Taib Mahmud promised development, but has delivered disaster in his own constituency of Balingian. Scores of communities are at this moment reeling from the shock of the present wave of ‘development devastation’ in areas that were in many cases Reserve Forest lands.
Now, shockingly, our research into the companies behind the destruction shows that in every case the profits can be traced directly back to Taib, his immediate family or to key business cronies and nominees (people known to act as his regular proxy).
These pictures, taken during a tour of investigation just last week, resemble the aftermath of a tsunami – but it has been a tsunami of greed unleashed by one old man and his small army of cronies upon the people in his own backyard. His own voters!
Everything for me – nothing for you
Taib has masked his land grabs by pretending he is benefiting the people through ‘progress’ and ‘modernisation’. He lectures them to ‘be patient’, while at the same time he impatiently tears out anything of worth from the lands where they have lived for generations.
On the spot researchers have confirmed to Sarawak Report that the only people who have been receiving compensation for the lands taken are the state-appointed headmen, who are now paid not to represent their longhouse folk, but to keep them compliant.
These individuals have been offered a pitiful RM 250 ringgit per acre for their communities’ Native Customary Rights Lands - the rest of the people have received nothing for the loss of their traditional territories and livelihoods.
One 80 year old Iban has testified to his family having lived five generations on his land, clearing the trees and growing up fruit orchards. These were all swept away without compensation. In one case the plantation company was narrowly prevented from bulldozing a longhouse into the ground. Local people say they have lodged reports to the police, but that as ever such complaints are ignored.
Needless to say RM 250 is a pitiful amount compared to the real worth of the wood and oil palm concessions on these lands, which is demonstrated later in this article by the vast sums which have been paid to Taib family members by the public companies which acquired them.
Enrich my family and pay off my business partners in the name of ‘development’!
Sarawak Report’s investigations into the disposal of the lands in Taib’s area of Balingian and Mukah have revealed a quite staggering level of graft. Shoddy attempts have been made to conceal the amount of money made by family members out of most of these concessions, but we have been able to trace the links and provide damming evidence of Taib family corruption.
Lands taken by Arip Mahmud and also Taib himself through Mesti Bersatu
Just one example is the large chunk of Balingian, around 34,000 hectares, handed out in the early 2000s to Taib’s closest sibling at that time, the late Arip Mahmud. We have identified 7 massive plots in the land registry, which were all handed to companies clearly managed out of the Lanco Plantation office, belonging to Arip.
Lanco Plantation Sdn Bhd is based at 458/459, Sublot 62, Padungan Road Kuching. The Manager is Patrick Embol and the company’s lawyer is Lim Jit Meng. We have clear testimony that Hamni bid Juni and Haji Anwar Susadd bin Razli were nominees of Arip Mahmud, as is evidenced by the fact that they gave the same address to the Land Registry as Lanco Plantations! (extract from the Land Survey Department’s Land Registry below):
Despite the attempts to disguise the handouts to Lanco by using separate company names, the connections are easily spotted in the land register. Palmlyn and Hariyama both share the same address as Lanco and Manager Patrick Embol’s number is the contact given for Rajah Mutiara Sdn Bhd. Lim Jit Meng is the same lawyer who acquired two plantations in Pulau Bruit on behalf of Arip Mahmud (Eastern Eden and Poh Zhen) netting a profit of RM 40 million for Arip and the Chief Minster in a re-sale 12 days later!
All of the above companies were soon ‘hot-potatoed’ on to companies owned by the internationally notorious timber tycoon and Taib crony, Tiong Hiew King. Some went to public companies, giving an idea of the profits made by the Mahmuds on these transactions, although others went into Tiong’s private companies where the transactions remain secret.
In the case of Hariyama, which grabbed 10,600 hectares of what appears to have been the Retus Protected Forest Reserve, we can see that Arip Mahmud negotiated the deal for RM 6.8 million on 24th February 2003 and then sold it on to Tiong’s Jaya Tiasa for RM 23.5 million four days later on 28th February 2003 for a cool RM 17 million profit (details available in Jaya Taisa 2004 Annual Report and stock market announcement below). The family also hold shares in Jaya Tiasa and so can continue to profit from the on-going exploitation of the area through oil palm plantation.
Likewise, there is clear evidence that the 5,000 hectare Palmlyn plantation, for which Arip was charged a mere RM 3 million premium on 12th February 2004, transferred on to another Tiong public company Subur Tiasa on 30th September 2004 for RM11.7 million, a sweet RM 9 million profit.
Likewise Rajah Mutiara and Golden Star-Ace are now registered as being owned by private firms owned by Tiong’s Rimbunan Hijau Group. For this reason the price paid to the Mahmuds has not been openly recorded, however we can rest assured that more millions were earned by Sarawak’s wealthiest family.
Sister Raziah and the scandal of Sarawak Plantation
We should not forget the massive profits that have also been made by the Geneids, Taib’s sister Raziah and son in law, Robert, in Balingian. They have picked up 27,000 hectares of concessions in the region under the companies Miracle Harvest and Green Ace Resources, which the public company Kwantas took a 70% stake in after they received the concession. The concessions are now being sold on for substantial multi-million ringgit profits. Raziah was also handed Saradu Plantation by her brother, the Chief Minister, amounting to 5,000 hectares.
