Taib’s foreign business partners are working hard to present a picture that all is well with logging in Sarawak.
Indeed, last week Ta Ann Tasmania’s Chief Executive David Ridley issued a barage of justifications,defending his company against a report which revealed that Ta Ann products are falsely advertised as ‘eco-wood’, thereby deceiving consumers.
Still no answer to the charges of false eco-labelling!
However, Ridley’s has chosen to ignore the central allegation of the report, which is the embarrasing expose that back in Tasmania Ta Ann is not using plantation wood, as promised, but is destroying old-growth Tasmanian forest.
Instead he has decided to focus on what he calls his ‘observations’ made during visits to Ta Ann’s company HQ over in Sarawak. Apparently, his visits to Sarawak have reassured him that all is well with the logging industry there and that Ta Ann is a totally ethical company!
Ridley’s fabulously rich boss, the Executive Chairman of Ta Ann, Hamed Sepawi, is of course the cousin of the corrupted Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud of Sarawak and has received numerous licences, grants of public lands and state contracts, all without proper tender.
The state has seen the world’s fastest rate of deforestation and indigenous people have been thrown off their native customary lands to make way for logging, plantations and dams.
Yet, such matters appear not to concern Mr Ridley. Instead his ‘observations’ are these:
The most interesting out of this list of self-justifications is possibly the last. Ridley kindly informs us that Hamed Sepawi’s Tan Ann has got its hands on a full 30% of all the vast areas of plantation licences that have been handed out by Taib over recent years!
This revelation is even more astounding when you take into account the fact that Ta Ann has been making such a big deal of the fact that it has divested its former ownership of 30% of the largest of these plantations, Grand Perfect.
Grand Perfect is the largest acacia plantation in South East Asia and it has controversially taken over huge swathes of jungle and native customary lands.
Sarawak Report has since exposed how Ta Ann’s share was in fact diverted through a highly questionable secret deal into the personal ownership of Ta Ann Executive Chairman Sepawi himself!
So,perhaps David Ridley can tell us what proportion of Sarawak’s plantations are managed by his boss Hamed either through Ta Ann or Grand Perfect? Might we be getting to nearer 60% of the state’s millions of hectares of projected acacia plantations…. or even more?
Meanwhile, Ridley’s main self-justfication over Sarawak is that Ta Ann is felling rainforest that has already been cut down once before by Taib and his relatives. He appears to think that because Ta Ann is eradicating secondary jungle there should be no concerns.
Lets face it only 5% of Sarawak’s primary jungle remains and Taib’s loggers are currently bullying indigneous Penan blockaders who are trying to preserve it. So under Ridley’s rules the WHOLE of Sarawak could become a Ta Ann plantation!
Given this standpoint it has to be bad-timing for Mr Ridley that the Dutch appeal process has just found in favour of the NGO Greenpeace’s complaint that Malaysia’s wood certification scheme is below the acceptable world standards and should not be recognised as a badge of good practice!
The Duch findings, which are based on solid evidence and proper international reports, contradict Mr Ridley’s complacent ‘observations’. They include the following judgements:
“- MTCC demonstrates no respect for the rights of indigenous peoples,
- maps of MTCS certified forests are not adequately accessible to the public,
- the EIAs used for environmental impact assessment in Malaysia are inadequate to assess sustainability and
- no guarantee can be given that MTCS certified forests do not disappear for other land uses, such as plantations.” [Independent Appeal Board, Amsterdam]
This means that the Dutch will ban wood products certified under the Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme (MTCS).
Unfortunately for the credibility of David Ridley, this is the self-same Malaysian Timber Certification Scheme that he holds up in his ‘observations’ as Ta Ann’s proud target in Sarawak! At the same time, he is forced to admit that the company has not even yet reached that dubious standard and does not aim to until 2015!
Therefore, Ta Ann falls beneath what the Dutch have already ruled as unacceptable.
So, what confidence should the rest of us in Tasmania and elsewhere have in Mr Ridley’s complacent ‘observations’ in favour of his corrupted boss and his plantations taken from state and native lands?
Paul Harriss and Tasmania’s growing connections with Sarawak
Sarawak Report would like to draw attention to another intriguing aspect of David Ridley’s statement in support of Ta Ann.
