Swiss NGO launches international protest against Sarawak corruption
A campaign website, www.stop-timber-corruption.org, went on-line on Monday, February 21, naming 49 companies in eight countries which it says are "closely linked" to the family of Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud. The site will be regularly updated and equipped with features for an interactive campaign which is hoping to attract worldwide public participation, said the BMF in a statement.
The website alleges 13 Malaysian companies, 10 Australian companies, nine Canadian companies, seven Hong Kong companies, four US companies, three companies on the British Virgin Islands and one company in Jersey as having links with Taib. Although it does not specify what those links are, it claims the amount of money involved represents "hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars."
Among those listed are Sakto, a significant Ottawa-based property developer, Ridgeford Properties, a London property company active in the high-end market, and Wallysons, the owners of the FBI Northwestern Regional Headquarters building in Seattle. Among the Malaysian companies, Cahya Mata Sarawak, the state's largest private company and the Ta Ann logging group are the most notables.
Since 1983, Taib and his immediate family members are reported to have transferred considerable parts of their assets overseas. BMF is pushing authorities of these countries to freeze all Taib assets and to launch criminal investigations against the Taib family.
Taib, one of South East Asia's longest-serving politicians, has been in office since 1981 and is planning to celebrate his 30th anniversary in power on March 26, 2011. The 75-year old will stand as an incumbent for another five-year term of office in the upcoming Sarawak state elections, which are due to be held before July.
Taib, who simultaneously holds the offices of Chief Minister, Finance Minister and State Planning and Resources Minister, "has abused his public office to a frightening extent and has managed to convert the state of Sarawak into his family's private estate," said the Bruno Munser Fund in a press statement.
Sarawak's largest private company, its electricity supply, large-scale logging interests and the control of log exports are also concentrated in the hands of the Taib family, BMF claimed. In addition, Malaysia's "Barisan Nasional" coalition, which forms the federal government, is heavily dependent on Taib's support.
In Sarawak, corruption has long been touted as one of the main drivers of deforestation. While most of the state's forests have been logged or converted into plantations over the last three decades, Sarawak's indigenous communities have seen little, if any, benefit from so-called "politics of development". Poverty, illiteracy and a lack of basic infrastructure are omnipresent in rural Sarawak.
Sarawak's numerous indigenous communities, and particularly the Penan, have struggled since the 1980s against destructive logging and have fought for their land rights but, in most cases, they have been outmaneuvered by the logging companies and their supporters.