Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Sarawak Timber Mafia’s Global Menace

The Sarawak Timber Mafia’s Global MenaceSarawak Report has researched the global reach of Sarawak’s timber mafia and we can reveal a web of logging interests that have spread into every remaining tropical timber region of the planet.
Rimbunan Hijau timber bound for Australia in Papua New Guinea.
Rimbunan Hijau timber bound for Australia in Papua New Guinea.

This extraordinary penetration by Sarawak’s top timber companies is the result of the system promoted by the Mahmud regime, which funnelled virtually all the profits from logging an entire country into the hands of just a few companies.

The big 6 have been Samling, Rimbunan Hijau, WTK, KTS, Shin Yang and Ta Ann and they have all been intimately linked in business to Taib Mahmud himself and his own family.

With the enormous profits made in the 1980′s and 90′s from logging these companies were able to buy their way into other wilderness areas, using the same corrupt methods that served them well in Sarawak. These include ingratiating and bribing local politicians and officials; thuggery against tribal landowners and side-stepping protective legislation against indiscriminate logging.

Time and again these and other Sarawak linked enterprises have been accused of such practices from Latin America, through the Congo to the Far East jungles of Kalimantan, Tasmania and Papua New Guinea. 

Illegal logging – the Sarawak template
Protesters in Long Teran, Sarawak
Communities protested against a palm oil company in Long Teran Kanan, Sarawak.
In Sarawak itself, thousands of indigenous people have lodged police reports, complained to the state government or filed court cases against companies for illegal logging.

Most cases have been ignored by the authorities and it is the communities and native rights lawyers who have to battle their case through a slow and reluctant justice system.

Now, these very companies are operating in the same way across the globe, greedily grabbing land and oppressing local communities.

These Malaysian companies seem to be particularly insensitive to the law, human rights or the environment. Where others might hesitate for the aforesaid reasons, Sarawak’s ruthless and experienced timber tyrants are landing like locusts.

Rimbunan Hijau, run by the Sibu billionaire and Taib crony Tiong Hiew King (whose brother is a federal MP), have been fined by the Brazilian environment agency for possessing illegally logged wood and investigated by the country’s Federal Prosecutor for its role in the illegal log trade.

The same company has also been frequently fined for violating environmental regulations in Soukpal, Russia and on the island of Vanuatu and accused of performing the “worst logging seen in any tropical forest” and providing poor workers conditions in the Solomon Islands. 
The Solomon Islands, stripped bare by companies such as Rimbunan Hijau
The Solomon Islands – stripped bare by companies like Sarawak’s Rimbunan Hijau.

Likewise, Samling, run by another billionaire crony of Taib’s, Yaw Teck Seng, has been internationally condemned for environmental destruction in regions such as Guyana in South AmericaCambodia and Papua New Guinea.

In 2012, companies linked to Samling were exposed for grasping nearly a quarter of the largest remaining area of the Liberian rainforest.

Their partner in that scandal, which involved abusing a system of local permits for forest dwellers, was Taib’s own cousin, Hamed Sepawi, who has his own local record of destruction as the main shareholder of Ta Ann in Sarawak and of numerous other enterprises and oil palm plantations.

In January 2013 the Samling/ Sepawi partnership was finally kicked out of Liberia by Presidential decree. The Executive Order, which was announced by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stated that:
“the report issued by the Special Independent Investigating Body has revealed that there have been massive fraud, misrepresentations, abuses and violations of the National Forestry Reform Law in the issuance of Private Use Permits to the extent that this inter-generational asset has been severely threatened….because the mismanagement of the PUPs poses a threat to the efficient, effective, and sustainable management of our forests, it is imperative to impose a moratorium to protect the national interest”
Samling is closely linked to Sarawak’s former Chief Minister and current Governor Abdul Taib Mahmud. Taib’s cousin and well known proxy Hamed Sepawi is a major shareholder of Samling as is his Bomoh(witch doctor) Ahmad bin haji Su’ut. 

Gangster tactics at home and abroad
Minggat Anak Nyakin – beaten and strangled by gangsters in 2012.
Minggat Anak Nyakin – beaten and strangled by gangsters in 2012.
Sarawak Report suggests that it is time the international community took note of the menace presented by the Sarawak timber mafia, not just in terms of environmental destruction, but to ordinary people who are being affected by violence.

Logging companies in Sarawak often employ gangsters to threaten and intimidate indigenous communities who try to resist encroachment on their land.

This gangsterism has been able to flourish due to a virtual media blackout on the issue and a refusal by the authorities to act.

It is not uncommon for communities to see truck loads of gangsters turn up at their village and threaten them with guns or parangs. 

