Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sarawak’s shame

by P Gunasegaram
3:05PM Mar 22, 2013
QUESTION TIME It is a common thing in Malaysia for many politicians to live way beyond their means. And although there are ways and means to check anyone’s wealth simply by tracking down their assets, these people live in relative peace being troubled neither by the police nor by their conscience.
The anecdotal evidence has been there that corruption is a great problem, especially grand corruption of which virtually nothing has been done. And this has been greatest in Sabah and Sarawak where those in power live with fabulous riches and are associated with other rich, but often infamous people.
Even for someone who expects that all these corruptions routinely take place, the recent graphic revelations about Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud’s family members and the ease with which NGO Global Witness was able to obtain video recordings damning them was shocking to me.
If you have not seen the video yet, go here to look at it. It is a case of such blatant complacency, arrogance and cockiness showing that the perpetrators were super confident that they could get away with such things.
The story and reactions to it had been carried in Malaysiakini over several days and while there was public outrage, the official reaction to the entire issue was muted.
Here, they were an array of people from Taib’s close relatives, to those who claim to be close to him, filmed as they discussed with a bogus investor planted by Global Witness on how to obtain land illegally, log it and then plant it with palm oil.
That they were so ready to reveal such details, which showed how they would break and circumvent laws to people who must have been total strangers to them, must indicate that they are not even cautious about these things, reflecting their belief that they are above the law and untouchable.
The sad thing is that in Malaysia, where everything is possible, they may well be right. Malaysians have seen pictures and videos before. None have brought anyone to account. Pictures of lawyer VK Lingam taking a holiday with Chief Justice Eusuff Chin did nothing to either party while Lingam caught on video talking to a ‘senior judge’ about fixing cases also came out empty headed.
A sex tape caused Chua Soi Lek’s resignation as Health Minister in 2008. He also resigned from his MCA positions. But now he is MCA president – the party delegates seemed to have forgiven him.
Rich, but still so poor
That aside, it is easy to understand why Sarawak has some of the richest people in the country, and yet is one of the poorest states in Malaysia.
Basically, land, forests and natural resources are Sarawak’s greatest estates. But what is happening is that acre upon acre of it is being assigned over to logging companies, and once they are logged over, they become palm oil land. In fact, oil palm growers look upon Sarawak as the last frontier for getting land in Malaysia.
Global Witness says that Sarawak exports more logs than South America and Africa combined!
In collusion with the authorities who get a cut from each deal, tycoons get the land for logging first, and then in the second stage, they are turned over for oil palm and other crops. Very little of the wealth of the land gets into the state government coffers because they are offered cheaply in return for direct gratification to those in authority. The video from Global Witness shows how it is done in considerable detail.
And it emerges that much of the money crosses hands in neighbouring, otherwise squeaky-clean Singapore, which has done a grand job of cutting corruption in its country, but has no compunctions about getting into its system money corruptly obtained from neighbouring countries.
But at the end of the day, the blame is clearly ours. How can we continue to tolerate such blatant, grand corruption in our midst? Do we have so little moral courage that we are no longer shocked into action by these repeated plunderings of everyone’s resources?
Perhaps part of the lack of outrage is the fact that much of it is not reported outside of the online media, with most mainstream media having close ownership and other affiliations with ruling political parties.
Going by what has happened in the past, the most likely outcome of this latest video and its revelations will be expressions of shock and promises to investigate. When the dust settles down, everything is forgotten and life returns to normal with yet another episode of a major wrong not righted.
But every such intentional lapse of memory and corresponding action adds yet another point towards the day of reckoning. If the reversal of this process does not take place and the dam continues to build up, it is only a matter of time before it bursts.
Such enrichment of a few and the corresponding impoverishment of the majority always has only one result – disaster for everyone.
~ Malaysiakini

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