Mosque in Bangsar organises Chinese New Year open house

BY GAN PEI LING © The Star 5 Feb 2017

KUALA LUMPUR: A mosque in Bangsar has decided to celebrate the best of Malaysia’s diversity by throwing its doors open for a Chinese New Year celebration.

Expecting only 100 to 150 people to turn up for its do, the organisers were stumped to see at least 400 people arrive at the event which saw Muslims dining on the same table with their non-Muslim friends.

During the two-hour event held at a hall in the mosque, the people sampled Malaysian favourites such as rendangketupat and nasi minyak as well as mandarin oranges.

Many even turned up in traditional red, donning red batik shirts or red baju kurung.

The chairman of Masjid Saidina Abu Bakar As-Siddiq, Datuk Ibrahim Thambychik, said he decided to hold the Chinese New Year open house to show that the mosque was an open place that welcomed everyone.

“If you look at the history of Islam, a mosque has many functions. Apart from prayers, it can also serve as a social centre for Mus­lims and non-Muslims,” he said.

Saying that this is the first time the mosque has organised a Chinese New Year celebration, Ibrahim said an open house was a good oppor­tunity for Muslims and non-Muslims from the neighbourhood to mingle and get to know each other better.

Getting together: Ibrahim handing out mandarin oranges during the open house at the Masjid Saidina Abu Bakar As-Siddiq in Bangsar. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

Due to the good response from the community, he is planning to host it again next year.

Iman Ustaz Mohd Bukhai Hakah said they anticipated about 100 to 150 people but he estimated that at least 400 people turned up based on the amount of food served.

Datuk George Joseph, president of Bangsar Baru Residents Association, believed that it was the first time a mosque had organised a Chinese New Year celebration in the country.

A Chinese Muslim who attends weekly classes at the mosque, Mohd Willieuddin Lim, said most of his friends were surprised when he forwarded the mosque’s invitation: “Can ah? They asked me.”

Lim said he continued to celebrate the Lunar New Year after converting to Islam decades ago as it was not a religious but cultural occasion.

One of the guests, Collin Swee, 49, said it was a meaningful occasion for him.

“I think this is wonderful. It’s very needed right now as people of diffe­rent races and religions are growing further and further apart compared to the old days.

“This gesture by the mosque is very timely. We need more of these gestures to unite people,” said Swee.

Maizura Shamsuddin, who is prin­­­cipal assistant director at the Department of Federal Territory Islamic Affairs, said she was supportive of the event.

Former actress Shila Lama Abdul­lah, who also attended the event, said it was a great opportunity to foster goodwill among people of different races and religions.

Civil society keen to take part in ASEAN’s new FLEG plan

by Pei Ling Gan, 11 January 2017 © FLEGT.org

As the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its member states implement a new ten-year plan to improve forest governance, civil society organisations (CSOs) in the region are keen to get involved.

Representatives of CSO from Southeast Asia discuss the new ASEAN Work Plan for FLEG by EU FLEGT Facility

The ASEAN Work Plan for Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (2016-2025) has four strategic thrusts:

  1. Enhancing sustainable forest management
  2. Enhancing trade facilitation, economic integration and market access
  3. Strengthening ASEAN’s joint approaches on regional and international issues affecting the forestry sector; and
  4. Institutional strengthening and human resources development.

The CSOs are interested having regular meetings with responsible government representatives and, ideally, joining country delegations to ASEAN working groups responsible for implementing the plan.

“We’re keen to track the implementation of the ASEAN commitments and activities at the national and regional level,” said To Kim Lien, from Center for Education and Development, Vietnam.

To is one of 25 participants from Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia who attended a regional CSO meeting on forest law enforcement and governance in Southeast Asia on 5 December 2016, in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The EU FLEGT Facility hosted the meeting to assess interest in setting up a regional platform for CSOs working on FLEG-related topics in the region.

The ASEAN Senior Officials on Forestry (ASOF), which reports to the ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry, is responsible for the overall supervision, coordination and implementation of the Work Plan.

ASOF will be supported by five working groups that meet at least once a year and focus, respectively, on forest management; CITES and wildlife enforcement; forest products development; social forestry; and forests and climate change.

Thang Hooi Chiew, an independent consultant, highlighted that some of these working groups could draw on the expertise of civil society organisations to implement the work plan.

He added that under the new work plan, activities could be implemented with the agreement of at least two ASEAN member states. Previously, activities could only be implemented with the consent from all member states.

The civil society representatives were keen to exchange information, knowledge, skills and resources related to independent monitoring, timber legality, and advocacy at the national and regional level, including on VPA processes.

“In Laos, CSOs have been invited by the government to participate in the VPA process but the complexity of the negotiation is difficult to follow, and the time commitment is high,” said Dr Chanthavy Vongkha, from the Lao Wildlife Conservation Association.

“We want to learn from neighbouring countries, how do their CSOs continue to participate in the process?” said Dr Chanthavy Vongkha.

His Indonesian colleague shared that capacity building is important while the Vietnamese also expressed their willingness to share their lessons.

“A few years ago the media and businesses were not that interested in the VPA because it was very technical,” said To. “We set up a team to go through the documents and translate it into public-friendly information. We can do the same for other countries. It’s important to make information available for different target groups.”

Southeast Asia marks progress in combating illegal timber trade

by Pei Ling Gan, 04 January 2017 © FLEGT.org

Representatives from eight member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) shared their achievements in developing reliable timber legality assurance systems at a workshop in Jakarta, Indonesia from 6-8 December 2016.

