Slowly but surely international attention has started to focus on Abdul Taib Mahmud and his corrupt businesses.
Not only is Taib the single biggest force driving the destruction of the Borneo jungle, but his companies, such as Ta Ann, are causing damage and destruction in most of the world’s other remaining jungles, including Tasmania.
Over the past two days green protesters in the Australian island have once again defied the authorities to protest against Ta Ann’s raiding of of Tasmania’s precious remaining natural heritage.
They point out that when Ta Ann was granted its licence to operate wood chip and veneering plants the company had pledged to use plantation wood only. However, now, surprise surprise, they are taking hard wood from the jungle instead.
It was for this reason that two protesters tied themselves to the conveyor belts in the Ta Ann factory in a passive protest that stopped the mills for a period of time.
Inevitably the gentle protest brought down the full force of Tasmanian law and order on the heads of the two men, who were acting from moral conviction rather than the personal greed, which drives Abdul Taib Mahmud.
The local magistrate naturally ruled in favour of the corrupt Taib family company, which has illegally sequestered hundreds of thousands of hectares of woodlands from native Sarawakians, robbing them of their trees and replacing priceless tropical jungles with plantations and which is now destroying the Tasmanian jungle too.
Handing down a suspended jail sentence, he had harsh words for the young men who are desperately defending the areas that future generations will not forgive ours for destroying. In the process he presented the Taib family as an honest enterprise, running a decent business with no ill effects to others:
“You place your own ideals above the rights of others, affecting businesses and the people who work there” he lectured “I am not politically minded whatsoever. But people should be able to operate a business without interference”.
In years gone by, of course, equivalent fellows would have defended slave owners in their right to their human property, or mill owners in their right to pay children a penny a week. But the fact is that opinion and understanding moves on and forces changes, which even magistrates eventually get to catch up with.
Opinion is moving
Magistrates may thunder, but the news is getting out about Taib, his companies and what they have done to Sarawak. This is why week after week more and more protesters are showing their outrage at Ta Ann’s activities in Tasmania and a mounting tide of criticism is meeting organisations that seek to do business with Taib companies.
This week a WWF partner the Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN) was forced to distance itself from with Ta Ann, after it was accused of green-washing its factory processes. The Director, George White, admitted his organisation had received RM 15,000 from Ta Ann for signing up to its monitoring, but stressed they had nothing to do with their forestry operations.
The incident provided yet another embarrassment for the establishment-friendly WWF, as the respected environmental organisations Global Witness and the Bruno Manser Foundation joined forces to condemn and blacklist Ta Ann for “clearing forests the size of 20 football fields daily in Sarawak”, including “cutting rainforests in Borneo, including forests within the Heart of Borneo, an ambitious conservation campaign in Sarawak, headed by WWF.”
Tasmania’s Green Party have also started to fiercely campaign on the matter. This very week they invited an honoured guest to their shores to give them a legal perspective on the dubious activities of Taib and his family companies such as Ta Ann. That guest was a man all Sarawakians will recognise - it was none other than the opposition PKR leader and human rights lawyer Baru Bian.
Senator Brown summed up the sentiments of a growing number of local people in Tasmania and Australia when he said simply:
“Ta Ann should never have been allowed in Tasmania’s native forests”
With the world waking up to Taib and what he has done in Sarawak it has become harder each day for businesses associated with the Chief Minister to claim the respectable status accorded by one Tasmanian magistrate this week.