Monday, May 30, 2011

Baru poised to influence NCR policies

By Yam Phui Yee

Baru

Baru … entered politics because the power to change policies is in the political arena.

First-time state assemblyman Baru Bian waited for over 20 years to be an elected representative. After going through four elections, his patience and persistence finally paid off when on April 16, he was declared the new Ba’kelalan assemblyman. For the lawyer-cum-politician, it will be yet another means to further his work in acknowledging Native Customary Right (NCR) in land cases in Sarawak.

For 21 years, Baru has been fighting for NCR cases in Sarawak as a lawyer, and during this time, he handled several prominent cases with some resulting in landmark rulings.

In the Nor anak Nyawai case, his client won when Justice Ian Chin delivered a landmark decision in 2001 that defined Native Customary Land (NCL) as temuda (farmed land), pemakai menua (communal land), and pulau galau (forest reserve). The judgment also stated that NCL included territories within a half day’s journey by foot from a longhouse.

This finally settled the debate on what constitutes NCL as for years, the state government had only recognised NCL as temuda but not pemakai menua or pulau galau. Based on that definition, it wanted to issue licences for logging and provisional leases for oil palm plantation on pemakai menua or pulau galau land.

speaking up

Guiding principle … “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

In another landmark case where he represented Agi anak Bukong and others, Justice David Wong last year decided that there was no need for a document to be given as proof of natives’ rights on disputed cases because the people, oral tradition and customs were the live documents.

It was another first in NCR cases as it respected the rights, traditions and culture of the Orang Asal in Sarawak.

Baru was very pleased with the victories but they were not enough.

“Most of these cases we won are hollow wins. That is why I entered politics because the power to change policies is in the political arena. We need a long time to carry out a court decision and so land issues continue to be a major problem,” he said in an interview with GoodTimes.my.

For him, winning the Ba’kelalan state seat was an acknowledgement of the Sarawakian voters that they understood and supported his fight for the NCR.

“It’s satisfying to know that what we fought for finally bore fruit and at least the people appreciate it. I was consistent in my focus from the beginning: the protection of NCR, our environment, land and the future of our next generation,” the Sarawak Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) chief said.

There are four items on his to-do list. First, it is to set up the Native Land Commission introduced in the Pakatan Rakyat election manifesto recently.

Baru said the commission would be authorised to conduct land surveys, investigate and make final decision on NCR issues because “the Land Survey Department is deemed biased because they are the government’s hands and feet”.

Secondly, he wants to push for an ombudsman system to receive complaints from the public against corruption and power abuse by state government officials. Thirdly, he wants to monitor Barisan Nasional’s election campaign promises, and fourthly, to work with non-governmental organisations to develop social community projects for the people, such as a mini-hydropower project and a farm to germinate new varieties of rubber seedlings that can produce rubber in two to four years.

corruption

Battling corruption … pushing for an ombudsman system to receive complaints from the public against corruption and power abuse by state government officials.

In the Ba’kelalan state seat, he stood on the PKR ticket and won with a margin of 473 votes. As a first-time state assemblyman, he is still getting used to his new role. He gets uncomfortable when people address him as “YB”. “I am still BB – Baru Bian,” he jested when speaking on NCR issues at the Awake East Malaysia conference in Petaling Jaya in early May.

In explaining the rights involving NCL, which often have no titles or validating documents, he said the natives know, through customs passed down the years, which land belongs to which community.

In such cases, he said “the rights lie dormant” until someone challenges it.

“NCR issues stem from two problems: failure of the state government to survey and issue titles or demarcate and gazette NCL... and the differing view of what comprises NCL between the state government and the natives,” Baru explained.

Baru is familiar with the lives and plights of the native people. The Lun Bawang from Lawas spent his early childhood in the interiors of Sarawak, relocating every two to four years among the beautiful mountains depending on where his late father worked.

His father, who was among one of the earliest pastors trained by the Sidang Injil Borneo missionaries, often told him to be a role model and maintain the dignity of the family. He recalled his father’s words, “You are Baru Bian, not Baru Takong (Takong is Baru’s mother). It’s my name and reputation you are carrying.”

When he was in Form 6, he noticed there were very few lawyers helping his people who were caught in land issues and he became attracted to the idea of fighting for the defenceless.

He went on to read Law in University of Melbourne, Australia, in the mid-80s. At that time, prominent activist Bruno Manser’s fight for the Penans’ right to their land was the hot topic in the newspapers, fueling Baru’s desire to return home after graduation.

His then girlfriend (now his wife) encouraged him to take up the challenge in a verse from the Bible, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Baru wrote in his blog that this has become his “guiding principle and foundation of my career as a lawyer”.

family

Family man … wife and children ready for challenges ahead.

As an NCR lawyer, Baru has gone against the rich and powerful, such as the state government, influential figures and wealthy timber tycoons and developers.

This raises the question of personal and family security but Baru said, “It has hit several times that personal and family security is a real issue. But I’ve not received any threats or telephone calls, so I strongly believe it is because I know what I’m doing is right.”

He remembered a gem of advice his father once gave him, “Do what is right, then people will fear you.”

His career has taken him from lawyer to politics to state assemblyman. His next challenge is Parliament. He has announced that he would be contesting in the next general election.

Baru said that friends, supporters, NGOs and churches were “very important” in the elections. He is now working to link up with various groups for support before Parliament is dissolved.

When asked if his family was ready for his new work schedule as an assemblyman, he chuckled.

“It has not begun but we expect it will be a bit different in terms of responsibilities. I think my family is prepared for it. We’ve gone through several elections but I believe it’s God’s timing, so we’re prepared for the challenges ahead of us,” he said.

PKR succeeds against all odds

The party has made inroads in Sarawak; it now faces new challenges in building up the state-level Pakatan coalition, writes Andrew Aeria.

PKR press conference after Sarawak elections announced



BN’s bloodied nose

By the time the electoral dust had settled late on 16 April, it was clear that despite Barisan Nasional (BN) having thrown even the proverbial kitchen sink at the Sarawak Pakatan Rakyat (PR/Pakatan) opposition coalition, it won only 55 out of 71 seats. The opposition secured 15 seats (DAP – 12; PKR – 3) with a BN-friendly independent taking one.

The BN’s share of the popular vote slumped 7.7 percentage points from 62.93 per cent to 55.24 per cent. If there was a consolation prize for the BN, it was that the lynchpin of the Sarawak BN, Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) led by Chief Minister (CM) Abdul Taib Mahmud, managed to win all the 35 seats it contested. Still, it only did so with a reduced share of the popular vote (2006 – 29 per cent; 2011 – 28.66 per cent), meaning that even PBB is slipping.

Still, PBB’s performance was cold comfort for Prime Minister Abdul Najib Razak who had uncharacteristically camped out in Sarawak with his whole federal cabinet throughout the campaign’s duration.

Clear tensions and cracks within the BN campaign were evident in the contradictory public statements between the CM and PM about when exactly the former would step down from office given the serious allegations of abuse of power and corruption against him. CM Abdul Taib Mahmud’s hasty late night swearing-in – even before all the results were announced – was thus a dead giveaway of deep tensions and mistrust between state and federal BN leaders.

