According to news reports Papua New Guinea’s former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is currently holed up in a hotel resisting an arrest warrant issued by prosecutors under the new government’s anti-corruption agenda.
After decades of what has been recognised as rampant corruption in the country O’Neill was ejected earlier this year, following street protests over a series of scandals in which a number of people were injured and killed.
The team of reformers now working to restore the rule of law under the current PM James Marape includes anti-corruption campaigners who have worked for years to expose bribery and corruption in the country.
And there is plenty more that this resource rich fellow democracy and member of the Commonwealth shares in common with Malaysia.
Like Malaysia, Papua New Guinea has seen its once pristine virgin forests plundered and ravaged by a remarkably small number of Sibu-based logging and plantation firms, which have prospered thanks to their connections with Governor Taib Mahmud and resulting protection of the State of Sarawak.
As reported by Sarawak Report in our previous article, billions of dollars worth of valuable timber has been carelessly ripped out of Papua’s native owned lands by this group of inter-connected companies, which include the major players Rimbunan Hijau and WTK incorporated in Malaysia.
At least 5 million hectares of valuable hardwood has been cleared out according to present statistics and 90% of the logging has been conducted by Malaysian companies, say campaigners. The same companies have now converted huge areas into mass oil palm plantations in the country, completing the destruction of once highly sustainable forest resources for the local inhabitants.
These plantations are now largely failing according to the evidence seen by Sarawak Report with thousands of workers laid off by the Malaysian firms without notice or compensation as the palm oil market has contracted in the face of global concerns for the environment.
The workers, who were all illegally underpaid in the first place according to our research, have now been left to find their way home with their families or to attempt to scratch a living out of denuded lands.
Meanwhile, the primary logging by firms like Rimbunan Hijau is continuing at a pace in PNG owing to further concessions granted across the remaining forest areas under highly suspect permits in the face of widespread protests by local communities, who have seen none of the promised benefits from this resource extraction.
Blatant flouting of basic regulations to protect the core environment (particularly key rivers) are standard in PNG, just as the same Sibu logging companies have flouted them to damage vast areas of Sarawak and Borneo. Species extinction in both regions have reached critical levels.
Corruption linked to previous governments such as that of O’Neill as well as his predecessors lies at the core of these human and environmental disasters, much in the same way that it has in Sarawak and neighbouring Sabah.
The same companies have been responsible for orchestrating the process – passing vast bribes to local and high level decision makers, whilst declaring to the revenue services in each country they were operating at a loss for decades, during which they stripped out both countries’ most valuable resources and exploited their lands for plantations.
Don’t just refer to Sarawak Report. In 1989 a Commission of Inquiry into the PNG timber Industry, commissioned by their own government under the Australian judge Thomas Barnett, resulted in a devastating assessment of the conduct of these Malaysian firms as summarised in a World Bank document on Forest Crime:*
In his report the judge referred to the “heavy odour of corruption, fraud and scandal arising from the timber industry” in PNG. The judge referred the Malaysian logging bosses as medieval style “Robber Barons; bribing politicians and leaders, creating social disharmony and ignoring laws in order to gain access to, rip out, and export the last remnants of the province’s valuable timber“.
According to Judge Barnett’s official conclusions:
“Operations were being commenced illegally, forest working plans, if submitted at all, were being widely ignored, logging tracks were being pushed through at the discretion of the bulldozer driver; hillsides and river banks were being logged; and the immature forest resource was being bashed and trampled in the reckless haste to get the logs down to the waiting log ships….
“In order to gain access to the timber, foreign operators misled and bribed local leaders, set up “puppet” native landowner companies, bribed provincial government premiers or ministers and gave gifts or bribes to national ministers or members of the national parliament or took such people into some form of partnership with them.
“They also similarly bribed and gave benefits to at least one secretary of the Department of Forests and other officers”
“It would be fair to say, of some of the companies, that they are now roaming the countryside with the reassurance of robber barons; bribing politicians and leaders, creating social disharmony and ignoring laws in order to gain access to, rip out, and export the last remnants of the province’s valuable timber.
“These companies are fooling the landowners and making use of corrupt, gullible and unthinking politicians… It is doubly outrageous that these foreign companies …. have then transferred offshore secret and illegal funds…. at the expense of the landowners and the government. There can be no doubt that the timber industry, by its very nature, is conducive to acts of a criminal nature contrary to law and proper government ministration” [World Bank Institute]
With words of condemnation such as this from a two year Commssion of Inquiry conducted by a reputable international judge into Malaysian logging operations in PNG it is certainly time that those responsible from the Prime Minister down are rounded up in that country.
It is also time that the so-called reforming Malaysian government also tackles the source of this criminality back home in the State of Sarawak, where these mafia companies have been protected by the State Governor whilst wreaking the very same damage and theft against the Malaysian people and their resources…. without (once more) declaring a taxable profit in the process.
Malaysia should join arms with PNG in tackling the global timber mafia, based in the safe haven stronghold of the State of Sarawak.
*we originally misreported the date – a second commission of inquiry also began in 2011 which failed to complete its report.