Sarawak’s Record of ‘Progress & Development’ Washed Bare By Rains

The banner, under which the professed ‘Father of Modern Sarawak’ (Abdul Taib Mahmud) granted millions of hectares of timber licences to the six crony companies that still wield  undue influence in the state, was ‘Development’.

Obituaries to the above ex-Governor have chimed on about this alleged benefit and modernisation, brought thanks to roads constructed by the likes of Samling, Shin Yan, Rimbunan Hijab, Ta Ann, KTS and WTK in order to strip out native lands (and destroy the world class natural heritage and cause climate change to boot).

The lucky natives now have roads and have moved on to a later stage of development, the narrative goes.

Samling's abandoned logging road in Murum
Samling’s abandoned logging road in Murum

However, that is not how it felt to the Penan community who were caught out and cut off by rain and landslides over the past week in Long Tanyit in Murum, according to Radio Free Sarawak, which was one of the few outfits in Sarawak that appears to have given much thought to the fate of the 1,000 strong community displaced by logging and dam building under Taib.

A crackly phone call from one of the community’s representatives Ngang Kuja explained today how the settlement has been completely cut off for over 8 days and received no response or assistance neither from Samling, who built the road that collapsed during the rains, nor anyone from the state government.

Landslides from destroyed hillsides logged indiscriminately with no heed to the consequences
Landslides from destroyed hillsides logged indiscriminately with no heed to the consequences

Apparently, the area has now been well and truly logged out and destroyed, meaning the logging company no longer has any incentive to maintain what passes for an access road.

Apparently, the state government, which has received buckets of federal funding to construct and repair roads, had better things to spend it on.

Of course, these interior routes have never been more than dangerous and unfinished tracks, virtually unusable to vehicles others than vast timber lorries, but they were better than nothing and now they have been allowed to crater with neglect.

So, when the rains came and the battered landscape slid away, silence. The desperate villagers who no longer have lands to hunt or forage are now utterly dependent on the meagre supplies allowed them, which are delivered by road.  Likewise, access to schooling or any other aspect of ‘modern life’.

After a week of crisis reported by RSF (but it seems nobody much else) there was at last good news.  Had the sovereign wealth fund-building state government sent in the police or rangers to assist?  Had Samling marshalled its multi-billion dollar business to send in aid and helicopters?

Road to Murum....
Road to Murum….

Nope. The help has come from volunteers with small means, an NGO named ASAP MOTOR, which is a four-wheel drive vehicle club based in Bakun, Sungai Asap. These doughty fellows took themselves inland during this inclement weather and threw up temporary repairs to the damaged crossing – enough to get supplies across.

Throughout, RFS has battled feeble signal connections to make contact with the community for updates on their perilous situation.

Speaking to the station the Penan questioned what had happened to all the supposed trade-offs they had been signalled would come from the billions and billions of ringgit worth of timber – the promised paved roads, electricity supply, clean water and telecommunication, for example? And what of the equally promised modern agriculture, clinics and schools?

Now they are fully dependent on helicopter services when land roads are impassable … and as the past week has demonstrated, these did not arrive.

And, yet this is the very settlement from where Taib back in the day ‘adopted’ two Penan children, one of whom (Mayau Imang) was later appointed as headman of the affected Long Tanyit by the state government  – given it was Taib who abolished the former grass roots democracy whereby communities elected their own headmen.

So, thanks “Dad”!  And thanks to the Godfathers of the Sarawak Timber Mafia!

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