In 2012, we covered how Minggat Anak Nyakin and his son Juan Anak Minggat were beaten to within an inch of their lives by gangsters who were teaching them a lesson for protesting against the destruction of their lands by loggers.

Last year it was the turn of the dwellers in Melikin, including Surik Anak Muntai, who was beaten up badly and just this week, photographs have emerged of thugs attempting to intimidate indigenous protesters at the Baram dam blockade.  
Surik Anak Muntai – beaten up as he picked up his son from school – had led the protest against loggers in Melikin, Sarawak
Surik Anak Muntai – beaten up as he picked up his son from school – had led the protest against loggers in Melikin, Sarawak

The problem was referred to in Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) own report in 2011, which revealed how in Sarawak:
 “there were complaints on the use of thugs by companies, and biased police and field force personnel to threaten people”  
Publication of that report was later suppressed to spare embarrassment.

Now, in Papua New Guinea (PNG), logging company WTK has been identified using similar tactics.

An Oxfam report published in April of this year, reported that communities in Terubu, East Sepik Province were complaining of bullying by WTK:
 “They went to every household and family unit, forced them to write their names down on the forms. Only one week was given and they did it by force….Foreigners forced us to sign consent forms, then they destroyed our forest”. 
Likewise, Sarawak’s Rimbunan Hijau are notorious for destroying vast tracks of forest and causing human rights abuses in Malaysia as well as Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Vanuatu, Indonesia, New Zealand and Russia.

They dominate the logging industry in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the company has been accused of hiring police in West Pomio, New Britain Island to intimidate indigenous protesters. These communities say that the police were bankrolled by Rimbunan Hijau and have terrorised indigenous communities:
 “The police have mistreated the locals by abusing them with sticks, fan belts, telling them to sit in the sun for five hours, swearing at them, arriving in the villages at night forcing them to sign papers with the people not understanding the content, tying their hands to their back, and commanding them to run in the hot sun.” 
Riding into Baram - these thugs were snapped trying to intimidate the local blockaders.
Riding into Baram – these thugs were snapped trying to intimidate the local blockaders.
Forced Removal 
Lina Gawai from Bumbu, PNG stands where her home used to be.
Lina Gawai from Bumbu, PNG stands where her home used to be before Rimbunan Hijau forcibly removed her community.
This is another tactic against natives that Sarawak’s timber tycoons learnt about first at home.

Thousands of indigenous people in Sarawak have been forcibly removed from their native lands to make way for giant hydroelectric dam projects, which ultimately financially benefit Taib Mahmud, his family and cronies.

Just this week, SUHAKAM visited indigenous communities who have been resettled in Murum and highlighted the unacceptable conditions that they have been left with. 

Many natives displaced by the Bakun Dam have built floating homeson the side of the river as they are unhappy with their resettlement conditions. 

Most communities have complained of unfair compensation packages, or are still waiting for compensation.

Likewise, in April of this year, Rimbunan Hijau came under international scrutiny for forcibly removing indigenous communities in Bumbu Settlement in Lae, PNG.

These communities are now living in tents after being moved from the land they have been living off for the past 40-50 years. A court case is currently underway against Rimbunan Hijau and PNG Forest Products.  According to local organisation ACT 
NOW, one female villager stated that:
 “They treated us like animals and we know our human rights have been violated to a great extent”.
It is certainly an attitude that rings familiar to the rural people of Sarawak.

Women and children’s rights

Despite the Malaysian Government ratifying the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Government has failed to address serious human rights concerns related to indigenous women and children in Sarawak. 
Penan communities in Sarawak have been complaining for years that their families are being abused by loggers
Penan communities in Sarawak have been complaining for years that their families are being abused by loggers

There have long been reports of systematic rape and abuse by loggers against indigenous women in Sarawak, but the Government have refused to take action to protect them or conduct a proper investigation.

In a BBC interview in 2009 BN MP James Masing even stated that the Penan are ” very good story tellers”.

Sarawak’s logging companies have shown identical lack of concern elsewhere in the world.

The 2011 film “Bikpela Bagarap (Big Damage)” by David Fedele uncovered the tragic environmental and social destruction carried out by WTK subsidiaries Vanimo Forest Products and Amanab Forest Limited in Sanduan Province, PNG.

WTK own the one supermarket in town, the hotel, gaming machines and the sawmill. They control the shipping and fuel, whilst Rimbunan Hijau own one of the only two national newspapers.
Malaysian loggers accused of using and abusing native women
Malaysian loggers accused of using and abusing native women

According to the report, many young women are forced into prostituting themselves to the Malaysian loggers to survive and that many cannot afford to send their children to school.
“Some children go to school, some don’t have school fees so they stay back in the house. If our fathers don’t work or get enough hours there is no money so the children don’t go to school, and there is no food. Education is very bad because of this.”  
 “Some of them [the loggers'] give money. They give money to some young girls to bribe them just to sleep with them. They give them a baby, leave the women and go back to Malaysia.”  
We say that it is time the world woke up to the Sarawak logging menace and the huge capital base that has propelled it into these communities.  Even the forests of Australia, the wilderness of Tasmania have proved easy prey for the familiar tactics of the clear cutting Malaysians.