Participants share their achievements in developing reliable timber legality assurance systems by EU FLEGT Facility

Indonesia shared its success in becoming, in November, the world’s first country to issue FLEGT licences through a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU.

An open, transparent process and trust-building through dialogue were both crucial to the VPA’s multi-stakeholder approach, said Mardi Minangsari, of Indonesia’s Independent Forestry Monitoring Network, who has tracked the process as a civil society representative for 15 years.

Vietnam, meanwhile, is expected to sign its VPA with the EU in March 2017, having begun negotiations in 2010. The country is a major hub for the global timber trade, importing wood from more than 80 other countries for processing and re-export.

How to incorporate the legality of imported wood was “one of the most important topics that took up a lot of negotiation time,” said Huynh Van Hanh, standing vice-chair of the Handicraft and Wood Industry Association in Vietnam who gave a presentation on behalf of the Vietnamese delegation.

Thailand, another major timber importer and processor in the region, reported that it would begin field tests of its timber legality definition in 2017.

Banjong Wongsrisoontorn, Director of the Forest Certification Office in Thailand’s Royal Forest Department informed the workshop that Thailand had submitted its draft VPA annexes on legality definition, product scope and supply chain control to the EU in 2016.

Laos is also finalising its legality definition and is hoping to conclude VPA negotiations with the EU in 2018.

“The VPA process is complex,” said Dr Khamfeua Sirivongs, Head of the FLEGT Standing Office and Deputy Director of Forest Technique Standard Development Division, in the Lao Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. “One of our main challenges would be to keep stakeholders in the private sector and civil society engaged.”

Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia and the Philippines are also taking steps to strengthen their national timber legality assurance systems.

Such a system has been in place in Peninsular Malaysia since 2013. In 2016, the Malaysian government introduced a legality requirement for timber products imported into Peninsular Malaysia from 3 January 2017.

While VPA negotiation has stalled in Malaysia since 2014, the Malaysian government recognised that “legality verification is necessary to meet current market demand, not just in the EU,” said Eleine Juliana Malek, Principal Assistant Secretary of the Timber, Tobacco and Kenaf Industries Development Division, at Malaysia’s Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities.

Myanmar, which is preparing for a VPA, is carrying out a gap analysis of its timber legality assurance system, which it developed in 2013.

“The analysis is being done to strengthen the Myanmar timber legality assurance system to meet international [legality] requirements,” said Phyo Zin Mon Naing, Assistant Director of Forest Department, at Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.

Cambodia is implementing recommendations from an independent timber trade flow study conducted in 2014, and is building its capacity to engage in a VPA process, said So Lorn, Deputy Director of the Department of Forest Industry and International Cooperation in Cambodia’s Forestry Administration.

tlas-workshop-flegt2Although the Philippines is not currently engaged in a VPA process, it is upgrading its timber legality assurance system to comply with the ASEAN Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management.

“What we have in the Philippines now is a ‘one-way traffic’: once the logs are processed into lumber we cannot trace it back to the forest of origin,” said Raul M Briz, chief of the Forest Protection Section in the Forest Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “We hope to achieve 100% ‘back to stump’ traceability for our wood production.”

He added that the new timber legality assurance system would be subjected to a nationwide multi-stakeholder consultation before it is implemented.

Fostering ASEAN cooperation

Thang Hooi Chiew, an independent consultant who conducted a study on the feasibility of a regional mechanism for mutual recognition of timber legality, reported that it is highly feasible to develop an ASEAN Timber Legality Verification Scheme.

He said such a scheme could be based on the ASEAN Criteria and Indicators for Legality of Timber, which would need to be reviewed and revised against global standards.

However, he said “it is best that a phased approach be adopted,” as ASEAN member states are at varying stages of developing timber legality systems and certification schemes.

Thang also recommended assessing the capacity of existing and potential certification bodies to carry out training on forest management and chain-of-custody certification, and strengthening regional customs cooperation to facilitate legal timber trade in the region.

Representatives from the ASEAN secretariat and EU FAO FLEGT programme also shared potential collaboration opportunities at the regional level.

Earlier in 2016, the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Agriculture and Forestry officially adopted the Work Plan for Forest Governance in ASEAN (2016-2025).

Dian Sukmajaya, a senior officer from the ASEAN secretariat, said plans are now being made to develop a regional framework for mutual recognition of timber legality, and help small and medium forest enterprises to meet international trade requirements, among others.

“We also hope to encourage private sector to market forest products from legal sources,” Sukmajaya added, noting that more must be done to raise consumer awareness in the region.

tlas-workshop-flegt3

Meanwhile, the EU FAO FLEGT Programme is exploring potential synergies between timber legality assurance systems and forest certification schemes.

The programme’s regional coordinator Bruno Cammaert suggested that recognition between timber legality assurance systems and certification could reduce the burden on operators and enhance verification, monitoring and complaints mechanisms.

Other topics discussed during the workshop include civil society’s role in developing timber legality assurance systems, the empowerment of small and medium forest enterprises, and control of imports into ASEAN countries.

About 80 participants from governments, private sector, civil society and observers from the EU delegations in the region attended this fifth sub-regional training workshop on timber legality assurance systems.

It was co-organised by the ASEAN Secretariat, the EU FLEGT Facility hosted by the European Forest Institute, and Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, with support from GIZ.