Hence, whatever spin the grovelling mainstream media put on it, the BN got a bloodied nose. Not only were the results a disappointment, they were downright disruptive to the BN’s not-so-secret plans to hold snap federal elections.

But the real loser of the whole election was Najib. For the first time, the hitherto local flavour of Sarawak’s state elections was nationalised by the PM’s ‘1Malaysia’ and ‘Economic Transformation Programme’ (ETP) that he highlighted in an attempt to divert electoral attention away from Taib’s alleged misdemeanours.

Painfully for Najib, his campaign failed. What he got instead was a vote of no-confidence in his government’s 1Malaysia policy outlook and ETP. It also highlighted the BN’s continued inability to fulfil its commitments to the rule of law and international standards of good governance in the face of powerful regional warlords.

Clearly, Najib made a grave error of judgment in attempting to use the April state elections to unseat Taib. It remains to be seen whether (or rather when) Najib will be made to pay for this grave political miscalculation.

BN’s dirty campaign

In keeping with its current ethos, the BN ran an unabashedly dirty campaign against the PR coalition, and especially against Parti Keadilan Rakyat since PKR, being a genuinely multi-ethnic party, poses the greatest threat to the supremacist politics of Umno and the BN.

Significantly, the BN did not rely on the party machineries of its coalition members (i.e. PBB, SUPP, PRS or SPDP) to run its election campaign. In fact, very little of any BN party machinery was even seen let alone involved in this campaign. Instead, the BN simply ‘utilised’ (i.e. abused) federal and state government resources in their campaign. The BN’s 4Ms -. the official media, public money, civil service machinery and muscle (i.e. intimidation, both subtle and overt) – were blatantly deployed in the campaign.

The mainstream media campaigned for the BN while Bernama, the State Information Department and the Home Ministry handled BN public relations and management of the media. From over a year ago, public resources were already deployed by the state government via its Sejiwa Senada (SS) programme to campaign for the BN. This SS road show, which travelled through every division in the state, aimed at bridging the supposed communication divide between the state government and the people by showcasing the PM’s 1Malaysia slogan of ‘Rakyat Didahulukan, Pencapaian Diutamakan’. But in fact, the SS programme was nothing more than electioneering before the elections.

Not to be outdone, other agencies like the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry also got into the act. They distributed tens of thousands of bags of organic fertiliser free to rural farmers. All the bags came clearly emblazoned with a blue and white dacing symbol – as if to remind all recipients that this generous farm input assistance was a gratuitous BN handout that had to be reciprocated during elections. Similarly active in rural areas throughout the election campaign were numerous other government agencies like the education department, JKR, District Offices, Kemas, Jasa and Tekun.

Under the guise of benevolent government allocations, there were the usual ‘politics of development’ announcements and distribution of billions of ringgit in ‘instant noodles’ infrastructure projects, rumah mesra rakyat, program bantuan rumah, flat upgrading allocations, new hospitals, rural basic infrastructure projects, new roads and upgrading works, rural electricity supply, flood mitigation projects, resettlement funds, new bridges, more consumer cooperatives, agriculture subsidies, transportation subsidies, poverty eradication programmes, poverty alleviation welfare transfers, free Rela uniforms and boots, free 4G broadband, free Astro decoders and TV sets, mission school allocations, boat licences, land grants, land titles, TOL leases, pre-school education assistance, free dinners, song and dance entertainment, gifts of tupperware, new university, new community college, prefabricated suraus, 1Azam Home Managers Programme, etc. to secure voter support in favour of the BN.

And if that was insufficient, there was also the more insidious overt direct cash handouts of public funds. Stunningly, even the Registrar of Societies reportedly handed out RM10000 cheques to various civil society groups throughout Sarawak during the election campaign “for their contribution to social development” (The Star, 15 April 2011). If the Malaysian Insider (16 April 2011) is to be believed, even well-known government-linked companies like ‘Maybank, Utusan Malaysia, New Straits Times, PDRM, EC, Pos Malaysia, AirAsia, etc.’ were also involved in supporting the BN throughout the campaign. Indeed, the same report estimates that the BN spent a cool RM500m in this election campaign!

Grey cash handouts also occurred just before Election Day with the Malaysian Insider (16 April 2011) alleging that identity cards were going for RM1000 in Miri. As well, the Sibu Election Watch alleged that SUPP was involved in vote-buying by paying RM500 to voters (Malaysiakini, 27 April 2011), while a bounced cheque of RM5000 given to a headman in Tamin (Sarawak Report, 20 April 2011), and RM300 offered to a Ba’kelalan voter attested to the widespread use of cash by the BN as electoral inducements (Malaysiakini, 30 April 2011). Other anecdotal evidence also suggests that cash was distributed to voters throughout the length and breadth of Sarawak to influence the polls. In Tupong constituency, one influential person received a cheque of RM15000. Voters in Kg Atas, Singai, Bau received RM30 on polling day. In Sungai Baron, Sarikei, voters were given RM100 on the night before polling day. In Muara Tuang, Samarahan, voters received RM10 as a handout after a ceramah. Little surprise then that PKR alleged that BN won votes by using notes (Malaysian Insider, 27 April 2011). These reports were undoubtedly, only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Of course, there was also the sordid sex video released in KL by ‘Datuk T’ to coincide with the elections. This video was widely viewed on iPads in rural areas during the elections. But there were also other despicable, disgusting, perverse and libellous posters and flyers (many without any printer or publisher identification), which were put up and distributed by unidentified people. All these posters and flyers were deliberately designed to malign and smear PR leaders in an effort to undermine electoral support for PR.

Even the internet was not spared. Massive and sustained DDOS attacks were launched by vaporous cyber-terrorists against popular internet media sites like Sarawak Report, Malaysiakini, Harakah Daily and Merdeka Review while TM Streamyx inexplicably suffered sporadic interruptions of service throughout parts of Sarawak on polling day itself. Without doubt, the objective of all these attacks and disruptions was to deny the electorate access to alternative non-mainstream news.

Of course, the Elections Commission, true to its ‘high standards of professionalism’ and commitment to being ‘efficient and transparent’, did not notice anything irregular about this ‘model’ election (The Star, 23 March 2011).

And yet, against all these odds, PR – and especially PKR – made significant gains.

Pakatan’s impressive gains

Although PR failed to take over the government or break the two-thirds majority of the BN in the state assembly as it had hoped, it nonetheless made impressive gains.

Running in 15 constituencies, the DAP won 20 per cent of the popular vote increasing its share by 5.14 percentage points (14.86 per cent from 12 seats in 2006). PKR, running in 49 constituencies won 17.4 per cent of the popular vote, increasing its share by 8.81 percentage points (8.4 per cent from 25 seats in 2006). Pas contested five constituencies and secured 1.44 per cent of the popular vote, increasing its share by 1.14 percentage points (0.3 per cent from a single seat in 2006). Overall, the total popular vote won by PR (excluding Snap) increased by 15.1 percentage points to 38.9 per cent (23.8 per cent in 2006). Given the BN’s onslaught against PR, these were remarkable gains; one that would have been even more striking had the election been free and fair, which of course, it was not. (See Table below – click to enlarge.)