Hamed Sepawi, Taib’s cousin and business proxy, has ingratiated his way into the political life of the state and caused outrage through a series of questionable deals that have permitted his company Ta Ann to destroy huge areas of forest marked for protection.

The game is corruption and the consequences of greed are always ugly.

~ Sarawak Report

Suhakam hears and sees empty promises made to Murum Penans

Last updated on 29/06/2014 - 19:05
29/06/2014 - 18:00
Anna Chidambar

KUCHING: The plight of the suffering Penans who had to make way for the Murum Dam in Sarawak has been reconfirmed by Suhakam commissioner James Nayagam.
Nayagam who visited the displaced community recently managed to witness first-hand the horrendous situation they are in and the “empty promises” made to the Penans by the state government.
For starters, the Suhakam commissioner acknowledged that the access road to the resettlement areas was in deplorable condition. When it rained, it became inaccessible even to 4WD vehicles to ferry the children to school.
One of the most obvious results of the poor road condition during rainy weather was the high absenteeism of students at the primary school SMK Tegulang which is located a few kilometres away from the settlement.
According to Nayagam, the headmaster and assistant headmaster of the school told him about high absenteeism among pupils due to the unsafe roads during a heavy downpour and had proposed that a hostel be built near the school to overcome the problem. Currently, there are 120 children and 15 teachers in the school
The disgruntled community at the two resettlement areas of Metalun and Tegulang voiced their list of grievances which included lack of schooling facilities, inadequate infrastructure, pathetic living conditions and lack of a proper access road to the Suhakam commissioner.
Nayagam’s visit, facilitated by Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB), was to enable Suhakam to make hands-on evaluation of the real conditions in the resettlement areas.
Save Rivers chairman Peter Kallang, who has been highlighting the plight of the communities that have been displaced and are being threatened by the ongoing HEP dam building activities in Sarawak, said that Suhakam’s visit was positive.
“We are happy that the team from Suhakam can see the problems with their own eyes and tell the world about it. This is tangible evidence that all the grand promises made by the government are just rhetoric to hoodwink the people in order to make sure that the dams are built.
“We have visited the people in the resettlement areas and we know that they have a litany of complaints and I can’t understand why their plight is being ignored. If the Murum dam is an example of all future dams in Sarawak, it is a scary prospect. The Murum settlements are just another example of broken promises and shabby management,” he added.
“People in Baram must never be duped by all the glorious promises of better livelihood in the so-called ‘Bandar Baru’ which is made to sound like the mythical Shangri-La. But as proven from the past dams, the government is not sincere in fulfilling its promises. All it wants is to get rid of the villages and villagers and use their ancestral land to build mega dams”, Kallang warned.
Sadly but inevitably, the people who benefitted from the mega dams projects were not the natives who sacrificed so much in making way for the dams.
“Just look at the experience of the people who made ways for Batang Ai Dam, Bakun Dam and now Murum Dam. Some landowners from the first dam built in the state, Batang Ai dam built in the 1980s, have yet to receive their rightful compensation until today,” he claimed.
According to Nayagam, there were many unfulfilled promises the community brought up and he had assured the villagers that Suhakam would meet other NGOs as well as relevant government agencies to look into the issues raised.
Among them were the monthly cash allowances, electricity supply, promised farming land and poor housing structure with no proper waste disposal system and lack of playground facilities for children.
They currently receive RM250 cash allowance and RM600 food allowance monthly, but they complained that the supply and delivery of foodstuff was inconsistent and would prefer a RM450 cash allowance and RM400 food allowance.
They also requested for a 24-hour electricity supply compared with the current supply through generator from 6pm till midnight. The community had yet to receive 15 hectares of land per family and agriculture farming assistance, which was promised before construction of the Murum Dam began.
Another issue raised was that the longhouses at the resettlement areas had structural defects and there was also no proper refuse disposal system for household refuse.
The construction of the RM3.5 billion Murum Dam in Belaga was completed last September and scheduled to be generating full 944MW capacity by February next year.
A total of 353 families were relocated to Long Wat at Tegulang resettlement site, located approximately 20km from the dam, and Metalun resettlement site, about 130km from the dam, since September last year.
Under the Murum Resettlement Action Plan, the affected communities are to receive items worth more than RM600,000, including 15 hectares of land per household for community and agricultural purposes and forest access to wildlife and forest produce of a total area of up to 20,000 hectares.

