Campaigns on opposite sides of the globe are focusing attention on Sarawak today – and on those foreign companies that have been tempted to do business with the corrupted government of Taib Mahmud.
In Switzerland the Bruno Manser Fund launches its stop www.stop-corruption-dams.org, in coordination with an international coalition of NGOs who are protesting at Taib Mahmud’s extraordinary string of mega-dam projects that will destroy Sarawak [Al Jazeera 7GMT News]
In Sarawak itself the Save Sarawak Rivers Campaign, consisting of many local NGOs and people who are directly affected by the dams, begins with an inaugural conference in Miri from 16th-18th February.
And in Tasmania the Tree Top vigil, which is being carried out by Miranda Gibson, will celebrate a record-breaking 65 days with a major demonstration by supporters of her protest against the logging company Ta Ann’s destruction of Australia’s native forests. Ta Ann is controlled by Hamid Sepawi, Taib’s cousin and nominee.
Growing questions surrounding Australian links to Taib Mahmud
These campaigns are becoming united by a growing set of concerns about foreign entanglements, particularly Australian entanglements, with Sarawak’s notoriously corrupted Taib Mahmud.
The stakes were dramatically raised at the start of this week, when a set of pro-Tan Ann state MPs in Tasmania took matters to the top of the news agenda by announcing they now intend to sabotage an agreement that had been reached with the Australian Federal Government to protect Tasmania’s forests.
After much negotiation the Federal Government had recently agreed to pay the state hundreds of millions of dollars in return for a commitment to protect thousands of hectares of ancient forest by extending the island’s National Park areas.
However, the group of Tasmanian MPs are now saying they will no longer support this agreement, because Ta Ann has just announced that it has been forced to lay off 40 of its workers from the two mills it operates in the State.[watch the shock announcement that threatens the future protection of Tasmania's forests]
Accusations of ‘eco-terrorism’
Led by an ‘Independent’, Paul Harriss, these MPs are blaming what they call “eco-terrorism” for destroying the 40 jobs and have made clear that this sabotage is their way of hitting back for the timber industry.
By “eco-terrorism” Harriss was referring to the recent expose by green campaigners, showing that the Taib-linked company has been cheating and lying to customers in Europe and Japan.
Ta Ann has been marketing its products as ‘eco-wood’ and ‘plantation wood’, when in fact the wood was from the ancient forest areas in Tasmania that had just been set aside for National Park land under the Federal agreement!
So, according to Paul Harris ‘eco-terrorism’ consists of telling the truth!
Ta Ann sales have plunged 50% since this expose on their bogus ‘eco-products’, which suggests others might place the blame not on the expose, but on the false advertising by Ta Ann.
Ta Ann has in fact now got close to admitting that it has been misleading customers.
On Radio Tasmania, spokesman Greg Hickey conceded that wood was incorrectly described as “plantation wood” in its Japanese advertising.
His excuse was that there is no word for “re-growth wood” in Japanese culture! [read the transcript]
But, what does Mr Hickey mean by “re-growth wood” in any language and how does it qualify as “eco-wood”?
It turns out that “re-growth wood” is just another misleading use of words by Ta Ann, designed to give the impression that the company is not destroying old forests in Tasmania, when in fact it is!
Whole areas are being clear cut, but the company has only been using the medium sized trees. They term these “re-growth”, conveniently giving the impression that they have not been damaging old forest areas!
Yet, he rest of the timber, including large and ancient hardwood trees and rare habitats and plants, have been wasted and burnt, destroying huge areas, in order to provide Ta Ann with its ‘eco-wood’!
No one who has dealt with Taib’s regime in Sarawak will be surprised by these sorts of lies from his company Ta Ann.
As ‘Independent’ MP Paul Harriss has stepped forward to lead the campaign to open up Tasmania’s native forests to further logging by Ta Ann, we question his objectivity.
In previous reports we have already drawn attention to Mr Harriss’s close links to Sarawak. He is known to have made at least three recent trips to Kuching, which he has claimed were holidays paid for by himself.
Yet the on the last of these ‘holidays’ in late 2010, he was accompanied by none other than the Chief Executive of Ta Ann Tasmania, David Ridley and he was reported in the Borneo Post as being “on a Tasmanian Government mission to refute allegations by environmentalists against Ta Ann”!
Dressed in a suit and tie, Harriss was photographed in the Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation’s headquarters, talking to two of Taib’s most senior and notably corrupted henchmen, Len Talif Saleh and Awang Tenggah.
Some holiday! We suggest that in the light of his current crusading activity on behalf of Ta Ann back in Tasmania, Mr Harriss should be required to provide full details of the activities and expenses related to that trip and to satisfy the questions as to who actually paid for it?
We believe he should also be asked to openly declare the nature of any other contacts he may have had over the years by this employer in his constituency.