Ultimately, PR’s success boiled down to organisation and preparation. The DAP ran an extremely slick, coherent and organised campaign, complete with a ragingly popular soft-toy mascot, Ubah, to lead its charge. Their speakers were all well informed and highly entertaining. They commanded huge ceramahs and collected large donations to fund their campaign. Their posters and billboards were spot on and noticeable everywhere. Similarly smooth on the ceramah-trail were Pas speakers like Kelantan MB Nik Aziz Nik Mat and Perak MB Mohamad Nizar Jamaluddin. Pas also flew in many party workers from the peninsular in waves to assist the rural campaign of their five candidates. They were tightly organised and moved systematically in their rural constituencies on a house-to-house, village-to-village campaign. But the real contrast relative to previous campaigns was seen most clearly in PKR.

PKR’s coherent campaign

Compared to previous efforts, Sarawak PKR ran an impressively coherent campaign during this election. This coherence was amplified given the meagre human and financial resources at their disposal. Numerous party branches were set up throughout the state over the last one year with many party talks and functions organised to popularise PKR and to spread its political struggle especially among the rural population. Strikingly, as the elections drew near, Sarawak PKR even organised a few training workshops for all their potential candidates so as to better prepare them for the election campaign. PKR’s national leadership also came over to Sarawak many times to assist them in their overall campaign preparations. And importantly, Sarawak PKR had a small local media/strategy team to help organise their electoral campaign and party website.

The party also received implicit support when various local indigenous NGOs concerned with native customary rights (NCR) land, poverty and rural development issues used the elections to educate the rural electorate about the importance of voting for parties that would address these concerns. These NGOs collectively invested in the mass production of CDs and YouTube video clips and flyers of the same – which they distributed widely throughout the state – that serendipitously supported the party’s Sarawak campaign. As well, Sarawak PKR received support from various reform-minded international media like that of Sarawak Report and Radio Free Sarawak.

Additionally, more experienced PKR MPs and Aduns from the peninsular were paired up with local candidates to work with and assist them in their campaigns between nomination and polling. This was a very empowering strategy for many local candidates who had enthusiasm but not necessarily campaigning expertise or experience. There was also good information collaboration between PKR’s central office and that of Sarawak in the production of various campaign brochures. And during the campaign, seamless overall coordination was provided by the presence of a youthful but well-oiled PKR coordinating team from KL that worked closely with the small Kuching media/strategy coordinating team.

Campaign weaknesses

Unfortunately, despite their best plans and preparations, Sarawak PKR’s campaign did not bear expected fruit, primarily due to the BN’s overwhelming onslaught. However, some internal weaknesses of the Sarawak PR coalition and PKR also affected the campaign.

Seat negotiations among Pakatan coalition members were difficult and resolved very late. An eleventh hour PKR-DAP seat swap decision resulted in the dropping of the Padungan PKR incumbent. Worse, moribund Snap did not seem genuinely keen on strengthening the coalition. Instead, they undermined it via their untenable seat demands. Consequently, Snap-PKR seat negotiations failed, resulting in damaging multi-cornered contests.

Additionally, each coalition partner contested their select seats with little regard for coalition solidarity and the pooling of campaign resources. Once a party was allocated a seat, it was very much left to its own organisational devices. This proved debilitating when PKR contested 49 seats (to deny the BN any nomination day walkover) with little burden-sharing from its coalition partners.

Also, insufficient cooperation among Pakatan partners was perceived. Specifically, finalisation of the common Sarawak PR manifesto was puzzlingly left till after nomination day. Given the brevity of the election campaign, many PKR candidates were unable to deploy its contents effectively in their local campaigns.

Internally, factionalism within PKR affected their campaign as well since it drained much electoral energy. Consequently, many constituencies were insufficiently organised and individual campaigns lacked preparation. Contrastingly, PKR’s success in Ba’kelalan, Batu Lintang and Krian reflected campaign machinery that was very well organised on the ground. Furthermore, their candidates were well known locally. Crucial preparatory electoral work and the selection of local party workers were undertaken and completed early on by the prospective candidates. Even Telang Usan and Senadin, which PKR lost narrowly, were relatively well organised.

Finally, despite their best efforts, Sarawak PKR was unable to raise sufficient funds for the election campaign in a state where elections are prohibitively expensive. Accordingly, the ground campaign of many individual candidates floundered dysfunctionally.

Challenges going forward

Still, it cannot be denied that PKR made major inroads in this Sarawak election. Going forward, it now faces a new set of challenges if it is to play a major role in building up the Pakatan Rakyat coalition, deepening democracy and establishing a viable two-party system in the state.

Key is the internal management of factionalism within the party. Ignoring the problem is not a solution. Instead, PKR needs to manage factionalism head-on and build compromises that will assist its progress forward. As well, PKR needs to make firm long-term commitments to ongoing renewal. Functioning branches need to be established (or revived) to conduct ongoing voter education and to disseminate PKR’s political views. Committed, locally-based and preferably more youthful and professionally qualified members need to be recruited for these purposes. Local fundraising also needs to be built into this renewal process of the party.

Finally, understanding, cooperation, trust and effective working relations within the Sarawak Pakatan Rakyat coalition needs to be developed. After all, it is the nature of coalition politics that there should always be differences and difficulties to be managed. With visionary leadership and sufficient commitment to shared purpose, Sarawak Pakatan coalition policy would speak with one voice, and for the people.

Andrew Aeria works in a local public university and is an Aliran exco member.

Anwar believes Pakatan is ready even without him

Syed Jaymal Zahiid | May 29, 2011

He said Pakatan was already a solid united pact with potential young successors including Azmin who he said may be brash in his "stunts" but more than capable to lead.


SUBANG JAYA: Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim is confident in Pakatan Rakyat’s second tier of leadership and discounted the notion that the pact will collapse in his absence.

Speaking at a closed door dialogue session with young professionals here, the PKR de facto leader said the pact was armed with young and more than capable leaders that can take Pakatan forward should he be convicted and jailed for sodomy.

“Once you’re prosecuted you’re already damned,” he said laughingly to some 150 people who attended the forum.

Anwar is currently facing trial for allegedly sodomising his former aide, a charge he claimed was engineered by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and wife Rosmah Mansor.

Anwar’s persona, attributed to his charisma and moderate liberal politics, is seen as the binding force in the Pakatan coalition rife with infighting.

The top leadership appears to be gelling well but much of their ideological differences remain conveniently buried for now and Anwar’s possible incarceration would possibly break Pakatan.

Whether or not the bloc is ready for future without Anwar remains unknown. While it is likely that Anwar has identified his successor, Azmin Ali who is now PKR deputy president who happens to be his blue-eyed boy, observers say the latter lacks the calibre to lead and hold Pakatan together.

