Miranda’s Daily Blog: Day 95
I want to tell you a story about a poor farmer in Sarawak called Frusis Lebi, who has deformed hands and feet and is entitled to RM300 rent per month from the Sarawak government. Frusis put up a flag of political opposition at his house. How did the Sarawak government respond to this? The assistant agriculture Minister Mong Dagang saw to it personally, by instructing the ministry in writing to have Frusis’ government assistance cut off. The Minister defended his actions, reported in The Sun as saying “As a man of principle I’m not going to back out. We cannot continue to give the welfare assistance and subsidies because he is a strong opposition supporter. The welfare aid should be given to more deserving handicapped persons.”
This isn’t my usual blog topic, given it doesn’t have a great deal to do with forests. Though, in Sarawak, everything seems to have some connection to the forest industry…. it’s no big surprise that the minister in question has, according to the Sarawak Report, been caught seeking illegal kickbacks (worth $23 million US) over the sale of oil palm plantations. And has other ties to the logging industry in Sarawak. However, this is not the reason I am sharing this story on my blog. I felt deeply moved by this story when I read it, because it is one personal example of the way in which the corrupt politics in Sarawak impacts on peoples lives.
Reading about Frusis Lebi made me think seriously about the level of corruption that is at play in the homelands of Ta Ann Holdings. And we can’t pretend that Ta Ann Tasmania operates in a vacuum, they are influenced by and benefit from the corruption that occurs in Malaysia. The story above is an example that shows the way in which Sarawak is run like a virtual dictatorship. Chief Minister Taib has held office since 1981. He uses his position and power to create enormous wealth for himself, his family and his associates. Ta Ann Holdings is closely associated with Taib through personal and business relationships. Taib controls the distribution of Sarawak’s logging concessions. Unsurprisingly a vast amount of the concessions end up in his own hands or the hands of his political allies. The money generated from logging is distributed within Taib’s family and his circle of political associates. He is currently under investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in relation to Sarawak’s timber industry. In fact, deforestation has been identified as a major driver of corruption in the state.
So where does Ta Ann fit into all of this? Well, for starters the company’s Executive Chairman is Taib’s cousin, Sepawi. Who also happens to be the Treasurer General of the leading political party, who have contributed to the ethnocide of Indigenous people. Sepawi was also at one time the director of the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation (STIDC), who virtually control the timber industry in the state, including granting timber concessions. Unsurprisingly the STIDC has lucrative business dealings with Ta Ann. Taib uses the connections with timber companies like Ta Ann to increase his own wealth and that of his family.
Sepawi is not only implicated in destruction through Ta Ann’s direct dealings, he is also closely connected to the operations of other companies including Samling and Rimbunan Hijau. Samling have been accused of illegal logging. And their workers have been accused of violence and rape of Indigneous women who live in the area. The company’s response to such allegations was to threatened to cut off the villages transport until the accusations were withdrawn. Sepawi owns 70% of a company called Cayaha Uaya, which is part of the Rimbunan Hijau company, who have been condemned by NGO’s around the world for their practises of illegal and corrupt acquisition of logging license, violations of labour laws and use of violence and intimidation against local landowners and protestors.
This is just some of the levels of interconnection between Taib and the timber industry including Ta Ann, and the corruption that is involved. When Ta Ann set up business in Tasmania where did the money come from? Was it generated through corruption and theft of Indigenous land? And why when the company seems to have so much wealth in Sarawak are they propped up in Tasmania by tax payer funded subsidies and only asked to pay rock bottom prices for timber from our native forests? The Australian Government should be investigating the financial assets of Ta Ann.
If you haven’t already signed the cyber action about Ta Ann, please take a few minutet to do so. The campaign about Ta Ann has moved to a new website. It is now located at www.taann.net Please let others know about the change, so that everyone can keep up to date.
Reading about the interconnections between people in government positions and those running the logging companies in Sarawak reminds me of an announcement that was made here in Tasmania the other day, actually. Anyone heard of Evan Rolley? He has now been appointed executive director of Ta Ann Tasmania. Interestingly he used to be the director of Forestry Tasmania. And in fact wasn’t he the one who coordinated the contract between Forestry Tasmania and Ta Ann in the first place? He is also the director of Forest and Wood Products Australia and was at one time also the Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet. The Greens have criticized the move claiming there is likely a conflict of interest. There does seem to be a strange fuzziness around the borders between the government and the forest industry sometimes in Tasmania, doesn’t there?