History and Constitution prove we are a secular state, says interfaith council

Published: 29 June 2014
 Malaysia is becoming more and more an Islamic state in which the rights of non-Muslims are increasingly trampled upon, say religious leaders. – June 29, 2014.
Malaysia is becoming more and more an Islamic state in which the rights of non-Muslims are increasingly trampled upon, say religious leaders. – June 29, 2014.

The national interfaith council has weighed in on the debate on whether Malaysia is a secular state and if hudud should be implemented in the country, pointing to historical evidence and provisions in the Constitution which dispel any doubts that the nation’s founding fathers had intended the nation to be a secular, not an Islamic state.
Citing historical documents such as the Alliance Memorandum submitted to the Reid Commission in 1956, and the white paper issued by the British government in June 1957, the council pointed out there was no historical document to contradict the fact that Malaysia was intended to be a secular state.
The Alliance Memorandum was jointly submitted by Umno, MCA and MIC to the Reid Commission and specifically stated that they wanted a secular state, although the religion of the state was to be Islam.
These assertions were made by Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikkhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) president Jagir Singh in response to a recent statement by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom that Malaysia was not a secular state.

Jamil Khir had also said that the formation of Malaysia was based on the Islamic administration of the Malay sultanates and that the Malay sultans were heads of Islam in their respective states.

Jagir said that a secular state did not mean that religion and the state were completely separate.

"For example, countries like Turkey and Indonesia are grounded in Islamic principles but are secular.

"Therefore Malaysia can be described as a secular country with Islam as the religion of the federation but where Islam does not form the basic laws and where the Constitution is the supreme law," he added.

According to Jagir, Article 4(1) also made it clear that the Constitution, not shariah law, was the supreme law of the land.

He added that the words Islamic law and shariah courts were not even found in the 1957 Constitution.

"The Muslim courts were renamed Shariah courts in 1976 by amending Schedule 9, similarly 'Muslim law' was amended to read 'Islamic law'.”

As such, Jagir said the interfaith group was against any plan to implement hudud in the country.

He said the council was concerned that its implementation would undermine the consensus reached between the different communities, as well as the Constitution and fundamental rights, including freedom of religion.

"It will turn this country from a parliamentary democracy into Islamic theocracy and under this, God's law is supreme, which means the Quran and Sunnah become the reference points, not the Constitution."

He added that of the 57 Islamic countries in the world, only a dozen have implemented hudud and they did not include the two most populous Muslim nations – Indonesia and Bangladesh.

"The conditions are not suitable for the implementation of hudud in Malaysia because it would require a pious society that is honest, and because when the punishment is meted out, it is irreversible," he added.

Federation of Taoist Associations of Malaysia president Daozhang Tan Hoe Chieow said the process of Islamisation began in 1980s as a political response to the inability of the Malay Muslim mind to come to terms with the pains and pitfalls of moderation and hyper modernity.

"This created the need for fundamentalist Muslims to retreat to a safer zone of religious comfort by calling for the imposition of cultural laws like shariah and its instrument of control, which is hudud," he said.

Malaysia Hindu Sangam president Datuk R.S. Mohan Shan said that even without hudud, non-Muslims were being oppressed as many institutions were turning a blind eye in cases of conversion of children, child custody cases and the raid by Jais on the Bible Society of Malaysia.

"Jais's raid on the Bible Society only proves that they are trying to regulate other religions.
"So even without hudud, there is so much injustice by non-functioning institutions and matters will only worsen if hudud is introduced."

Mohan said it was not true that hudud would not affect non-Muslims in Malaysia, pointing out that Section 52 of the Kelantan Shariah Criminal Enactment stated that non-Muslims could elect to come under shariah law.

"This is clearly unconstitutional as jurisdiction is by law. It cannot be obtained by submission or acceptance," he said.

Council of Churches of Malaysia general-secretary Rev Dr Hermen Shastri said the hudud issue was an example of intra-Islamic contestation taking place in the political sphere.

"Those speaking about these issues are trying to increase their Islamic credentials, while Umno and PAS are trying to out-Islamicise each other," he said.

Hermen said what was more urgently needed in the country was for a fair, transparent and accountable system of governance.

"We don't even have this in our country," he said.

PAS had previously announced plans to introduce two private members’ bills in Parliament this month to allow it to enforce hudud in Kelantan.

However, it postponed the tabling of the bills, explaining that it was to give sufficient time for a joint Putrajaya and Kelantan government committee to study the implementation of the shariah penal code.

Notwithstanding that, PAS has maintained that it was determined to implement hudud.

The private members' bills would have allowed the Kelantan government to enforce the Kelantan Shariah Penal Code II, which was passed in 1993 by the state assembly. – June 29, 2014.