Sarawak’s Demokorupsi

By Pak Bui

The desecration of the huge Rejang river by wasted logs and driftwood has raised the alarm, throughout Malaysia, about the environmental degradation that has been taking place throughout Sarawak during chief minister Taib Mahmud’s three decades in power.

Even though TV3 and RTM have tried to suppress the news of this ecological and economic disaster, photos and eyewitness accounts have drawn an enormous audience. Shocking photos posted on Hornbill Unleashed drew more than 10,000 views, and many angry comments, over a couple of days.

Yet many rural Sarawakians have already known, for many years, the hardship caused by industrial scale logging. Photos still hang in upriver longhouses of young men standing waist deep in rivers, proudly showing off their catch of huge semah fish caught in clear waters, a decade or two ago. But the murky, polluted rivers no longer provide for them.

Once logging tracks cut into the forests, hunters follow in four-wheel-drive vehicles, using shotguns and searchlights at night. They shoot every animal in sight, for profit or for sport. Forest dwellers need to hunt these animals to survive, but their wild game is being driven beyond their reach. Food security is a thing of the past for many communities.

Sarawak’s celebrated environmental protection laws have never been more than window dressing, because no political will exists to uphold the laws.

Official regulators co-operate with loggers and other polluters, out of fear of their political masters, or because the officials are also on the take.

State forestry and environmental agencies fall under Taib’s direct control as minister of planning and natural resources. Federal authorities ignore the rampant environmental vandalism in Sarawak’s hydro-electric dams, logging concessions and plantations, as long as Taib’s Barisan Nasional (BN) continues to deliver around 30 parliamentary seats in every general election.

Corruption pulls the strings

The reason for our public officials’ inertia over the environmental destruction in our state is simple. Corruption has taken over the day-to-day running of our state. Politicians and government officials make fortunes from logging companies, dam builders and plantations.

The government tells us the rotting wood floated down the Rejang from the Baleh, upstream. This is because the polluters in the upper reaches of the Baleh and Rejang – loggers and dam-builders – are immune to the law. These businessmen pull strings, and their puppets in the government, such as James Masing and Len Talif Salleh, wave their hands and talk.

It is revealing that Taib, the minister responsible for natural resources, logging, the construction of the enormous dams, Sarawak Forestry and the NREB, claims to have no idea about the logjam catastrophe. Perhaps he does not care, or perhaps he is incompetent: either way, the minister has an obligation to resign for failing at his job.

There is speculation that Sarawak Hidro may have contributed to the logjam. Sarawak Hidro, owner of the ill-fated Bakun Dam, has been urging Taib to allow it to start filling the dam, since its monstrous losses are piling up by the day. Meanwhile, Taib is stalling until both Sarawak Hidro and the federal government agree to his price and terms for buying the Bakun white elephant.

Bakun is truly a monument to corruption. Mahathir and Taib collaborated to drive the native residents of Bakun off their NCR land and into a dingy reservation in Sungai Asap. Ting Pek Khing and Ekran, former Malaysian premier Mahathir’s favourite contractor, razed the forests in Bakun. Ting was even compensated by the taxpayer for doing so, when Bakun stalled during the 1997 financial crisis.

Now, more than a decade later, the EPF, Sime Darby and the Sarawak taxpayer continue to pay for the excesses of greed, costing well over RM7 billion, commemorated in that ugly wall of cement.

Any contribution of Bakun to the logjam pollution would be covered up, because of the huge fortunes to be earned from milking this white elephant.

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