Sarawak Report can disclose that the connections between Tasmania’s primary industries and the Chief Minister’s cousin, Hamed Sepawi, are far more extensive than previously publicised.
These worrying links not only threaten the integrity of old-growth forests back in Tasmania, they are also working to wreak destruction over vast swathes of the Borneo Jungle, as Taib‘s hugely controversial mega-dam project gets underway.
Tit for tat deal?
We can reveal what would appear to be a tit for tat deal, whereby Sepawi, appointed by his cousin as Head of Sarawak’s state electricity company, has offered a massive hydro-electricity contract to Hydro-Tasmania at the same time as his private timber venture, Ta Ann, has been allowed to benefit from subsidies and logging in Tasmania’s conservation forests.
Sepawi is the major shareholder and Executive Chairman of the logging giant Ta Ann, which was brought into Tasmania in 2005 with the help of massive subsidies from the Australian state.
However, so far, the company has achieved nothing but losses for the state’s forestry industry and is controversially obtaining its wood from conservation forests.
Despite this, Tasmanian Ministers have doggedly supported the venture and ignored concerns about corruption and human rights issues in Sarawak, where Sepawi is a key member of a demonstrably illegal family regime.
These Ministers have also chosen to ignore protests about false advertising by Ta Ann, which promotes its Tasmanian products as “eco-friendly”.
Instead, Tasmania’s Premier, Lara Giddings, this week accused Peg Putt, a co-publicist of a recent report on the forest damage and false advertising by Ta Ann, of “undermining” the industry.
Terry Edwards of the Forestry Industries Association of Tasmania chose a stronger form of condemnation of Ms Putt. He called her an “Eco-Terrorist”!
So who are the real “Eco-Terrorists” ?
Given this labelling of Ms Put, Sarawak Report would like to enquire about the definition of an Eco-Terrorist?
If it describes an environmental campaigner, who threatens the public with dangerous weapons in order to advance their cause, then this would appear to be a highly libellous accusation, which Mr Edwards would do well to have good grounds for making.
On the other hand, if it describes a dangerous and destructive force that is threatening to destroy huge areas of the environment for the profit of a few at the expense of the many, then the executives at Hydro-Tasmania and their political and business contacts in Sarawak must qualify better than most.
Hydro-Tasmania’s deal with the corrupt government of Sarawak
It now emerges that while Ta Ann’s involvement in Tasmania has been financially disastrous and environmentally controversial, the benefits for the state’s hydro-electric industry, headed by former State Treasurer and Government Minister, David Crean are extensive.
Hydro-Tasmania’s subsidiary Entura last year secured an agreement to co-partner three dam building projects in Sarawak, which form the next stages in the Chief Minister’s plans to build no less than 12 hugely expensive and hugely destructive dams across all of Sarawak’s major rivers over the next few years!
No logical public interest has yet to be deduced for the old man’s obsession with dams.
The newly completed Bakun Dam, the second tallest in the world, has yet to find an economic raison d’etre and has so far raided the country’s state pension funds of several billions of dollars to build.
However, there is without a doubt, a massive potetial profit to be made by Taib’s own family industries from these ventures, which is a motive that has plainly driven all of Taib’s economic policy throughout his 30 years in power.
His family company CMS has a monopoly over cement in Sarawak and all licences will go through his hands.
Taib family business in Sarawak
With the same profit motive in mind, Taib has issued permits to log all but 5% of the state’s forests over his period in office and has subsequently issued plantation licences to cover much of that area with oil palm.
For many of the interior tribes the consequences have been devastating and their numbers have been decimated.
Taib‘s cousin, Ta Ann Executive Chairman, Hamed Sepawi, has been one of the major beneficiaries of those permits and licences, thereby explaining to a large part his status as one of the richest men in Asia.
The rest of Sepawi‘s wealth derives largely from state construction contracts and urban development deals, likewise handed him by his cousin, for whom Sepawi is widely recognised to be a business proxy. Awang Tenggah is also a known beneficiary of Taib‘s system of patronage.
Meanwhile, the Chief Minister’s dam building plans are projected to displace around half a million of the country’s population of 2.5 million native tribespeople, who were until recently among the most unique and undisturbed indigenous races on earth.
If their experience were to mirror the problems faced by the 10,000 people already displaced by the Bakun Dam, currently a major issue in Sarawak, the project augers badly indeed.
Murum – Hydro-Tasmania’s existing link
Now Sarawak Report can reveal a further link between Taib‘s dam building bonanza and Hydro-Tasmania. The Project Director of the current major dam construction at Murum. Andrew Pattle, came straight from the company in May 2010.
Indeed, Murum was a secret project carried out under the auspices of Syno-Hydro for two years, until the existence of the planned dam was revealed mistakenly through a seminar conducted by that company.
The project is now openly being carried out as the next stage of SCORE, clearly in the absence of proper prior consultation. The Environmental Impact Assessment was evaluated by a committee which is Chaired by the Chief Minister himself!
Villages of Penan people have already been displaced to make way for the flooding and the destruction far up-river from Bakun will add a further vast area of devastation to the tropical jungle.
Sarawak Report therefore repeats its question as to who best qualifies for the title of “Eco-Terrorist”, the scholarly Ms Putt, who publicised a meticulous report on Ta Ann’s breaching of its commitments in Tasmania, or the executives of Hydro-Tasmania and their political supporters in Hobart and business contacts in Kuching?
Hydro-Tasmania signed off Bakun!
Finally, Sarawak Report can also reveal that it was Hydro-Tasmania that further received the lucrative contract towards the end of last year to do a due diligence report on the safety of the Bakun Dam, in advance of the inundation.
This blog has revealed serious safety concerns raised by sloppy construction methods practiced on the site, and has provided video proof of those concerns. In particular we have evidence of a persistent practice whereby workers watered down the concrete used in the dam and further evidence that there was tampering with the mixture of ingredients.
Nevertheless, the report by Hydro-Tasmania into Bakun appears to ‘damn the project with faint praise’ (below). According to its own website, the company signed off on its job by anticipating that “the risks identified by the study may all be mitigated by various means and effort”:
The dam and other civil works, including the intake spillway and associated control structures, the power house and the switchyard are generally well designed and constructed. The risks identified by the study may all be mitigated, by various means and effort, to successfully deliver a commercially operational power station.[Entura statement on Bakun]
Sarawak Report asserts that the people of Sarawak have a right to see the full details of this apparently less than fulsome due dilligence report and to make their own assessment of what these risks referred to might be and whether the State of Sarawak can be trusted to mitigate them by the ‘various means and efforts’ suggested.
We demand this reassurance and transparency, because to allow an enormous dam that might potentially be unsafe in any shape or form, to operate without fully appropriate action being taken, could certainly risk the worst variety of “Eco-Terrorism” imaginable!