Backdoor Governor?

Backdoor Governor?

The change of Governorship in Sarawak has been a singularly surreptitious affair.

For months it had been denied that the ailing predecessor, Taib Mahmud, would be stepping down, and it only slipped out through a leak last week that the Speaker of the State Parliament, Wan Junaidi, had quietly put in his resignation in order to replace him.

When asked about the development last weekend, the Premier Abang Jo merely replied he could not comment. Likewise, Wan Junaidi himself had dismissed it as “social media speculation.

Yet by Friday, they were both at the Astana in KL confirming the appointment, with not so much as a resignation statement produced by the office of the former Governor, let alone any official announcement in advance.

Photos and a statement were circulated AFTER the event.

Surely, in a democracy, the electors of Sarawak are due a little more respect and transparency with a more staged and open process?  It was first denied Taib was sick, then denied he was stepping down, then denied he had been replaced – until all was admitted as a fait accompli.

Is this because there is an undeniable disquiet amongst many in Sarawak that a tacit convention has been ignored in this appointment: namely that the two top offices of state should not both go to a Malay given the sensitivity of the ‘neo-colonial’ relationship between West Malaysia and the Borneo states?

What Autonomy?

The new Sarawak Premier (a Malay) has aggressively promoted the ‘autonomy’ card in an apparent pandering to the nationalist sentiments of local people in Sarawak.

However that campaign, which initially started as a Dayak movement to gain a fairer representation and distribution of the wealth for native communities in their own state, looks very different now.

Rather, it has served well to elevate the status of the chief minister – now Premier – and to drive more royalties into the coffers of an increasingly confident state government that is dominated by minority interests linked to West Malaysia .

Meanwhile, there has been little visible evidence of greater empowerment or increased wealth for local commuities.

And yet, the questionable campaign continues. Boosted by his federal DPM status (bartered in return for supporting the present federal coalition) the Sarawakian ex-Plantations Minister, Fadillah Yusof, has been pressing to enhance that ‘MA63 Malaysia Agreement’ based autonomy further.

Having already carved out his position as the man in charge of Sarawak and Sabah affairs for a federal government that is dependent on those states’ support, in December Fadillah netted a new portfolio over a Ministry of Energy Transition and Public Utilities.

Immediately, a party stalwart from Fadilah’s PBB, Len Talif Salleh, (known for his connection to highly criticised timber and plantation licences as Taib’s former head of forestry) leapt up to claim that Fadillah’s ministry would focus on achieving further “environmental autonomy” for Sarawak in a transfer of powers allegedly in accordance with the self-same MA63 Malaysia Agreement, previously cited by those wishing to see a fairer deal for indigenous folk in Borneo.

Len further explained that if environmental autonomy is transferred to Sarawak and Sabah, all matters related to the environment will fall under the jurisdiction of the respective states [Borneo Post]

Such bravado comes in the midst of growing concern and disquiet among native communities across Sarawak, who are finding themselves pressured by increasingly aggressive moves to negate their Native Land Rights by plantation companies and dam projects, all pushed by the major corporations with whom both Fadillah, Len Talif and the GPS ruling party are deeply connected in their capacities as businessmen politicians from the heyday of the corrupted Taib Mahmud himself.

Spokesmen for the plantation industries (such as “smallholder” voices from the group DOPPA) have, for example, been calling for the state government to privatise the duties of the Land & Survey Department directly to the plantation companies themselves in order to enable them to step up the pace of turning up on villagers lands to carry out highly controversial ‘perimeter surveys’.

These surveys, legislated by Taib Mahmud back in the heyday of plantation land-grabs, are designed to dangle worthless ‘land titles’ for the fields around their rural smallholdings, in return for extinguishing highly valuable native customary rights across large areas of natural forest which the companies want licences to destroy.

Disputes have sparked across Sarawak over the past month as survey teams have started turning up unannounced with their measuring tapes (accompanied by gun toting security personnel) on the say so of PBB/GPS assemblymen working with government appointed ‘community leaders’ and headmen.

Is this what is meant by ‘greater state autonomy over the environment’?

Just today, a new case was lodged in Miri by land activist Dennis Along against Len Talif himself and related cronies for a case dating back ten years where half a million ringgit offered by the businessman cum politician’s company, Pusaka KTS, to a village in return for logging on their lands has vanished, apparently without trace.

This kind of pressure on Dayak communities in the form of unrestrained land grabbing by businesses connected to the key decision makers in the state government is not the sort of autonomy that native Sarawakians want or need.

Indeed, it is merely an escalation of the already excessive freedoms enjoyed under Taib Mahmud and the controlling political parties in the state, under the banner of GPS, to do exactly what they want to pillage native resources without checks, balances or federal oversight.

The last flood-bound state elections, held under lockdown conditions, helped cement the GPS coalition’s political control, leaving local opposition groups virtually without representation in the state.

It is a coalition now dominated by Malays, who have not even bothered to nod at native representation with this new appointment as Governor of another elderly henchman who served for lucrative decades under the rapacious regime of Taib Mahmud.

So, from the point of view of the non-Malay majorities in Sarawak, how autonomous really is this ‘autonomy movement’ so enthusiastically spearheaded by GPS?

Many are now asking if this appointment of a Malay governor proposed by a Malay premier (himself the son of a former Malay governor) by a Malay Agong supported by a Malay prime minister leaves any room for Dayak representation over their own governance?

Is it not, in fact, the opposite of autonomy and more the culmination of a process of neo-colonial subjugation of East Malaysian native communities by West Malaysian interests in the guise of liberation and independence?

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