As the news about Taib’s top gig in the UK started to break in the astonished host city of Oxford last week, anyone who was anyone in Sarawak was piling into planes (who paid?) to come and applaud the great moment. If you were not invited on Taib’s big trip, then consider yourself out of the picture as far as he is concerned.
For tickets costing £1,000 a head, according to a forest group who enquired, the audience will be entertained with an opening speech by Abdul Taib Mahmud at the University’s Said Business School’s ‘Inaugural Global Islamic Branding and Marketing Forum’ on Monday 26th July. That’s the top slot, courtesy of the University of Oxford.
Champions of justice, freedom, democracy, open government, the environment and indigenous rights, all the great causes espoused by this proud university for hundreds of years, will be left to express their indignation outside. No wonder that the Said Business School is no stranger to controversy!
In order to find out why the school has decided to invite and indeed honour such a notorious individual, Sarawak Report delegated a journalist to make enquiries. The answer would appear to be not unrelated to the hefty sponsorship of the event by the Tanjun Manis Food & Industrial Park, based of course in Sarawak. Tanjun Manis began life as the ‘brainchild’ of Taib Mahmud back in the 1980s as a massive timber processing plant under the State-owned Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation (STIDC). This was where the millions of logs pouring out of Sarawak could be sawn up and processed and then transported to the specially-built deep sea port for loading onto Japanese ships. Those ships were the ones that the Japanese Tax authorities exposed just two years back as having paid millions and millions of ringgit in kickbacks (bribes) to companies controlled by Onn Mahmud, Taib’s little brother, who has numerous business tie-ups with Taib (see previous reports on this site).
Unfortunately for everyone, even Taib, the wood has now run out. If Sarawak had been sustainably logged and the forests had been less greedily managed there would have course been a valuable timber trade to benefit Sarawak for future generations. So much for Taib’s self-promotion as ‘A Great CEO’. Grab and run does not add up to great company management. Needless to say, the Sarawak Stakeholders, the people of the country whose land the Taib’s have logged, have received very poor dividends indeed! They have been left destitute with floods and droughts to contend with and no amenities, meagre food and rotten roads (no chance of a view of any of the Boy Racer’s Bugatti and Ferrari collection in Central Sarawak any time soon).
So Taib’s new big idea has been to diversify from being the world’s biggest timber exporter into the world’s biggest Halal Products Hub and he has taken himself off to Oxford University to promote it. Tanjun Manis is also laughably entitling itself as ‘Green Development’, while promoting its deep sea port as an excellent location for expanding deep sea fishery of the region’s collapsing marine life.
However, as long as there is money in it the long-suffering Sarawakians will know that the Taibs will be interested. So interested in fact that in keeping with all business ventures in Sarawak, one of the Chief Minister’s closest relatives is in charge. First cousin Norah Binti Abdul Rahman was appointed as the Chief Executive last year, after the end of the decades-long family feud between Taib and his displaced uncle. Norah is now being touted as the lastest prospect for Taib’s successor. At least she is family. Perhaps no surprise that she is also the MP for Tanjun Manis as well. In Sarawak the Taibs always like to make sure that politics and business overlap in this deeply questionable fashion.
These facts ought to be shocking to members of Oxford University. However, to the contrary, the School is happily welcoming Norah along as well as her uncle to deliver her own key-note speech to the event. So, how will the Dean, Ms Gay Haskins, who is opening the event, introduce her? Presumably as the Chief Executive Officer and Political Representative of the lucky people of Tanjun Maris.
Will Professor Andrew Hamilton, the august Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, who is also speaking at the opening, also have some words of praise? Well done Norah you must be a fantastically exceptional woman of the highest calibre to have pursued two such incredibly demanding careers and to have achieved the support and approbation of your people at the same time. Did you have any influential supporters at all?
When Taib Mahmud then follows these two ‘fellow academics’ with his own speech “The Role Of Muslim Nations In Rebuilding Today’s Global Economy” Global Economy”will he mention that in fact Sarawak is a mainly Christian State and that his Muslim family belongs to a minority faith?
Sarawak Report’s delegated reporter attempted to get to the bottom of the Said School’s position on these matters in a series of calls at the end of last week. An initial call with Dr Paul Temporal, the organiser of the event, elicited the information that the invitation to Taib was “consistent with the University’s policy and commitment to free speech”. He made the promise of a proper interview an hour later, but then unfortunately left his office.
A junior member of Dr Temporal’s team did acknowledge they ‘had heard something’ about the concerns over corruption, but explained that Temporal is the person to speak to because he works a lot in Malaysia, so he knows all about this. So no pleas of ignorance then.
Another team worker did provide some useful information. They said that a lot of sponsorship from Malaysia was sustaining the event and so the School had originally tried for the Malaysian PM, but he wasn’t available. So they then turned to Taib Mahmud instead. Needless to say Taib Mahmud has leapt at his chance at a diplomatic coup at a time when his once iron grip on Sarawak is looking rather more shaky and has filled up plane-loads of admirers and journalists to witness his moment of handed-down glory. However, as the news gets round Oxford of the arrival of this undesirable, Taib should perhaps not bank on universal applause. There are rumours of a demonstration outside the event.
Sarawak Report has now sent a series of formal questions to the Said Business School’s Press Office. We regard the reply sent on Friday evening (after which the press office became unavailable on the telephone) as inadequate and failing to address all the questions asked. We attach both the questions and the answers and will be working on receiving fuller explanations of the relationship between the Sarawak Government and Oxford University over the coming days.
Please see below for our response to your questions
Does the University/School have any guidelines and governance for inviting speakers to the University?
“The University is by its nature a place of academic enquiry and debate. It is committed to a culture of free, open and robust discussion, and to freedom of speech within the law.
The University does not publish guidelines on the issuing of invitations to speakers.
The Chief Minister is Malaysia’s senior representative to the Forum which follows up work undertaken in Malaysia by Dr Paul Temporal on Islamic branding. ”
Do we have a written policy on who we take funding from?
“The University is currently considering how best to advise those within the University who are considering sponsorship. The provision of such advice might include legal guidelines for such arrangements, practical considerations and an overview of sponsorship issues. At the moment, there is no formal University-wide policy governing the acceptance of sponsorship.”