Last Week Taib Mahmud issued a notice to gazette the remaining 18 islands in the Bakun reservoir lake as a National Park.
He will probably be putting himself up for an environmental award for doing so.
But what a pity he did not gazette the region back in 1998, before the company Pacific Chemicals comprehensively logged the entire Bakun area.
Pacific Chemicals was then largely owned by his own four children and his crony Ting Pek King.
A jungle the size of Singapore was felled to make way for the white elephant Bakun dam project and the lion’s share of that timber was taken by Taib and his cronies.
This makes the ‘National Park’ an eco-sham, since the original plant and animal life have mostly gone, with the remainder trapped and isolated on the 18 remaining hilltops left sticking out of the man-made lake.
It also exposes Taib Mahmud as a major hypocrite.
Role of Pacific Chemicals in the rape of Bakun
Researchers have provided plenty of references to Taib’s ownership of Pacific Chemicals and its dealings with the tycoon Ting Pek King’s venture Ekran Bhd, which received the original contract to build the Bakun dam. Their evidence plainly reveals how Taib’s own family have benefitted from the destruction of the region he now plans to pretend that he is preserving.
“Ting Pek Khiing appeared to start out as an ordinary timber businessman with a company called Woodhouse, but his timber holdings began to grow rapidly once he went into business with the chief minister, starting with Ting’s purchase in 1992 of Pacific Chemical, a 100 percent Taib family-owned company. After Pacific Chemicals was purchased from the Taib family it still retained a 38.9 percent shareholding in the company (Jardine Fleming 1993: 36). Ting and Taib then injected Pacific Chemicals into their jointly- held timber company, Usama Industries, in which Ting holds 55 percent of the shares, and the Taib family company Majahrata holds 40.5 percent….Usama Industries is a “substantial timber logging company, being assigned the rights under licenses to log timber from three forest timber concessions covering an extensive total area of 143,789 hectares of leasehold forest land” (Jardine Fleming 1993: 36).[David Brown Why Governments Fail to Capture Economic Rent 2001]
“In 1993 Pacific Chemicals acquired, through a share-swap, Usama Industries Sdn Bhd, whose shareholders included Ting [Pek King] with 55% and Anuar Abdul Razak with 4.5%, while the remaining 40.5% was owned by Majaharta Sdn Bhd… which is equally shared by the.. sons of the Sarawak Chief Minister..with their sisters…. In 1995, Ekran awarded Pacific Chemicals a contract to manage and clear a 17,750ha forest areas as part of the Bakun dam project; the total area to be cleared for the project is appromimately 68,500ha. Pacific Chemicals was also awarded a RM1.2 billion contract to supply and install overhead electricity transmission lines..” [Chinese Business in Malaysia, Edmund Gomez, 1999]
Taib and his crony carried out this logging even though at the time the project for Bakun had been put on hold owing to the Asian economic crisis. This makes it rather plain that the motivation for clearing out the region was as much to lay their hands on the valuable timber as to make it ready for the dam project, which had been shelved.
“The decision to implement “Operation Exodus” by the Mahathir/Taib Administration was unforgivable when the Bakun project had been suspended in 1998 because of the financial crisis. It did not stop Ekran Bhd subcontracting another Ting Pek Khing company, Pacific Chemicals to harvest 1000 hectares of forest and extracting 79,000 cubic metres of timber from the Bakun area. In 1998, nearly RM1 billion of Malaysian tax payers’ money was paid out to these companies which had been involved in the project.[NGO Comango Protest against Taib 2011]
Of course, Ting’s core business was not dam building (he made numerous useless attempts before the project was bought out at great cost to the Malaysian taxpayer) it was pre-fab housing. And who supplied Ting with wood for that? It seems once again the Taibs were profiting:
“At the same time, Ting’s original timber company Woodhouse was injected into Ekran, a timber and construction company concern that was, for a time, one of the most closely-watched companies on the Malaysian stock market. Ekran’s major source of raw material came from the Ting-Taib owned Pacific Chemicals….An investment bank [Jardine Fleming] reported that, “Ekran obtains part of its income from its subsidiary Woodhouse which specialises in building prefabricated wooden houses and hotels. Woodhouse obtains it timber from an unlisted company called Temali which in turn obtains its logs from Pacific Chemicals”[David Brown 2001]
The Finance Minister of the period, the current PKR opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, also cited the arrangement with the Taib family’s Pacific Chemicals in his own police report over the corrupt dam deal. He confirmed the motive for Taib was the opportunity to strip out the timber in the area. And he should know as he was number two in the federal government of the time:
“The Bakun project requires Sarawak government support. Therefore, Ekran secured the involvement of two sons of the Chief Minister, Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud: that is, Mahmud Abu Bekir and Sulaiman Abdul Rahman who hold equity in Ekran and Pacific Chemicals. Thereby, Ekran easily obtained timber concessions for thousands of acres surrounding the dam area, although the local residents and environmental organisations strongly protested”[Anwar’s police report on Bakun]
Betrayal of the Ukit
Back in 1998 there really was a precious, unique environment around Bakun that fully merited gazetting as a world heritage site. It was an area also lived in by unique tribes people who had worked with their environment in harmony for centuries – the Ukit people.