But the opposition leader claimed Pakatan was already a solid united pact with potential young successors including Azmin who he said may be brash in his “stunts” but more than capable to lead.

“Sometimes when the (current) leadership is too strong, we tend to not see the potential of second tier leaders,” he said, referring to rising political starlets like PKR strategic director Rafizi Ramli and communications director Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad who is also Seri Setia assemblyman.

He said this in reply to a youth during the forum who urged Pakatan to move away from its dependency on political icons and based their struggle more on ideologies.

Anwar added that differences and open spat in Pakatan was part and parcel of a democracy which he said the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition was bankrupt of.

“Do you see any quality MPs in Umno or BN? Sometimes when I’m in Parliament and I look at them (sighs),” he said, drawing laughter from the audience.

Youth must act on their own

The lack of real capable leaders in the ruling coalition was due to the much widely yes-man culture in BN and this, said the opposition leader, has contributed much to the nation’s political and economic woes.

Anwar urged the young to take matters into their own hands and suggested various possible ways to join Pakatan’s struggle for change, such as exploiting social medias like Facebook and Twitter.

“We have the numbers. We can never lose this battle. Every time one of them make a racist statement you should counter them,” he said, in reference to the escalating racial attacks on non-Malays by rights groups like Perkasa and Umno-owned Malay daily Utusan Malaysia.

Racial and religious tensions have reached fever high as hawkish elements within BN’s malay lynchpin intensifies its hardline communal politicking in the run up to the national polls tipped to be held year end.

The opposition leader said the youth holds significant power and could be a catalyst to a government change but they must first arm themselves with information.

To facilitate this, Anwar said he is currently working on a programme called the “Rakyat Empowering Programme”, an extension of Pakatan’s existing alternative policies with emphasis on the “democratisation of access to quality education”.

‘Solid proof to declare S’wak polls null and void’

Athi Shankar | May 30, 2011

Banned activist says rampant vote-buying was a well-oiled operation involving the chief minister's office.


GEORGE TOWN: A political activist said he has visual and documented evidence to prove that rampant vote-buying in the recent Sarawak polls was a well-oiled plot from the very top.

BK Ong, who was deported from Kuching last Tuesday, claimed he has the evidence which revealed cheques and vouchers to voters were issued from the Chief Minister’s Office.

“The evidence is strong enough to declare Sarawak polls null and void,” said Ong, a coordinator of the Malaysian Election Observers Network (MEO-Net).

Ong claimed that BN candidates were the main culprits in buying votes with monetary payments to secure ‘default’ victories.

He said he had the evidence where voters in rural long houses were paid RM50 to RM100 each before polling day and another RM400 to RM500 each after.

“We have taped confessions from voters of receiving the money from candidates. We also have cheques and payment vouchers to prove our case,” said Ong.

He has already submitted the evidence to the Election Commission to back his claims on vote-buying.

MEO-Net is independent election watchdog formed in 2009 to coordinate civil society work on voter and democracy education, election observation and voter registration.

Ong was deported on May 24 from Kuching by Sarawak immigration authorities. No reasons were given.

Ong, who had been frequenting Sarawak without any difficulties, was stopped by immigration officers at the Bengoh Dam security post last Tuesday morning.

He was in Sarawak to expose what the group alleged were infringements and malpractices in the recent state election.

Mockery of democratic process

Ong has now engaged a Sarawak-based lawyer to sue the state immigration authorities for deporting him.

“I was not given any valid written reason for the deportation. It was a clear violation of my citizenry rights,” Ong told press conference in his office here last night.

He also slammed Sarawak civil servants for defying a civil service order that prohibited them from joining BN politicians in their election campaign.

He said throughout the 10-day campaign period, civil servants, including state secretary Mohamad Morshidi Abdul Ghani were seen together with BN politicians.

The state’s polling day was on April 16, while nomination day was on April 6. PBB-helmed Sarawak BN retained the state government with 55 seats, while the opposition got 16 seats.

Ong said he had a copy of an order from the public service department issuing directives to all civil servants in Sarawak not to be seen involved in the election campaign.

Even Election Commission chairman Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof had issued similar directives during a closed door meeting with civil servants in the run up to the polls.

“However, the state secretary and district officers were seen together with BN candidates. The district officers were among those selected as returning officers for the election.

“They have clearly defied the order and acted unprofessionally. This has raised suspicions of possible bias, making a mockery of the democratic process,” said Ong.

He also said the media should have played a pro-active role in exposing the involvement of civil servants and rampant vote-buying during the campaign.

“If only the media had consistently highlighted the issue, the Sarawak polls could have been much fairer and cleaner,” he said.

S'wak CM's office 'issued cheques to buy votes'

Susan Loone
May 30, 11

Malaysian Election Observers Network coordinator Ong Boon Keong has revealed more damning evidence of alleged vote-buying in the recent Sarawak elections, following an equally controversial video exposé of the alleged offence on May 26.

NONEOng is giving the authorities two weeks to act, failing which he will initiate a nationwide campaign to mobilise voters in rejecting all candidates who have a similar 'strategy' in mind for the coming general election.

He revealed photocopies of vouchers dated March 25 and 27 purportedly from the Chief Minister' s Office, showing that a payment of RM15,000 had been made to members of a longhouse and RM1,000 to another recipient.

Ong, who has been involved in registering voters in the interiors of Sarawak since 2009, said he was reliably informed by local observers that the payments were made after the dissolution of the state assembly on March 25.

He claimed that cheques for various amounts that tallied with the number of voters in each longhouse had been distributed at the Selangau BN office to about 200 tuai rumah (longhouse chiefs).

NONE"The purpose is for the longhouse chiefs to distribute RM500 per door. The cheque was to be cashed, the chiefs were told, after the BN candidate won," he told reporters in Penang last night.

"On the eve of polling, there was a round of cash payments to individual voters, with each receiving RM50 or RM100. For example, in the Rumah Unban longhouse, the payment shown in the video was RM50 per voter."

Ong said the payments are questionable as they were “indisputably” meant to pressure voters to vote for a particular candidate.

His team also came across elements of deceit because multiple cheques had bounced, for example, due to spelling mistakes in the recipients' names.

Ong stressed that Tamin BN assemblyperson Joseph Mauh Ikeh's claim that the money was to subsidise transport expenses cannot stand against the more credible account of vote-buying by local observers.

"Mauh also called it a 'consolation' (sagu hati) payment to the voters. He should be told that such payments blatantly violate the Election Offences Act 1954, as they amount to bribery whether or not the voters eventually voted for him.

"Mauh's argument that 3,000 voters voted for his opponent does not mean that he did not try to induce voters to vote for him.”

'Gross criminality'

Mauh, the Parti Rakyat Sarawak vice-president, had shot down the allegations, clarifying that the payments were a “transport allowance” for voters to get to polling stations, or an allowance for those involved in campaign work like putting up posters.

NONEOng had earlier released a video recording showing cash purportedly being distributed to voters in the Tamin state constituency, which was retained by the BN.