Another top name among the list of protesting MPs, who want to see the Forest Agreement ditched because of the loss of 40 jobs by Ta Ann, is one Simon Crean MP.
His is the leading signature in a statement that bemoans:
“Ta Ann, which sells wood product to some of Japan’s biggest home builders, says a third of its $45 million contribution to the state’s economy will be lost with its two mills operating at reduced levels”.
However, the truth of the matter is that Ta Ann has been declaring LOSSES in Tasmania ever since it started operating. This is despite the fact that it has benefitted from millions in state subsidies.
So, far from contributing to the state’s economy Ta Ann has been a drain on the economy as well as a destructive force on the environment. So, why does Mr Crean’s statement imply the opposite?
Ought this be the moment for Mr Crean to openly publicise his own ties in this matter, in particular the fact that his brother, the former state MP David Crean, is currently the Chairman of the company Hydro-Tasmania?
For, while the connection with Ta Ann has proved a major loss-maker for Tasmania, Hydro-Tasmania has been eagerly making millions out of contracts on Sarawak’s deeply controversial dams programme, against which so many NGOs have today launched their protests!
The international campaigners, who are currently drawing attention to all the damage and destruction that will be wrecked on Sarawak and its people by these dams, are therefore beginning to query whether the eagerness on the part of so many of Tasmania’s MPs to butter up Taib’s corrupt family concern, Ta Ann, might not be linked to this attempt to mop up as many of these dam building contracts as possible?
After all, David Crean has been just as eagerly courting the same crew of Taib and Ta Ann henchmen as Paul Harriss. Look at him signing a memorandum of understanding with Ta Ann’s boss (and Taib cousin), Hamid Sepawi and Taib side-kick Awang Tenggah back in 2010 to assist Taib’s dam plans.
In fact David Crean was in Kuching just last week, again meeting Awang Tenggah, in his capacity as the organiser of a Hydro-power Conference to be held there next year!
Already, as we have reported Hydro-Tasmania has eagerly taken up numerous key contracts in Sarawak’s much criticised and clearly corrupted dam building exercise and are clearly touring for further opportunities, as Taib sets about his vision of 12 new dams across the whole of the state.
They are now leading in the construction of the disgraceful Murum Dam, for example, having contracted their manager Andrew Pattle to take over the project. Murum was started in secret by Taib, who over the course of two years blew out an entire mountain tunnel without any announcements or impact assessments.
Likewise, Hydro-Tasmania have contracted their subsidiary, Entura, to oversee the safety of the Bakun Dam for the first three years of its operation, following numerous concerns about its construction.
Entura has duly declared the dam to be safe to become operational, yet little information has been made available to concerned members of the public.
Last year, for example, Sarawak Report published video evidence showing the watering down of concrete during the construction process and also provided testimony on these matters. However Hydro-Tasmania has not seen fit to enquire into these evidently weighty matters from ourselves or anyone else.
Neither has Hydro-Tasmania published any detail of its studies or the findings that led it to conclude with the less than totally reassuring assessment of the dam that:
“The risks identified by the study may all be mitigated, by various means and effort, to successfully deliver a commercially operational power station”
And there is a moral question. Why is Hydro-Tasmania chasing money from dams in Sarawak, given that it is publicly known by all concerned that the whole project is being managed for the benefit of Taib-owned companies at the expense of the native peoples and the environment?
40 jobs lost at Ta Ann- but how about Rio Tinto Alcan?!
But it is not just Sarawak’s own people who may suffer from the back-lash of Hydro-Tasmania’s activities in Sarawak.
The 12 Tasmanian MPs who have protested at the loss of 40 jobs at Ta Ann should consider the potential number of jobs that could be lost if the island’s major aluminium plant, run by Rio Tinto Alcan, closes down in favour of a new plant in Sarawak.
Thousands of sources of employment could be lost!
But, this is exactly the game-plan that is being developed, as Hydro-Tasmania works with Taib to get the Bakun Dam producing electricity. This is because the main prospective client for that electricity is Rio Tinto Alcan, who are currently indicating they are interested in building a giant smelter in the Sarawak, if the price for Bakun’s electricity is right.
Given there are no competitors, they can effectively name that price. There is virtually no other need for the electricity from the Bakun Dam.
And during the course of those negotiations Rio Tinto have recently announced their intention to try and sell off their existing plant in Tasmania!
The benefits of moving to a location where there is cheaper electricity and labour, non-existent environmental monitoring and the opportunity to avoid carbon taxes are plain to see for a multi-national like Rio Tinto.
But the constituents of those crusading Tasmanian MPs might see things very differently!
People in Tasmania should start asking themselves whether their representatives, who are so loudly championing 40 loss-making jobs in Ta Ann, are by their related actions helping put thousands of profit-making jobs at risk in the north of the island?
Sarawak Report will be further questioning the involvement of Australia and Australian companies in Sarawak in upcoming reports.