In the run up to the recent election the Director of the Forestry Department, which is responsible for handing out Timber Licences, Len Talif Salleh, paraded before the cameras supporting the Chief Minister’s laughable claims that 70% of Sarawak’s forests remain ”primary or intact”.
Salleh posed as an ’objective’ civil servant, the Director of Forests, charged with managing the state’s forests in a disinterested manner, unswayed by politics. It was not mentioned, however, that at the same time Len Talif Salleh was already running as a BN candidate in the forthcoming election!
In any non-corrupted country a civil servant who was planning to move from being a paid public servant to run for political office would, of course, step down from his post beforehand. However, not only did Len Talif Salleh fail to do that, but unbelievably, according to the Department’s own website, the man is still occupying this crucial public job as Director of Forests weeks after the election when he was returned as a BN YB!
The conclusion must be that Taib has run so short of yes men that he is placing the same handful of loyalists across all the key public positions, regardless of the vital division between the Civil Service and politics. There can be few men left in Sarawak who would seriously claim that 70% of the jungle remains intact!
Salleh was handing timber licences to himself !
But this is not the only conflict of interest to feature in Salleh’s career. Our investigations reveal how he has concurrently occupied a staggering number of top posts in forestry, giving him total control over timber management – much in the same way that his own boss Taib has acquired all the main positions of State.
In 2008 he was simultaneously Deputy Permanent Secretary Ministry of Planning and Resources Management; Director of Forests; Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer Sarawak Forestry Corporation and the General Manager of the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation (STIDC). Is it fair to assume, therefore, that Salleh was little more than Taib’s ‘Yes Man’ in forestry – we think yes!
However, it gets worse. Len Talif Salleh was also simultaneously signing himself as the Director of the wholly private timber company Pusaka KTS Sdn Bhd. Pusaka KTS is largely owned by the timber tycoon Lau family, who are key supporters of Taib and BN and own the Borneo Post. The STIDC have a large number of shares in the venture in the name of the public, presumably the source of Salleh’s Directorship.
This means Salleh was actively pursuing the commercial interests of a private company to which he himself was issuing timber licences on behalf of the Government!
Robbing the people of Long Terawan
The pernicious effects of this tangled web of conflict of interest can be seen only too clearly in the treatment of the people of Long Terawan in the Baram region, who have been contesting the logging and now the plantation of well over 100,000 hectares of their once pristine jungle lands over some years.
Len Talif, the man who dares claim that almost 3/4 of Sarawak’s forests are untouched, has been spearheading this deforestation, handing licences to Pusaka KTS all over the region.
Thus, as Director of Forests he has been handing licences to himself as Director of Pusaka KTS!
Not only that, he has also been acting as the representative of Pusaka KTS in its bitter battle with the locals over the licences he has handed out! The document below shows how it was none other than he who acted as the Director and Representative of Pusaka KTS Sdn Bhd when the company tried to force the locals people out of their land rights by doing a secret deal with their headman back in 2009!
The above document is part of a draft copy of the one that was eventually signed by Len Talif Salleh and the Headman In 2009. Local people were outraged to discover the deal that had taken place without consultation and behind their backs.
We can see that, astonishingly, Len Talif Salleh was acting as the representative and Director of the wholly private company Pusaka KTS Sdn Bhd in this so-called agreement. This despite his position as Director of Forests at the time.
The local people say the company has already been logging the community’s land for years without agreement or compensation and without anything being done by the police. This new secretive deal was a further attempt to take over the territory for plantation purposes and it offered virtually no compensation to the native land owners!
Was it appropriate for the Director of Forests, the man who had handed out provisional licences to Pusaka KTS, to be negotiating this deal? Clearly it was not. What it does show us however, is that what has been done by logging companies like KTS to communities all over Sarawak has been done with the full knowledge, authorisation and support of Abdul Taib Mahmud’s government. The Chief of the Government’s own Forestry Department and one of Taib’s key ‘Yes’ men was the man who was personally driving through this shabby deal.
Likewise, Taib’s own sister Raziah Mahmud, was on the Board of Quality Concrete who just as ruthlessly and greedily attempted to cheat the longhouses of Sebangan last year. This case has come to court and Quality Concrete has lost. Taib is up to his neck in all the greedy and illegal activities by the logging companies in Sarawak, which is why the authorities like the police are so reluctant to do anything about it.
What happened in Long Terawan?
In Long Terawan Len Talif Salleh organised the secret deal with the government-appointed headman, who was supposedly acting on behalf of his whole community. Just two people witnessed the event and none of the local native customary rights landowners were told a thing about it.
