When I was away in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month, something very significant happened on the illegal wildlife trading scene here. Our country's own infamous Number One wildlife trafficker, Anson Wong, from Jones Road in Penang, admitted guilt to smuggling 95 snakes without a permit.
This could have the end of the story, especially where the court was concerned. However, the leniency of the sentence has shocked many people, both here and elsewhere in the world.
In short, our legal system has let us down. The court had a chance to send a signal to the world that we mean business in repairing our unwelcome reputation as an international hub for this illegal trade but it did not. Where is the will to get tough with animal traffickers? And where is the appreciation and protection for our country's rich flora and fauna?
A paltry RM190,000 fine for 95 snakes? That's just RM2,000 per animal when the maximum fine was RM100,000 per animal. A six-month jail sentence when the International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008 allows a maximum of seven years?
And getting angry with the court is not the only beef that I have today. Anson Wong is only one factor in the wildlife trafficking equation. The issuance of permits to people like him to keep and trade in endangered animals is the other. Who - or what - is the government authority responsible to oversee the wildlife in the country? None other than the equally infamous Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Peninsular Malaysia, otherwise known as Perhilitan.
To many people, Perhilitan has failed in its duty to protect our flora and fauna. A gross dereliction of duty. The department exists just for the sake of its existence only. The people at the Perhilitan offices in Kuala Lumpur and the states are sitting comfortable and unwilling to move their butts to deal with issues, even when the issues stare at them in the face. Worse still, they seem to think they are at the centre of the universe and nothing around them matters.They look at conservation efforts around them contemptuously.
National Geographic magazine which was highlighting just this very issue. A thoroughly unflattering tale with Malaysia at the centre of storm. Fingered in this lengthy article was Perhilitan itself, especially a woman known as Misliah Mohamad Basir. Anyone reading this story will come to the same conclusion that she must be protecting Wong. "He is my good friend,"she was quoted as saying.
And yet today, she is still there, the Number Two official in the Wildlife and National Parks Department, Kuala Lumpur.
She is the senior government official that will hinder and stymie any effort that Malaysia carries out in wildlife conservation. Transferring out the Penang National Park and Wildlife Department director to another state will not end matters. He can't be alone. If no action is taken at the top to remove the rot, the illegal wildlife trade will still continue unabated. So this woman must be investigated for complicity. At the very least, investigate her for negligence or gross incompetency. Whatever, suspend and remove her from this post immediately. Surely, there are sections and sub-sections in the same International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008 to cover all these.
And finally, there must be a very serious attempt to revamp the rest of Perhilitan. This time, it must be the government to show the world that it means business. Stop the rot and stop it by starting with the very top. Nothing less than that can appease the public and the conservationists.