What now, Abdul Taib Mahmud? Neither your vast billions, nor thelegal letters from one of London’s more prominent lawyers, were able to stop Swiss NGO Bruno Manser Fund’s executive director, Lukas Straumann, from exposing your terrible legacy.
Taib’s threats and intimidation were unsuccessful, and the book launch of ‘Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia’ by Straumann went ahead as scheduled on Friday, Jan 17, in London.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was not deterred by Taib’s bully boy tactics, when his lawyers tried to stop the broadcast of the interview with Straumann. To make things worse, Amazon has started stocking the book, despite earlier intimidation by Taib’s lawyers who threatened to sue Amazon, for selling what they had termed a “defamatory book”.
At the launch, the main speaker, Straumann, summarised the role of the major players in the deforestation of Sarawak and gave an insight into Taib’s money logging activities, the politics involved, Taib’s family, Swiss activist Bruno Manser, how governments and multinational banks surreptitiously aid Taib, and more importantly, how he (Straumann) became involved.
Clare Rewcastle Brown (left), the founder of Sarawak Report, said former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had criticised Taib and stressed that he should not “get away” with timber corruption.
The only Malaysian panel member, lawyer See Chee How, claimed that he had won all of his land rights cases on behalf of the indigenous people. Sarawak land laws are based on UK land laws, but he stressed that “winning is one thing, the enforcement of the law is another”.
Jetty Word, the director of the Borneo Project, talked about the dams which Taib was building and how these had wrecked people’s lives, for instance, from the ill-effects of polluted water.
Although Rewcastle Brown noted that Mahathir was displeased with Taib, we must question the role of Putrajaya and Taib. One cannot exist without the other. The two are like a growing foetus, linked by an umbilical cord to its mother.
'No BN without Taib'
Most of Sarawak’s petroleum revenue goes to Putrajaya and in return, Taib is allowed to plunder his own nation using timber revenue.
Taib treats Sarawak as his personal fiefdom and Putrajaya is complicit. Putrajaya depends on Taib to deliver BN to Parliament. Without Taib, BN would have long ceased to rule Malaysia, perhaps even ceased to exist.
The current redelineation exercise in Sarawak will create more seats for Sarawak. Mahathir may criticise other PMs for supporting Taib, but what did he do during his 22 years in power. He had the chance to intervene, but he did not.
What about the people? Taib knows that money talks. There are allegations of him bribing his way into power, paying the tuai rumah (village chief) to vote BN, and paying party members to vote for him.
He uses money to ‘compensate’ the tribal people for the loss of their ancestral lands and replacing virgin forest with oil palm. Everything he does is for his own profit. Very little is given back to the people. Taib makes billions from all his ventures, but the people are given only a few thousand ringgits in compensation.
Taib has homes all over the world, but the villagers who are displaced find themselves in shanty towns, far away from their ancestral lands. Deprived of their normal hunting grounds, they can neither cultivate crops, nor hunt. People become ill from having to live with polluted water.
Taib is aware of the historical and sociological background of Sarawak. He practised 1Malaysia long before Najib (right) thought of the idea. Taib capitalises on the harmony of the multi-ethnic races, and he keeps Umno Baru out of Sarawak because he knows that this is his only usefulness to Sarawakians.
The political parties in Sarawak are like the swaying palm trees - one day they are with you, the next day, they are not. Money is useful and Taib knows how to exploit the indecision of the tribal leaders. It is also alleged that Taib grants favours to his cronies and they, in turn, make sure he is kept happy.
Silent Sarawakian majority
Taib sends his children abroad to study, but the folk in the interior do not have that luxury. Children may have to walk or travel by boat for several hours to reach school. The rivers are not just their source of livelihood, but also a means of transport.
That is why children are vulnerable when they hitch rides in timber lorries to go to school.
Look at the manner in which the general populace of Sarawak dealt with the rapes of the Penan girls. What happened to the voices of disgust? Where were the protests in the major towns and cities? The citizens of India voiced their anger when their women were raped and were denied justice.
When some Sarawak leaders claimed that the Penan were good storytellers, the majority of Sarawakians kept quiet.
Taib’s lawyers said that Straumann’s book was “based on an entirely false and highly damaging premise”. When asked to explain how Taib got his wealth, the lawyers gave no information.
Did the London lawyers really believe that Taib had amassed his wealth like another Malaysian celebrity who started saving from her teenage years, to buy diamond rings and handbags? Did the lawyers fall for the story that Taib’s children are intelligent and business savvy, and were able to turn RM1 into a few billion ringgits?
Today, Malaysia’s reputation is at stake. The success of the illegal logging in Sarawak has meant that the Taib timber model is being exported to countries with weak governments. The local people in Cambodia, parts of Africa and Papua New Guinea, are suffering just as the Sarawakians have suffered.
Shame on us Malaysians, for not doing enough to remove Taib and his ilk - be they in Putrajaya or Petra Jaya.
MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO).