THERE are currently 18 logging agreements signed in Kalabakan and the State Government is helpless in stopping them because these have been "signed, sealed and delivered".
What can be done is to take mitigation measures to minimise the environmental impact in the area through the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), he said, while declining to comment on the identity of companies involved.
"The point is I never approved any logging in Kalabakan…not from me, not during my term," he said. "How can I stop it when it was all locked in, signed, sealed and delivered from one year to 10 years…what can I do," he said.
Chong, who is Tourism, Environment, Science and Technology Minister, said unlike the car rental and the Local Authority Presidents' Mercedez Benz rentals which were reviewed and scrapped, the State Government's hands are tied in the Kalabakan issue.
"The logging activities are still going on there and it was logged even before I returned to Sabah after serving the Federal Government. I have to make sure that whatever environment measures need to be taken are taken," he said, adding that the question should not be posed to him.
Chong said the stress on the environment was already there, but the mitigation through the EIA has helped, coupled with the strictness of the Department of Environment and Forestry Department's handling of the matter.
He also revealed that the areas being logged now include some 150,000 hectares or more adjacent to the 220,000ha earmarked for the pulp mill in Kalabakan with Chinese investors.
Chong acknowledged that a portion of the land designated for the proposed pulp mill had been logged as well, leaving only 82,000ha not touched as yet.
"I have not approved an inch in the 82,000 ha," he stressed.
The rest of the areas were logged well before his time and the area is not a virgin forest but secondary as it had been logged several times over.
Former Chief Minister Datuk Yong Teck Lee said last week that the logging was on-going despite the possibility of the proposed RM4.56bil joint-venture pulp mill project being scrapped.
Yong had proposed that the State Government consider strict suspension of all logging activities in Kalabakan because of the damage to the environment especially in view of the proximity to the protected Maliau Basin (Lost World) and Danum Valley.