Many at the time, including the natives, pleaded with Taib and his collaborator the PM Mahathir Mohammad not to destroy this wonderful place and to preserve the unparalleled Rajang River, now muddied and ruined by the Bakun Dam.
But instead they moved to destroy it and to forcibly displace the Ukit and others who lived there into the shoddy resettlement zone of Sungai Asap, where most of their promised compensation is still ‘pending’ over a decade later.
Lecturing from BN
So it is not extremely cheeky of Taib to start issuing notices now about gazetting Bakun and telling the Ukit how to treat the area?
Is it not rather obvious to all and sundry that this ‘smart move’ is merely an attempt to outmanoeuvre these tribal people, who have now started to return to their old lands, in order to try and live off their now floating homes and find what sustenance can still be foraged from the lake and hill tops?
By gazetting the islands of Bakun it is clear that Taib plans to obliterate the Ukits’ native customary rights in their native lands on this excuse of ‘eco-tourism’ and deprive them of the few bits left of their birthright that are not already submerged.
Ministers are now generously offering the tribe the prospect of jobs as servants and handicraft makers for projected tourists in the lands they will no longer be able to call their own and which they will certainly not be allowed to cultivate:
“definitely these islands will not be allowed to be cultivated even if some people have NCR land there as it will defeat the purpose of having them as nationals parks,” Liwan Lagang
Meanwhile, there are no prizes offered for guessing who would make the real money out of any such project or emerge as the owners of any hotels and businesses that might be created as part of this latest development plan (doubtless due to be lavishly supported by public grants).
While the Ukit mull the prospect of a future providing cheap labour in the lands of their birthright, more fat profits beckon for the Taib family and chosen political cronies.
Why does the Chief Minister, who did exactly the same to the folk in Mulu, imagine the rest of us are too stupid to see through such shameful antics?
He has even employed his fond method of sneaking out his notice about the plans in a way that the tribal people would have small chance of finding out.
An announcement in the Borneo Post is hardly playing fair by an isolated and impoverished community living far out in the middle of a lake with no access to media.
The notice offered just 60 days for formal complaints to be placed, by lawyers of course. It is the technique that has been used time and again to trick communities out of their lands with concessions so slyly issued that local people have no real hope of finding out about until too late.
If he had a shred of decency Taib should have sent his civil servants out on boats to meet with the Ukit and explain the plan and offer free legal services should the tribes people wish to make representations with at least 6 months to do it.
However, Taib only wishes to preserve the appearance of form and democracy, not the reality.
So, please no lecturing on this subject by the PBB place men in the federal government. Jaws really dropped when Santubong MP and Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, had the brass neck to explain to the Ukit that while they could now be allowed to stay in their floating homes on the lake they could no longer be permitted to continue with their traditional life-styles of shifting cultivation:
“They can still make a living because they live off gathering and hunting, and there are animals. But they can’t chop off the trees“, instructed Jaafar
Why didn’t he tell that to his master Taib Mahmud back in 1998?
Sign the petition against gazetting Bakun.