Even the Borneo Post, Taib’s favourite propaganda sheet, has found itself unable to spin away the dire distress of the Iban population, which it alleges is so supportive of Taib Mahmud and BN.
In an article last week, the paper loyally insisted that Iban communities have “expressed their strong support” for the elderly Chief Minister to remain in charge, with one local leader citing his “vast experience” as being “greatly needed”.
The Iban paramount chief in Miri, Temenggong Wilson Atong Limping, was duly quoted making the required statement that “only the BN government can continue to bring more development”. This is the message that Taib Mahmud likes to promote at every opportunity and it has been his mantra for his past 30 years in government.
What progress and development?
However, the Borneo Post then went on to detail the conditions that Taib has, with his ‘vast experience’, provided for the Ibans of the area after all those 30 years in charge. Far from experiencing progress, the paramount chief explains, many of the villages “are still in dire need of basic amenities”.
Furthermore, the communities “are desperately in need of basic infrastructure like a tar-sealed road, piped water supply and electricity”. He also points out that telecommunications are totally inadequate and that people are still having to climb to the top of hills to make a phone call out!
This is of course a region which Taib and his logging cronies stripped of timber long ago, in the name of this same ‘progress and development’. His promise then was that Ibans would be repaid for the loss of their forest by the provision of just such basic amenities. But that was decades ago.
Taib next made a second killing by acquiring their native customary rights lands and again ‘developing’ them with oil palm. This he also did in the name of bringing ‘progress and wealth’ for the local people. But while, Taib has certainly acquired riches beyond imagination, investing billions of ringgit abroad to build his own foreign property empire, the Ibans are still waiting for water and electricity.
The Iban leader tried to be as polite about the situation as possible. “We appreciate greatly efforts by the goverment”, he insisted, listing some ‘minor rural projects’ carried out by authorities, for which he attempts to be suitably grateful.
These projects included providing villagers with tanks to collect rain water. Thank you Taib for such progress and development after 30 years of exploiting our lands!
But chief Atong also lists all the major things that have NOT been done. Schools and clinics are inadequate and the gravel roads are in need of major repair throughout the area. So much for progress and development.
The assemblyman for the area, BN’s Dr Stephen Rundi, also weighs into the article. And he likewise, openly admits that the facilities in the area are horrendous! “The government is aware of their plights and their sufferings”, he acknowledges of his Iban constituents, yet he assures the Borneo Post that there are “concrete plans” to bring more development to them.
More promises and ‘plans’
Surely, after 30 years of exploiting the Ibans’ home territories to raise vast sums of money from timber and palm oil, BN should be able to show more than just plans?
But, In fact even those plans turn out not to be so ‘concrete’ after all. Rundi elaborates on his assurances by making clear there is actually a dire shortage of funds allocated for the well-being of his constituents and that they can’t expect it to go far.
“The RM18million allocated for Kemana constituency under the NKRA, is barely enough but at least it could be used to implement the various minor projects which are scheduled for completion in 2012″ he admits! So no new money and forget the running water or electricity – let alone a decent road or two, or schools or hospitals.
So where did the money go?
If the Ibans, who are still being encouraged to live in hope by BN, want to see where the real development is taking place they should access some pictures of the Chief Minister’s foreign properties or the local houses occupied by himself and his family and friends along the coast. It is not hard to see where the money that should have been spent on ‘progress and development’ has actually disappeared to.
The Ibans need to think hard about how long they think it will take before BN and Mr Mahmud deliver on their ancient promises. One thing is certain, which is that the Chief Minister will not live another 30 years in order to fulfil them!
On the other hand, a very quick way to obtain the money needed to help the populations in Miri and elsewhere would be to reclaim the amounts stolen by individuals linked to BN over the past 30 years and return them to the public purse. With such funds an honest administration could rapidly transform the lives of these impoverished people.
The opposition parties should not pass up their opportunity to make this point at the forthcoming election.