Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Its really unbelievable; Taibs family controls Sarawak
Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund’s revelations of Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s billion dollar business empire is not going to let-up in 2012.
LOOKING AHEAD 2012
By Jessica Dacey
After two decades of environmental campaigning for Malaysias Penan tribe (in Sarawak) the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) is stepping up its fight against local political corruption.
BMF remains one of the few non-Malaysian organisations still campaigning on behalf of the Penan, an indigenous people living in some of the worlds most biodiverse forests in Sarawak on the island of Borneo.
Two-thirds of its forests have been destroyed in recent years for logging or to build palm oil plantations.
Now the BMF is targeting the political powers behind these developments.
BMF has spent the past 11 years carrying on the fight launched by its charismatic founder Bruno Manser, a Swiss activist, who lived among the Penan for six years and introduced peaceful road blocks in a bid to stop logging.
He set up the BMF on Dec 7, 1990, but disappeared on a trip back to Sarawak in 2000.
A Basel (Switzerland) court declared him missing and presumed dead in 2005.
The BMF says it has been making progress in the past 20 years despite most of the primeval forests being cut down.
We have been successful in Sarawak in keeping the campaign going, keeping resistance against logging going, in terms of helping the local indigenous communities to get organised and to empower them to do the right things themselves, and to know also that they have rights to their land, that they have a right to have a say about their livelihood, said BMF director Lukas Straumann.
Dictator-ship like rule
As well as land mapping and setting up a pre-school and healthcare facilities, BMF have also helped the Penan take several land right cases to local courts and raised awareness of the situation elsewhere in Europe.
But faced with Sarawaks dictatorship-like rule, it hasnt been enough to make a significant change, the organisation says.
Our biggest concern today is that the same government is still in place in Sarawak, as it has been for the past three decades, and the same family rules that state of Malaysia and its a kleptocratic form of governance, Straumann said.
The family in question is that of Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, who Straumann says controls politics, the economy and the media. Taib is also the minister in charge of finance and planning.
The BMF website regularly reports on allegations of corruption in Sarawak. In February it launched an online campaign against Taib and 48 blacklisted companies.
The campaign stepped up a notch when BMF recently published a list of 332 companies in Malaysia with ties to Taibs relatives, many of whom are directors or shareholders.
Another 101 such companies are located elsewhere in the world.
BMF gathered the information from company records and registers and tried to find patterns. Dissecting the data further they found that Taibs four children were involved in 342 firms worldwide.
Its really unbelievable. They are basically controlling the whole state, Straumann said.
The BMF also alleged that the Taib family is hiding assets abroad. Probes into alleged illegally gained assets are being carried out in Switzerland and Britain.
Kickbacks and hidden assets
Straumann said the time had come to widen their approach.
We think corruption is one of the main drivers of environmental destruction in Borneo and I think it is also true in other countries.
So I think its really important for us as an environmental and human rights group to see the broader picture, he said.
In a way after having run campaigns for 20 years we had to ask ourselves why these campaigns at a local level are not successful.
The Malaysian government and Sarawak government in particular have not given in at all. And then we found out its all about corruption, he added.
Taib has denied taking any kickbacks or hiding assets abroad. He maintains deforestation is being done in the name of much needed development.
Straumann said Bruno Manser himself had tried to take on Taib but became depressed when he realised Taib was too powerful.
As well as its anti-corruption campaign, over the next year the BMF will also be looking closely at 12 dam projects in Sarawak which it says would flood villages and be devastating to the Penans livelihood.
This is an excerpt which originally appeared in swissinfo.ch