He said he finds the matter troubling as the money was from the allocation for the development budget administered by the Chief Minister's Office.

"As polls were called following the dissolution of the state assembly, any allocation from the state coffers to advance a candidate's campaign amounts to criminal theft!" he exclaimed.

joseph mauh ikeh tamin mp 270511Building on Mauh's (left) remark that payments may have been issued to voters in all 71 constituencies, Ong said the total amount of public funds used for the Sarawak BN campaign would amount to an astounding RM208 million for 979,796 voters.

The money needed to buy votes for Tamin alone, he noted, would amount to about RM2.6 million for 12, 224 voters.

"This amounts to gross criminality against the state and inordinate unfairness to the opposition (which has) no similar access to public funds," said Ong.

"More seriously, election results significantly distorted by vote-buying are unrepresentative of the real choice of the people and are therefore invalid.”

Last week, Ong was deported while on a visit to Sarawak in connection with the state election. He was not given a reason.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Do you have a burning issue you wish me to highlight in the Dewan Undangan Negeri?

The first sitting of the Sarawak DUN will be soon.

Please write to me if you have an issue which you would like to highlight. Email me at keadilan.kenyalang@gmail.com BEFORE Saturday the 4th of June.

Thank you.

Baru Bian

Friday, May 27, 2011

ARE YOU A REGISTERED VOTER?

If you are 21 years old or older, a Malaysian and holding a blue identity card, you are eligible to vote.


Where to register?

Any post office in Malaysia. You can also go to the Election Commission Office in Kuching at the 11th Floor, Bangunan Sultan Iskandar, Simpang Tiga.


How to register?

Bring your I.C., fill in the voter registration form (your name, address, gender, I.C. number) and sign it. Then submit it to the officer.


Is it as easy as that?

Yes.


How long will it take to have my application processed?

About 3 months.


How do I know if I am registered after I have submitted the form?

After 3 months from the date of your submitting your form, you can check with the Election Commission. Or go to the Election Commission's website and check online. This is the online page for CHECKING ELECTORAL ROLL


Is there a fee I need to pay to register?

Definitely NOT! Registration is FREE as voting is the responsibility of every citizen.


When is the deadline for registration if I want to be eligible to vote at the coming General Election?


Wednesday 15th June IF election is held in the last quarter of the year (i.e. October 2011 onwards) or later. If it is held earlier, then only registrations done within the first quarter of this year will be eligible.

You can still register after 15th June but you will only be eligible to vote in 2012.

So register BEFORE 15th June.



More information is available at the Election Commission website:

Bahasa Melayu version

English version


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Penan rapes: S'wak ticked off for inaction

Ang Ngan Toh
May 27, 11

Police and the Sarawak government got a lashing from Wanita PKR today for their inaction on the rampant cases of timber workers raping Penan women and girls in the Upper and Middle Baram regions.

The latest involved a 20-year old girl who had been repeatedly raped by an Indonesian logger since early this year, Wanita PKR national vice-chief Voon Shiak Nie said in Kuching today.

"The girl came to know the Indonesian man in her village in Ulu Baram, where he worked as a logger. It was reported that he coaxed the girl to follow him to Miri on the pretext of finding her a job.

NONE"Instead, he raped her repeatedly," Voon said, adding that a police report had been lodged with the Miri police last Monday.

Voon said the girl said there had been similar cases of rape involving other women in her village.

Only after Wanita PKR chief and Ampang MP Zuraida Kamaruddin highlighted such cases in Parliament during a session last year as well as lodging police reports, did the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development carry out an investigation.

The task force that conducted the probe released its findings last year, but only showed 14 cases of such offences.

Authorities just refuse to take action

Voon said Wanita PKR tried to hand over a copy of the task force report to Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu, who is in charge of Penan affairs, after he said he had not received the ministry's report, but he refused to accept it.

She said Wanita PKR had passed over copies of the ministry's findings to several state ministers and also handed over a letter on the exploitation of the Penan women to the prime minister's wife, Rosmah Mansor, when she was in Kuching last year.

NONEThe refusal of the authorities to act on the ministry findings or the complaints of the victims led an independent NGO, the Penan Support Group, to conduct its own investigation, which revealed another seven cases of rape of Penan women and girls.

The PSG report titled A Wider Context of Sexual Exploitation of Penan Women and Girls in Middle and Ulu Baram, Sarawak, Malaysia, carried out with Forum-Asia and the Asian Indigenous Women's Network (AIWN), revealed that sexual attacks on Penan women and girls was systematic and widespread.

The problem, the fact-finding mission found, was endemic to the Middle and Ulu Baram regions where several logging companies operate.

Voon, who is a lawyer, said no one has so far been investigated or charged for the crimes against the Penan women and girls.

She also criticised Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu Youth leader Fadillah Yusof for not acting on the wing's promise last year to collate information on the rape of Penan women and girls in order to help the police to prosecute the culprits.

Newly-elected Telang Usan state assemblyperson Dennis Ngau said recently there had been a surge in the number of male foreigners in the interior areas of of Baram because of the expansion of the oil palm plantations and logging activities.

PKR denies being in financial quandary

Syed Jaymal Zahiid | May 27, 2011

The party's secretary-general stresses that the eviction issue concerns the building's landlord and not PKR's coffers.


PETALING JAYA: PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution denied allegations that the party is in a financial quandary as the opposition lynchpin faces eviction from its current headquarters.

The Machang MP maintained that the core problem with the eviction is the building’s landlord as the party has been prompt in paying rent.

“We are not in any financial problem. It is the owner who has a problem with the bank as we have been paying rent without fail,” he told FMT.

PKR is facing possible eviction from their headquarters located in upmarket Merchant Square Tropicana here after the building owner failed to service the bank loan.

According to news reports, a bank auction notice has been put up near the Merchant Square premises, and the auction price of the building is estimated to be between RM460,000 to RM1 million per unit. The auction is slated for June 9.

It is learnt that PKR is paying close to RM20,000 monthly to a company called Ainb-Tech Sdn Bhd to rent the premises. The PKR headquarters takes up eight floors.

Some party leaders like vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar and former deputy president, Syed Hussin Syed Ali, have questioned the timing of the auction, hinting at a possible government conspiracy to harass PKR by whatever means.

BN conspiracy?

PKR is currently locked in a legal battle with the Registrar of Societies (ROS). PKR has been accused of breaching the party constitution when it sacked a member without valid reasons and is facing the prospect of de-registration. June 9 is the date of hearing for the case.

“PKR may have to relocate, the building we are renting will be auctioned. ROS sent a letter to shut down the party. Enforcement dates for both are on June 9. Coincidence?” said Syed Husin on his Twitter posting.

Saifuddin, however, refused to be drawn into the speculation and insisted that the eviction mess is limited to the problem between the bank and the landlord.

“Of course when the building owners face this problem, the tenant will be the one feeling the impact,” he said.

The PKR secretary-general said the party has a “Plan B” and reiterated treasurer-general William Leong’s statement yesterday that the party is also considering relocating.

“In the worst case scenario, we relocate. It’s not a problem,” said Saifuddin.

Leong said yesterday that PKR is now planning to buy the premises when the bank auctions it next month.

Another option is for the party to rent its current premises from the new owners.

PKR has changed its headquarters several times, from Phileo Damansara to Shah Alam and then in 2008, from Brickfields to the current site.

PKR gears up for snap polls, machinery activated

Joseph Sipalan
May 27, 11

While a July date for snap polls remains speculative, PKR is not taking any chances as it began getting battle ready should the 13th general election actually take place in the next few weeks.

The opposition party held a two-day retreat in Port Dickson for its top leadership and political bureau members with special attention focused on its nationwide polls campaign.

Vice-president Tian Chua said the retreat - which ended yesterday - is the start of the party's push to complete their polls preparations before July.

“The retreat centred on policy issues such as our (campaign) machinery, training of election volunteers, our website and mobilisation,” he said when contacted.

NONETian Chua was sparse on details surrounding the two-day retreat, though he did not disagree when asked if the top leadership will now embark on a state to state tour to get their party machinery up to speed.

“Definitely, part of our preparation is to consolidate (the party machinery) in every state,” the Batu MP said, without revealing much else.

Fellow vice-president Fuziah Salleh was equally tight-lipped on the retreat, playing down its significance by describing it as a “regular” political bureau meeting.

“This was not the first time we discussed the general election at our meetings. This was just an extended meeting of our regular political bureau meetings.

“We went through and updated our checklist, basically making our final checks so that we are prepared, considering that snap polls could be called as early as July,” she said.

Anwar's non-stop schedule

Inside information, however, indicates that the retreat was a culmination of months of effort aimed at getting the party's machinery at both the national and state levels geared up for snap polls.

A source close to the party's top echelon revealed that there was more than one reason behind PKR de facto chief Anwar Ibrahim's nationwide anti-slander campaign, which followed the expose of a sex video allegedly involving a man resembling the charismatic leader.

NONEThough stopping short of confirming Anwar's tour doubled as training for the party's machinery in each state he visited, the source admitted that it was more than just prepping the ceramah circuit for their leader.

“His (Anwar's) schedule has been non-stop over the past few months, and everywhere he went the state machinery would be mobilised... you gauge for yourself,” the source said.

It is also understood that PKR leaders from Sabah and Sarawak attended the two-day retreat, fuelling speculation that seat negotiations were raised.

This appears to go hand in hand with claims that the main Pakatan Rakyat partners - PKR, DAP and PAS - have already started negotiating about seats in case the general election is called this year.

Anwar himself fanned such speculations when he told Malaysiakini in an exclusive interview that he expects snap polls to be called as early as August this year.

However, if the general election is to be called this year, Pakatan-led Selangor and Penang have vowed not to dissolve their assemblies as their governments have only been in power for a little over three years.

This will allow Pakatan to focus on the parliamentary election instead of having to defend these two key states as well.

PKR rubbishes HQ eviction claim, confirms it is entitled to tenancy rights

Written by Stan Lee, Malaysia Chronicle

PKR has rubbished a news report alleging that it was in danger of being evicted, but confirmed that bankers had put up its rented headquarters for auction after the owner failed to pay the loan instalments.

"If the auction is successful, the new owner would still have to fulfill the tenancy contract or pay us compensation. So to say we are being evicted is gross misreporting and exaggeration," party vice president Tian Chua told Malaysia Chronicle.

He also confirmed that PKR had been offrered by first priority in the auction as they were the existing tenants.

PKR is currently renting two units of five-storey shophouses with at monthly rentals averaging RM2,000 per unit or between RM10,000 and RM20,000. The ground floor and lower units costs more.

Owner did not pay, not PKR

However, the owner or landlord has not been servicing the loan and the bank has issued an auction notice for June 9. The property is located in Merchant Square, Tropicana, Petaling Jaya.

“We are only renting. The landlord didn't pay. It is not our loan so we don't owe any banks. We're only the tenant. I don't know why they didn't pay. Maybe the landlord had problems with their other businesses and couldn't service their loan,” Malaysiakini reported William Leong, the Selayang MP and PKR treasurer, as saying.

“We can continue renting from the new owner, or we can buy the property ourselves.”

The auction reserve price has been set at RM460,000 to RM1 million per unit.

William and Tian declined to name the owner of the property but confirmed that it was not former member John Soh Chee Wen.

Soh, a disgraced businessman, had left the party after falling out with top leaders during the PKR polls last November.

Soh had backed Zaid Ibrahim for the PKR deputy president's post, which was eventually won by Gombak MP Azmin Ali. A former Umno member, Zaid has also left PKR and is now the head of his own KITA party.

- Malaysia Chronicle

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pakatan MPs say subsidy cuts timed for snap polls

May 26, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, May 26 — Several opposition lawmakers today shrugged off the government’s decision to postpone fuel and gas subsidy cuts as a political decision timed for the coming general election.

They reminded Malaysians that the cuts were inevitable as the government had already complained of a burgeoning subsidy bill, which is expected to double from RM10.32 billion to RM20.58 billion this year.

Nik Nazmi said the general election must be ‘very near’. — File pix
PKR communications director Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad scoffed at yesterday’s Cabinet decision to postpone the cuts, saying it was “typical BN (Barisan Nasional) propaganda”.

“Elections must be very near, then. They have done this so many times. They play good cop, bad cop... first they say the government desperately needs to cut subsidies. Then, Cabinet meets and decides to relent, saying they will not impose cuts,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

He predicted that once elections are called and should BN stay in power, the government would immediately slash subsidies according to plan.

DAP leaders Nga Kor Ming and Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham agreed with Nik Nazmi, pointing out that the country was struggling under the burden of its national debt and a budget deficit.

“It is obvious that elections are near and from what they say, there is no question over their intention to increase prices of gas and petrol soon. I think it is a political decision,” said Ngeh, who is DAP deputy secretary-general.

“They (government) are facing a financial crisis and cannot continue paying for subsidies any longer,” said Nga, the DAP national assistant treasurer.

The Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders maintained that the administration was going about the subsidy issue in the wrong way, saying the government should instead focus on cutting its own expenditure instead of burdening the people.

Ngeh pointed out that by cutting corruption in government procurement deals, the administration could slash its expenditure by at least 40 per cent for many projects.

Nga said the government was facing a financial crisis and could not continue paying for subsidies any longer.
For example, the Beruas MP claimed that the government had spent more than RM2.4 million to build SJKC Ayer Tawar in his constituency whereas he had successfully built SM Methodist for merely RM1.3 million.

“Fact is that government projects are often at least 40 per cent or 50 per cent than the actual cost because of all the sub-contracts given to government cronies.

“Imagine, if we can slash our spending by 40 per cent for every project... so if we have RM50 billion worth of projects, we can save RM20 billion and this could be used to subsidise the poor,” he said.

Nik Nazmi urged Malaysians to stand up for themselves by staging an uprising to protest against unfair government policies.

“Through the ballot boxes, through social media, and even on the streets... through protests and demonstrations. It is time to tell the government that enough is enough.