In his ‘Other Observations’ in favour of his company’s activities in Sarawak (above), Ta Ann Tasmania’s Chief Executive invites the Independent Tasmanian MP, Paul Harriss to add his own comments.
It is an interesting request to make of an Australian politician and Sarawak Report would like to know what qualifications and insights this Tasmanian MP has acquired in the matter of Sarawak logging and how?
Most particularly, can Mr Harriss’s judgements be held up as independent, objective and well-informed?
Certainly, Mr Harriss is known to have travelled to Sarawak on some three occasions recently. Last year he went there in the company of Mr Ridley and visited a Ta Ann factory. However, that visit raises as many questions as answers.
Paul Harriss’s “Tasmanian Government Mission” !
For example, the Borneo Post (a Taib-controlled publication) intriguingly described Harriss’s journey to Kuching last October as a “Tasmanian Government Mission”! However, Mr Harriss has answered queries on the matter back home with an assurance that he was merely ‘on holiday’ and paid all his expenses himself!
On this ‘mission’ Mr Harriss was photographed by the Borneo Post with none other than Taib’s two top henchmen, Forest Chief Len Talif Saleh and Planning and Resources Minister Awang Tenggah in discussions at the Headquarters of the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation.
It is now known that not long afterwards Awang Tenggah was over in Tasmania sealing a major deal for Hydro-Tasmania’s involvement in Taib’s controversial mega dam projects. Did Mr Harriss in some way represent Tasmania in any of these negotiations, for example, or would he describe his visit to Wisma Sumber Alam as just a normal tourist activity?
The objective of Mr Harriss’s ‘Government mission’, as detailed by the Borneo Post is also intriguing, in that he is described as being there to conduct a fact finding survey “as part of an effort to refute allegations by environmentalists against Ta Ann Holdings operations in Tasmania” !
The Borneo Post article indeed bristles with quotes from Mr Harriss, praising Ta Ann and criticising environmentalists of the kind who have just exposed the company for lying about its ‘eco-products’. For example the MP gushes:
“It’s fair to say that some environmental groups in Tasmania have been unreasonable and too critical of Ta Ann and they have tried to bring that back to forest practices in Sarawak.
“We seek to rebut that allegation based on proper information gathering and proper technical assessment,”
“So, we have a delegation here to understand exactly what Ta Ann logging practices are like in Sarawak….Ta Ann is a credible organisation and an organisation of integrity. I’m satisfied with that and this trip is just an upgrading of knowledge on the ongoing operations”. [Borneo Post Oct 2010]
Under the circumstances Sarawak Report would like Mr Harriss to provide exact details of the nature of his ‘delegation’. How many others were involved apart from himself and was there any official dimension at all to his visit? In which case how were the expenses covered?
Or can he confirm, to the contrary, that this visit was merely an unpaid for holiday and not a “Tasmanian Government Mission”, as described in the Borneo Post?
Finally, if it was a holiday, is conducting public political meetings and fact finding missions of this nature the form of recreation he usually seeks and believes to be appropriate?
Certainly, given the nature of his quoted remarks, it would appear that Mr Harriss had firmly chosen the side he would be batting for well in advance of his fact finding and was not in the business of arriving at objective conclusions!
Time to set the record straight !
So, could Mr Harriss proceed to set the record straight, either in Sarawak or back in Tasmania, where the government does not appear to have been informed that he was representing the state in such a highly ususual manner for an Independent MP?
If there was nothing official about his fact-finding visit and his links with Ta Ann, the Borneo Post should be informed of its error and publish a correction.
While this delicate matter is being resolved, we feel confident in advising readers of Sarawak Report that Mr Harriss’s ‘observations’, should he choose to take up David Ridley’s offer, should not be treated as either objective or unbiased.
Because, Mr Paul Harriss made it perfectly clear in his interview to the Borneo Post he had already made up his mind and was not seeking to record facts that might reflect badly on Ta Ann, its boss Hamed Sepawi or the the highly corrupted regime of Sarawak with which both are inextricably linked.
Mr Harriss was in Kuching to find information that confirmed his existing views about Ta Ann’s integrity and David Ridley is hoping that he can now add these pieces of information to back up Ta Ann’s report, which already stands discredited by Hollands recent appeal court ruling.