Has Taib bitten off more than he can chew?

By Joseph Tawie, Free Malaysia Today

KUCHING: Has Chief Minister Taib Mahmud bitten off more than he can chew with his candid acceptance of Sarawak PKR’s invitation to debate native customary rights (NCR) and allegations of land grabs by the state government?

Taib had agreed to a public debate with state PKR chairman Baru Bian on condition the latter showed ‘evidence’ to back PKR’s allegations.

Taib’s demand for proof, which stumped many in his circle, has opened a floodgate as one NGO after another has come forward to provide Bian ‘evidence’ of state manipulation of native land.

Bian himself is in full knowledge of over 200 NCR cases pending in court and has declared that he had the ‘evidence’ but will only bring it out during the debate.

Last Saturday, Bian invited Taib to an open public debate to clear the ‘confusion’ over the NCR land and claims that the natives were being robbed of their land.

Responding to Bian, Taib said the state government had ‘never’ seized land titles and dared Bian to provide proof of their claim.

Yesterday, Borneo Resources Institute, Malaysia (Brimas) an indigenous peoples and environmental NGO in Miri and the Sarawak Native Customary Land Rights Network (Tahabas) offered Bian their ‘proof.’

In a joint statement, Brimas executive director Mark Bujang and Tahabas president Ramould Siew said: “We in Brimas together with Tahabas are willing to provide the evidence and proof to assist Baru (Bian) and to back our claims that the current state government is taking away NCR land from the indigenous peoples in Sarawak.

“May we remind the Chief Minister that the debate is not about the state government seizing land titles but about it seizing NCR land, which of course are untitled lands.”

Is Taib serious?

In welcoming the debate, they hoped the rakyat will judge for themselves whether the NCR issue is a current and relevant issues or ‘out-dated and a non-issue..’

“We welcome this debate as an important event to educate the people on the NCR issues which are currently affecting the indigenous peoples of Sarawak.

“We ask Baru (Bian) to name the date and venue of the debate and also to urge the government to air the debate publicly in radio and television, ” he said.

The Sarawak Dayak Graduate Association (SDGA) chairman Dusit Jaul said the debate would help the rakyat make ‘informed decisions.’

“The debate should proceed so that the rakyat can listen to both sides of the argument. And from here they should be able to make informed decisions,” he said.

The sceptics however don’t think Taib will go with the debate.

According to local blogger and activist John Brian, Taib should not put a condition on the debate, ‘if he is serious.’

“The fact that he wants Bian to provide evidence first is most illogical. The 200 court cases pending is enough proof. Taib is only looking for an excuse not to debate,” said Brian, who is a leader of Sarawak Dayak national Union.

Repair damage

Sarawak Dayak Iban Association secretary-general Nicholas Mujah agrees with Brian. He thinks the debate will not be held.

“If it does happen then it will be a historic occasion. We want to hear what the Chief Minister is going to say regarding the land grabs of the NCR land.

“As we are affected by the land grabs, we want to hear Taib’s explanation,” he said.