However, the scandal of Sarawak Plantation highlights another corruption at the heart of Taib’s government, which is his use of nominees and proxies to control the main businesses of the State of Sarawak and to privatise state assets into the hands of his own family. The Chief of these nominees are the two ‘businessmen’ Hamid Sepawi and Hasmi bin Hasnan.
Like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum this useful couple appear as the Chairmen/ Shareholders of numerous key state ventures and ‘privatised’ ventures that receive contracts from Taib’s ministries. Sepawi is Taib’s own first cousin and Hasnan is an early protege he picked up in the Land Survey Department. These two men rocketed from obscurity to enviable positions as multi-business leaders, both featuring in the top 30 Malaysia rich list, after Taib took office in 1981. They appear as joint managers in a string of Taib-backed ventures – one of these is the scandalous Sarawak Plantations.
Privatised into his own family!
Sarawak Plantation Berhad’s own Company Profile makes clear that it was deliberately set up and then converted into a public company ”as the vehicle company for the privatisation of Sarawak Land Development Board’s (SLDB) assets”. This means that the company was handed vast areas of land that originally belonged to the state. http://www.spbgroup.com.my/about_us.htm
The profile goes on lay out just how vast these concessions are and its ambitious programme to develop more NCR lands:
“ SPB is one of the pioneer players in the oil palm industry in Sarawak. Currently SPB has a total land bank of 52,071 Ha of which 12,914 Ha is under the Native Customary Rights (NCR) scheme. SPB, through its wholly owned subsidiary, Sarawak Plantation Agriculture Development Sdn Bhd (SPAD), owns thirteen (13) oil palm estates with a total planted area of 26,000 Ha as at 31 December 2009.
Further, in response to the State Government’s policy on NCR land development, SPB, through its subsidiary, SPB Pelita Suai Sdn Bhd (SP Suai), has developed and fully planted 1,855 Ha of NCR land in Sarawak with oil palms.
In addition, two new subsidiaries, SPB Pelita Wak Pakan Sdn Bhd and SPB PELITA Mukah Sdn Bhd, have been incorporated to undertake the development of new NCR land with a total gross area of 10,786 Ha.”
Taib and his family are making no apologies for ‘developing’ as much NCR land as they can get their hands on! But the scandal of their profiteering could not be made plainer than in the shareholder information that is also publicly available for this ‘public’ company (see the same website). Both Hamid Sepawi and Hasmi bin Hasnan of course occupy key controlling positions in the company and so their shareholding has to be made clear under the law.
Critics will be hard put to say there is no proof that a third of the State landbank of Sarawak, including vast areas of Taib’s own constituency (see the map above) has been ‘privatised’ into the hands of Tweedle Dum Sepawi and Tweedle Dee Hasnan, both widely derided as mere proxies for the old man himself. Does the Chief Minister confuse the representation of his constituents with the ownership of his constituency?
Not content with their indirect ownership of thousands of hectares of Balingian through Sarawak Plantation (at RM2.2 per share the mens’ shareholdings are valued at just under RM 200 million each), both men have their own separate plantations in the area according to the records in the Land Registry.
Other cronies giving the local landowners problems
The companies giving the locals trouble in the latest land case to develop in Balingian are, however, a different set of concession-holders. Desacorp (in which the son of Taib’s political ally Hamid Bugo has shares) and the vast Empire Plantations, owned by the Wong family, who are key business cronies of the Chief Minister through their company WTK.
Four longhouses in Ulu Kenyana have have approached PKR leader Baru Bian to represent their case.
Linggam Anak Ngabok, from the Iban community of Rumah Randi in Kenyana, told us his problems began two years ago when Empire invaded his historic lands and destroyed the landscape, including all their fruit trees. The plantation-owners refused to acknowledge the rights of the villagers.
“When they held a meeting with the DO to discuss the matter they would not even let us enter. They only would accept to speak to the Pengulu and Tuan Rumah” he explained.
The message back from the Pengulu was that “This is state land, so you cannot fight” say the villagers. But they know it is their land. They are also incensed that the BN appointed headmen were forced into decisions on their behalf and then received the miserable RM 250 per acre and not the people themselves.
The locals say that the key headmen have been handed shares in the plantations, giving them a further incentive to act against the interests of the people they are supposed to represent, who have not been given shares or compensation or even jobs in the scheme.
So much for all Taib’s talk of ‘modernisation’ bringing benefit to the ordinary folk. They say they used to live by selling the prized Arowana fish that lived in their river – it provided a good enough living. However, now that the oil palm plantation has moved in and muddied the river they say the fish have gone. The ordinary folk of the Chief Minster’s constituency of Balingian have been sidelined, ignored, left out and received nothing. They also know it. “To think we voted for BN at the last election laughed one of the residents of the moonscape of Kenyana. This time we will not. Definitely we will not”.