As news reports are beginning to show, Australia is beginning to get a true picture of Taib Mahmud and his behaviour in Sarawak.
TV scenes of rowdy loggers disrupting and breaking up a local meeting in a town hall in Huonville, Tasmania will not go down well.
The meeting had been called by environmentally concerned local people, who are anxious about logging in their area, which is being carried out by none other than Taib’s own family company Ta Ann. The loggers are shown to have been aggressive and abusive towards the seated audience and one woman speaker was threatened with rape!
Those women who live in Sarawak’s interior can, of course, testify to the seriousness of that threat of rape. There have been numerous police reports and complaints about rapes and vicious attacks on women and schoolgirls by loggers, many of them independently verified by NGOs. However Taib has blocked all attempts at an official investigation.
Indeed, as Sarawakians all know, threats and intimidation have been the established method by which the loggers, licenced by Taib, have dealt with complaints by local forest people and those communities who have Native Customary Rights to the land they have taken. Fear of the Thugs and Gangsters hired by loggers pervades the whole state.
We have covered a number of recent incidences showing how these gangs have been used by logging companies to come in and do their dirty work, attacking villagers with clubs, knives, explosives and guns. Complaints are routinely ignored by the police, who know that this behaviour is tacitly sanctioned by Taib Mahmud. The Chief Minister, who is also Finance Minister, Resources and Planning Minister and Head of the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation, has taken a vast personal cut from the profits from logging in the State over the last 30 years and more.
Taib’s global reach
Companies which began and grew rich in Sarawak have been spreading their logging activities across the globe. They have muscled their way in to remaining hardwood areas in Indonesia, Papua, the Soloman Islands, Congo, Amazon and now Tasmania.
Laughably the Australian taxpayer even paid Ta Ann a massive $10,000,000 grant to set up its saw mill factories on the island. Whose bright idea was that? Ta Ann is run by the multi-billionaire Hamid Sepawi, the cousin and business proxy of Taib himself, who has been listed personally as one of Malaysia’s richest men. Why have the taxpayers of Tasmania had to pay out to have him come in and cut down their forests now that Sarawak has run out of its own wood?
Indeed, when the Tasmanian forestry authorities did their assessments into sustainability and the Taib family record on logging, did they take an environmental impact check on Sarawak? We are looking at the man who in 30 years has razed and destroyed the world’s oldest (130 million years) tropical hardwood jungle. The surrounding environmental impact on rivers, wildlife and communities, owing to his negligent and corner-cutting methods, has been nothing short of devastating.
Indeed, the reason that Abdul Taib Mahmud has sent his logging companies into Tasmania is because, unbelievably, in 30 short years he has managed to cut down a huge chunk of the third largest jungle on the planet. Sarawak has run out of wood to cut down.
Don’t take this from Sarawak Report, take it from the 2006 petition for a planted forest licence written up by Hamid Sepawi himself on behalf of Ta Ann! In it he points out that
“Most of Sarawak’s forests have been logged at least once” [Hamid Sepawi, 2006]
Tasmanians’ right to protest
It is hardly surprising that there is a growing movement by local people in Tasmania against the rampant logging of their forests. There is a justified international concern about the state of the world’s few remaining hardwood areas and the fact that a Taib family company has been contracted to do the work is deeply worrying.
Significantly, these campaigners have been getting short shrift up till now from the local Tasmanian authorities. Protesters have faced unpleasant arrest for demonstrating against Ta Ann, although other campaigners across the world have been allowed to protest at Taib’s timber corruption without harassment.
Is freedom of expression and the right to protest valued less highly in Tasmania than in other parts of the free world where several demonstrations have taken place un-hindered? The people of Tasmania have even more reason than others to do so, since it is their land that is being torn up.
Some in authority are justifying their clamp down on the basis that Tasmania needs the forest destruction to make money. So how will they make money in a few years time when the forests are cut down? How do other parts of Australia and industrialised communities make money without forests to cut down?
All respected authorities know that we have to make sustainable use of our resources if humans are to survive on our planet. It is only those who want to get rich quick and care not one bit about others or the next generation who say otherwise.
So, concerned environmental protesters should be allowed to have their public meetings in peace, without attacks.
They should also be spared criticism from some of those in public positions in Tasmania, who should hang their heads in shame for allowing the Timber Sultan of Sarawak to move in on their lands.