This is of course the shameful method by which Taib and his chosen logging partners have cheated people of their land rights throughout Sarawak. It was Taib who made the crucial alteration of the traditional, democratic system whereby the local people voted for their headmen and replaced them with paid appointees of BN.
Taib has further subverted the system by allowing these appointees to sign deals that they do not understand on behalf of their communities. These deals have invariably handed over the land rights of these people from under their noses, despite the fact that by law all such decisions should be made jointly by the community and not by one appointed man on their behalf.
Another fraudulent deal
A paper written in English, signed by an unauthorised headman, without a lawyer, but generally aided by a lot of liquor and a small bribe would not begin to stand up in court. It is plain fraud and it is what happened in Long Terawan.
The community’s lawyer, the native rights specialist Abun Sui has warned that the agreement is vague and inadequate, with none of the necessary detail to protect the villagers. He says he has not even been able to get proper details about the area Pusaka KTS is asking the community to hand over, although the planned plantation is believed to be over 100,000 hectares in size.
“We can’t get a copy of the provisional lease” he explained. “It should be given to us, but when we ask them for the licence the Forestry Department are uncooperative, replying that our application has been rejected!”
So why would Len Talif Salleh’s Forestry Department be obstructive to the Long Terawan lawyer when he is legitimately seeking details of the timber licence given to the private company of which Len Talif Salleh himself is the Director negotiating with the natives? It is not a hard question to answer and it is why conflict of interest is such a serious form of corruption.
We have a copy of the document that Pusaka KTS presented in 2009. It offers the village people a paltry compensation for their land, described as a ”gratuitous payment” of just RM 300 per hectare ! The wood, particularly the valuable Belian in such areas, is of course worth hundreds of millions of ringgit alone.
Pusaka KTS Sdn Bhd are now intent on clearing this area completely. In the original 2009 ‘agreement’ it was in order to grow oil palm. Out of the hundred thousand hectares earmarked for this environmentally destructive project (headed up by the Director of Forests and Deforestation Denier, Len Talif Salleh) a mere 200 acres were offered in the agreement to the local people. Further, they would only be allowed to inherit the small area of land after the first harvest had been taken by KTS!
The question the local people would have raised, had they been asked, was what are they supposed to live off during this period of years that they would have to wait after their fruit trees and lands are destroyed before whatever proceeds they may or may not be able to get from the palm oil area after Pusaka KTS have take the first year of profits?
There is not the smallest sign that the Government, or its representative Len Talif Salleh, has given this issue the slightest thought, although the agreement does provide for a pitiful payment to the locals if they undertake the soul-destroying work of clearing their ancestral lands for the benefit of the raiding timber company.
But, since other communities across the state have gone hungry and been forced to scatter into shanty areas around the coastal cities after such raids on their lands, we can assume that this is the fate that Taib and his henchman have in mind for the people of Baram and Long Terawan as well. BN call this ‘progress and modernisation’.
Faced with a furious and brave series of protests by the community of Long Terawan, Pusaka KTS has taken a step backwards in their opportunistic approach. This year they came back with a revised plan, which appears to be more generous than the miserable compensation Len Talif Salleh was offering two years ago.
Half a million ringgit are now being offered to the community up front with a vague project of a total of RM 2 million when all the hundred thousand hectares have been cleared and planted – this time with the controversial crop Acacia. However, again lawyers are warning that the agreement is flawed and riddled with demands that the poor local people cover costs such as the legal expenses! There is little security in the vague provisions of the proposed agreement to guarantee that the community would see a bent penny of the money that they are being tempted with …. unless we imagine that KTS will discover a generous streak in a few years time?
Local campaigner Willie Kajan has told Sarawak Report that once again the BN administration (and doubtless the supposedly objective Director of Forests) is leaning on the Headman to try and force the community to cooperate. He is tryng to tempt them with the promises of RM 2 million, but Willie is warning that the local people will never get to see such money, especially when it is not being offered up front!
It is clear that the people of Long Terawan are clearly not disposed to trust BN, because while 200 have signed up to Willie’s petition rejecting the deal, the Headman has made little progress in collecting enough signatures to provide a semblance of community agreement.
However, with a hundred thousand hectares at stake and their budget of billions of ringgit the loggers who are in business with Taib’s government and Taib’s Forest henchman will not give up easily.
“They have already sent in gangsters who have been logging the land on their behalf, agreement or no agreement”, says Willie, whose own land has already been cleared without compensation. “This is what they do, they bring in thugs and pretend it isn’t them”.
Logging in Sarawak has nothing to do with due process, the law or indeed the separation of powers. Len Talif Salleh has acted as the civil servant, politician and businessman throughout!