-Kiara programme had set a target of planting 50,000 trees over 97 hectares throughout Bukit Kiara.

The public were invited to pay RM300 for five trees, RM3,000 for 50 trees or RM300,000 for 5,000 trees.

Contributors were promised a plaque or commemorative inscription, with their names or organisation placed at the planting plots within the park, and ownership of the trees, names and details of contributions entered in a registration book, a certificate of participation and tax exemption incentives.

They were also told trees would be preserved under existing rules and regulations.