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‘It’s really unbelievable; Taib’s family controls S’wak’

By Jessica Dacey
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.
After two decades of environmental campaigning for Malaysia’s 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 world’s 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 Sarawak’s “dictatorship-like rule”, it hasn’t 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 it’s 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 Taib’s 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 Taib’s four children were involved in 342 firms worldwide.

“It’s 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 it’s 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 it’s 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

1 comment:

  1. $150 billion of black money a year disappeared from Malaysia, that’s RM 400 million a day.
    Reports: According to the Washington-based financial watchdog Global Financial Integrity (GFI), in 2009 alone RM 150 billion (US$47 billion) in illicit money was illegally siphoned out of Malaysia.
    The latest GFI report, ‘Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries Over the Decade Ending 2009', is penned by economists Sarah Freitas and Dev Kar, who is a former senior economist at the International Monetary Fund. They stressed that these illicit outflows are basically "unrecorded capital leakages through… illicit transfers of the proceeds of bribery, theft, kickbacks and tax evasion." In other words, it refers to corruption money or black money that is obtained illegally and worse, not even re-circulated into our economy.
    All the Tuns, Tansris, Datos, Datuks…, well done!


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