“They must remember that they are the ones affected, especially the working class, the lower middle class, they are being squeezed. You do not even need to own a car and drive to feel the pinch — just walk into a mamak shop and order a glass of teh tarik,” he said.

Putrajaya deferred its decision to slash subsidies for RON95 petrol and liquefied gas petroleum following a Cabinet meeting yesterday but no deadline was imposed on the postponement.

Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Donald Lim however said today that Malaysia will review fuel prices if the price of oil rises to US$110-120 per barrel.

Investment research firm AmResearch recently estimated Putrajaya is now subsidising at least 90 sen per litre of RON95 versus the intended 30 sen per litre after global crude oil prices surged to US$99 per barrel from US$79 per barrel last year, matching the US$100 per barrel recorded in 2008.

Petrol subsidies will push the government’s fiscal deficit over the projected 5.4 per cent of GDP towards six per cent if RON95 is kept at the current price of RM1.90 per litre for the rest of the year, AmResearch noted.

Video proof of ‘vote buying’ in Sarawak

Tashny Sukumaran | May 26, 2011

MEO-Net coordinator Ong BK believes he was given the marching order because of his probe on electoral misconduct in the Sarawak polls.

VIDEO INSIDE


KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Election Observer’s Network (MEO-Net) claims to have uncovered evidence of vote buying and threats following the recent Sarawak election.

“A longhouse chief in the Tamin constituency admitted on video that he received three cheques totalling RM10,000 on April 13 from an assistant of a Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate,” MEO-Net national coordinator Ong BK said today, adding that the video was on YouTube.

He listed various other instances of vote buying, for amounts ranging from RM20 to RM300 in Belaga.

Ong also said that a voter from Belaga had been threatened by a teacher who said that if she voted for the opposition, her children would be denied welfare aid from the E-Kasih state government programme.

The full list describes seven examples of electoral malpractice, some of which are on video.

According to one example, “about 100 Ibans from Rassau and Bawang Assan gathered around a SUPP party office in Bawang Assan to demand the balance payment of RM400 for each voter as promised by the longhouse chief of the area”.

The longhouse chief, according to an interview conducted with a voter, refused to pay on the grounds that the Ibans had voted for the opposition.

The voters had allegedly been given RM100 each prior to polling.

Ong, who was deported from Sarawak yesterday, claimed that if the authorities were to investigate further, they would find that there would be more cases of corruption.

He urged the Election Commission (EC) to take action under the Election Offences Act.

He criticised the EC for leaving the prosecution of these cases to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), which has “publicly stated that it refused to investigate on the grounds that it only enforces the Anti-Corruption Act”.

Stifling dissent

Sarawak immigration officers caught up with Ong in Bengoh on Tuesday and ordered him out of the state.

He entered Sarawak through Bintulu on May 21, but 10 officers stopped him at the Bengoh dam security post this morning and escorted him to the immigration office in Pending.

MEO-Net said Ong was in Sarawak to expose alleged infringements and malpractices in the recent state election.

He suggested that he was deported because “some politicians don’t like me for exposing vote buying and abuses of power”.

MEO-Net was formed in 2009 to coordinate civil society work on voter education, election observation and voter registration.

It intends to consult lawyers to challenge the deportation order by the Sarawak Immigration Department.

Meanwhile, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) condemned the deportation, saying it was an outright abuse of power by the Sarawak government and an attempt to stifle dissent.

Bersih 2.0 chairperson, Ambiga Sreenevasan, demanded that the state government make public a complete list of individuals barred from Sarawak and the reasons for denying them entry.

Under the Malaysia Agreement, Sarawak has the power to bar anyone from entering the state, including persons from Peninsular Malaysia.

Bersih chief sues Taib over deportation from S'wak


Kuek Ser Kuang Keng
May 26, 11

Bersih 2.0 chief Ambiga Sreenevasan has filed a suit against Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud challenge the latter's order to deport her from Sarawak during the last state election.

The suit, filed in the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Monday, named Taib, the director-general of the Malaysian Immigration Department and other relevant authorities as respondents.

Ambiga, who is former Bar Council chairperson, told reporters today that a date had been fixed to hear the application for leave in July.

She chose to file the suit in the peninsula and named the Immigration DG as respondent because the Immigration Act stipulates that the latter has overall responsibility over immigration affairs in the whole of Malaysia.

"He can't just wash his hands off," she added.

"I request the court to quash the deportation order because it was an abuse of my constitutional rights and it constituted an abuse of power," she said.

Ambiga was the fourth activist to be barred during the course of the 10-day Sarawak election campaign last month, after activists Steven Ng, Wong Chin Huat and Haris Ibrahim were similarly stopped at the Kuching Airport and sent back to Kuala Lumpur on the next flight.

NONEThe latest victim was Malaysian Election Observation Network coordinator Ong Boon Keong.

Ong was detained by Kuching Immigration officials during his visit to Bengoh on Tuesday and deported to Kuala Lumpur the same night.

Both Ambiga (second from left) and Ong (left) were present during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur this morning to address the deportation issue and the coming Bersih 2.0 mega-rally on July 9.

Ong said he was in the process of filing a similar suit in Sarawak to challenge his deportation.

"I'm talking to some lawyers in Sarawak who are keen to take it up, but I have no written document on my deportation. Everything was just conveyed to me orally (by the immigration officials).

"They have never made a charge against me or justified their actions. There was no reason, no accountability or whatsoever," Ong added.

Sheer arrogance of the Sarawak government

Ambiga lamented Ong's deportation as a total abuse of power and sheer arrogance on the part of the Sarawak state government.

"None in the government has made comment on this matter. None of them think there's anything wrong with it.”

She said the fact that 10 Immigration officials had been deployed to detain Ong showed how they used the power that they thought they had.

The Bar Council's human rights committee chairperson Andrew Khoo, who was also present at the press conference, demanded that the Sarawak government answers how the five activists had threatened the security of the state that led to their deportation.

"In the context of the federal constitution, the power of deportation is to protect the security of the federation.

"National security is not not keeping the government in power... maybe the Sarawak government thinks keeping itself in power is part of Sarawak's security," Khoo said.

Meanwhile, across the South China Sea, the Sarawak-based NGO Movement for Change Sarawak (MoCS) expressed support for Ambiga's legal action against Taib.

NONE"These NGO activists from the peninsula have every right to enter Sawarak.

“The deportation is another desperate act of Sarawak chief minister to prevent concerned citizens coming to the state to educate the people on the corruption and abuses of the chief minister and his administration," MoCS leader Francis Siah (above, left) told Malaysiakini.

"Ong has been working very hard in Sarawak during the election. His only concern is to ensure free and fair elections. He has no other personal motive, so why should a good man like Ong be deported from Sarawak?

"Ambiga, Wong, Steven and (the human rights lawyer who was barred from entering Sarawak) Haris (Ibrahim), are all forthright Malaysians who care a lot about the country. They have every right to enter Sarawak," Siah added.

Congratulations, Jabu!

Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu admits the state does clear forests to plant oil palm as part of efforts to wipe out poverty. But hang on a sec, says Philip Khoo; what happened to RM19bn in logging royalties that the state should have received from a hundred million trees chopped down?


A Toastmasters International district governor presenting a souvenir to Jabu (second from right) - Photo credit: The Star


The official standard line in international forum is to flatly deny that Sarawak has cleared primary forests to plant oil palm.

Until 21 May 2011, that is.

On that day, long-standing Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu Numpang, defiantly admitted that Sarawak does clear forests to plant oil palm, excusing it on the grounds that it is to assist in poverty eradication (See Malaysiakini report.)

And he should know, at least as far as the part about clearing forests for oil palm is concerned. He is also state Minister of Rural Development.

His ability to pronounce on the latter, poverty eradication, would be questioned by some unkind souls who think he should be titled more appropriately Minister for Rural Under-Development – in the sense of under-development introduced by the great South American intellectuals in an earlier era of development thinking. Those South American intellectuals knew all about under-development, as their countries’ household incomes covered the whole range from the richest in the world to the poorest.

All guns firing, indiscriminately

As he was speaking on the occasion of the opening of the Toastmasters’ International District 87, it is to be hoped that the Toastmasters toasted him appropriately for his candour, if not for the quality and content of his speech.

An earlier generation of Orang Ulu, specifically Kayan, would have known how to have toasted, parap, him, lacing their toast with loaded messages of praise, filled with double meanings.

For of course Jabu did not only admit to the policy of clearing forests for oil palm, he came out with all guns firing — if indiscriminately.

He lambasted the foreign NGOs for their hypocrisy in forgetting the history of their own countries’ environmental degradation and suggested that they should pay compound interest for the environmental loans their forefathers had taken, before they are allowed to open their mouths to condemn Sarawak.

In doing so, he somewhat lost the plot, as these NGOs are trying to make up for their forefathers’ environmental sins, not only at home, but globally. Amongst their number are persons who, at home, have chained themselves to old growth stands, or lived in them, to prevent their destruction. There are campaigners against more highway development, against polluting industries and against the export of polluting industries to developing countries.

Losing the plot – magnificently

Meanwhile, it is the Sarawak Government that is lusting after the true heirs of those — those eager to capitalise on what they expect to be cheap energy from the dams, so that they can claim they are using “clean” energy for their polluting industries such as aluminium refineries.

But we can safely leave the NGOs to defend themselves — and indeed many of them would only be happy to see their countries pay for their previous and ongoing contribution to global climate change.

Jabu truly lost the plot when he claimed that forest clearance in Europe, the United States and Australia had to do with poverty eradication, just as in Sarawak.

Instead, in at least the United States and Australia, as in Sarawak, it was the natives who paid the price, including the ultimate price of hunger, disease and death, for forest clearance which was — and is — to make a select few gloriously rich in the shortest possible time as they raped nature in the name of development.

He lost the plot in magnificent style in trying to justify oil palm development in Sarawak as poverty eradication, pointing out that the 1.2 million people in rural Sarawak still lacked basic infrastructure.

Hang on, logging didn’t wipe out poverty

And he quietly omitted to mention whatever happened to that previous hare-brained scheme for development — logging — with apologies to hares.

By official statistics, Sarawak chopped down over 370 million cubic metres of logs between 1980 and 2006. Since up to 40 per cent of the tree goes to waste, this amounts to something like 620 million cubic metres of trees. That is a lot of trees: if we estimate a tree to average 6 cubic metres, that’s something like 100000000 trees* — one hundred million trees! — and that’s not counting all the trees that are damaged irreparably by logging activity.

Let’s be conservative and use the present royalty of RM50 per cubic metre to estimate that these 370 million cubic metres of logs would have resulted in about RM19bn in royalty over the years.

RM19bn in royalty — not counting all the other revenue that logging contributes to — and Deputy Chief Minister and Minister of Rural Development Alfred Jabu Numpang says that rural Sarawak is still lacking in basic infrastructure? Whatever happened to the RM19bn? Did others just numpang on it, while the rural people saw the forests disappear before their very eyes?

Others will be better qualified to estimate the kilometres of roads, or numbers of schools or hospitals, or telephone coverage possible with RM19bn over 25 years, or RM760m a year on average – although it is pertinent to point out that Sarawak has the lowest road index in the country, much lower than even Sabah.

What is clear is that rural Sarawak still subsists on dangerous logging roads, and has little telephone coverage. Schools are provided by the federal government, and although there’s a fairly generous number of rural primary schools, secondary schools remain a different story altogether with 12-year old kids having to go to towns as boarders to be in secondary school. Hospitals are also provided by the federal government, but in the interior of Sarawak — using electoral districts as identifiers: Ba’kelalan, Batu Danau, Telang Usan, Kemena, Kakus, Belaga — there are no hospitals, despite a promise to Belaga 15 years ago!

And Jabu expects oil palm to do the trick?

So, logging didn’t do the trick, and now it’s oil palm.

But wait: the overwhelming proportion of oil palm in Sarawak is in estates. Besides those owned by the companies from Malaya such as Sime Darby, IOI and the like, the rest are owned by… yes, the same logging companies that raped the forest. Again, the rural people watch the palm trees grow on former forests, much of it their native customary rights (NCR) area, and the most they can expect is to become labourers at, at best, RM20 a day. This is supposed to bring development?

Let’s name the companies, or at least the “Big Six” — Samling, Shin Yang, Rimbunan Hijau, KTS, WTK and Ta Ann.

The first two, Samling and Shin Yang, are known to have between them, over 2 million hectares of forest concessions, much of it now under so-called license planted forests, which include oil palm, and all still counted as part of the state’s permanent forest estate.

Presumably, the others too have similarly large concessions, with KTS, under the guise of KTS-Pusaka, a KTS-Sarawak State joint venture, also having an estimated 500000 hectares slated for oil palm plantations, stretching from Belaga all the way to the Tutoh. (Just in case there are those who think, well, KTS-Pusaka is all right, as the pusaka is the people’s pusaka, the caution is to reserve judgment in a state where PPES Works, or Perbadanan Pembangunan Ekonomic Sarawak Works is not, as the name suggests, a state-owned company but a subsidiary of Taib-family owned CMS Bhd, while another listed private company, Sarawak Plantations Bhd (SPB), got at least part of its plantation area from the closure of state-owned Sarawak Land Development Board (SLDB).)

Well, it appears that at least Penangites have derived some development benefit from Sarawak’s deforestation. PenangFon, admittedly a much better broadband service than Streamyx, is owned by Rimbunan Hijau. Apologies for any moral dilemma this raises for environmentally- and people- conscious Penangites.

* To help visualise what a hundred million trees are, let us assume that all logging is carried out according to law and that the average tree has a diameter of 50cm. Then, one hundred million trees, side-by-side at the trunk, would come to 50000km. They would circle the earth at the equator and have 10000km left over!

Philip Khoo, a keen observer of Malaysian politics, is a regular contributor to Aliran