|Malaysian Minister lies in BBC News interview|
|Written by Noor Aza Othman|
|Wednesday, 13 June 2007|
The Malaysian Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities, Peter Chin Fah Kui was obviously lying through his teeth in one of the most disappointingly lame interviews I’ve seen on the BBC News on the 11 June.
The interview instead seemed as if intended to let the Minister to spread sheer propaganda in Europe, that the cultivation of palm oil by in Malaysia, especially in Borneo is supposed to be based on sustainable development.
Sustainable Development has been defined by the UN Commission on Sustainable Development as defined in the 1992 Rio Declaration to mean that it has to be holistic, and hence must also take into account the social, environmental and cultural impact on the people affected by such development, thus not just the economic factors. Further, the Minister went on to claim ridiculously that it is mostly the Indonesian state of Kalimantan Borneo which is unsustainably logged and cultivated for palm oil whereas, on the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak of Borneo, things are done differently!
It is another shameless and deceitful whitewash, by this same Minister when he tried to convince Europe not so long ago that the logging industry that has destroyed 90% million of years old of Sarawak tropical rainforest, as has been found by the Swiss environmental group, Bruno Manser Foundation is also supposedly based on sustainable development. BMF was founded by the still-missing Swiss Environmentalist-Human Rights Activist Bruno Manser. And in the most recent report by Indonesian environmental group, Walhi, the ancient rainforest of Sumatera, Borneo, Sulawesi and Papua will have disappeared from mostly massive logging and palm oil plantations by 2022, hence contributing towards increasing global warming.
Moreover, the Indigenous Melanau Chief Minister of Sarawak Taib Mahmud, is currently being investigated (although a very slow process) in Malaysia for bribery involving RM32 million, paid by a cartel of nine Japanese shipping companies which in turn is being investigated for tax evasion in Japan (Japan is the second biggest importer of timber from Sarawak). This cartel buys timber through Dewaniaga Sarawak, a state-affliated organ in charge of timber export control headed by the Chief Minister’s younger brother, since 1981. (source: www.bmf.ch)
It has to be stated very clearly that corporate palm oil plantation industry is usually a continuation process from the logging industry within the same area, as of other large-scale monoagriculture plantations (hence destroying biodiversity of environment) such as Acasia (to provide new timber), rubber and coffee and in the near future, GM crops ( see [Sarawak] Eastern Times, GM crops possible answer to food woes, 19/04/07). This would infinitely generate maximum profit for the corporations as typical for Capitalist industries. And to achieve this kind of profit, such industries are based on massive and unjust exploitation of the labor of both Indigenous rural population and migrant workers as typical of the Capitalist system.
And in further tragic injustice, these industries usually involve the destruction of traditional and ancestral Indigenous communities landrights which include communal forests, mostly without their consent or if consented, such consent would have been manufactured within an environment of power-game of poverty, racism and discrimination.
This meant that most of these areas would have been neglected, sometimes intentionally, by both the federal and state government in being provided with the basic infrastructure such as roads, electricity, clean water, bridges, housing including longhouses, schools and clinics, hence leaving the logging and palm oil corporations to provide them. Hence, this would result in the corporations having absolute power to manufacture the consent of the communities (sometimes even through Indigenous politicians) to have to accept the encroachment of the logging and the plantation industries on their ancestral landrights under the guise of being provided ‘Development’.
For example, such as the Indigenous Iban communities that consented to leasing around 99,000 hectares of their ancestral land in Bintulu, Sarawak, to a palm oil corporation, Pusaka KTS, under the corporate language-game of “developing the area…in line with corporate social responsibility” (see The Borneo Post, Pusaka KTS signs MoU with ten longhouses, 18/04/07). Or in other example, Indigenous Penan and Indigenous Kenyah villagers in Ulu Baram, consented to the massive Tutoh-Apoh palm oil project because they needed a clinic and a primary school (see The Borneo Post, Penans to stop wandering ways, 12/04/07). Any community which oppose the encroachment would be falsely labeled in the deceitful language-game of being ‘anti-Development’, ‘Anti-Modernisation’, ‘Misfits’, 'Half-Baked Screwballs’ or even most absurdly, as ‘Satanist’ such as preached by a Sarawakian Indigenous politician, Frederick Bayoi Manggie:
"these people…made it their daily struggle to play the devil’s role of offering apples and promising paradise. I believe you are familiar with the book of Genesis. I can tell you, like Satan’s evil intention, opposition politics are all sugar-coated empty promises…..Be forewarned, the government’s priority will be to develop areas where it enjoys the undivided support of people" (Borneo Post, Village Misfits play the devil’s role, 20/04/07).
Furthermore, in Sarawak, the anti-logging /plantations communities would be notoriously punished and threatened (in previous years, murdered even) by the corporations, using gangsters or the police force. For example, an Acasia plantation corporation called Grand Perfect Sdn Bhd, was assisted by the Bintulu Land Department and a large team of police which descended with 17 four wheel drives to demolish 14 farm huts on the Indigenous Iban ancestral customary land (see Brimas press release, Enforcement Officers from the Land & Survey Department Bintulu Demolishing Houses again, 03/04/07). In another example, in Long Lellang in Upper Baram recently, it was pathetic to see how the agents (who were walking around like Mafias as if they owned the village, the government’s school, the air-strip and the whole surrounding area including training the People’s Voluntary Corp, Rela) of one of the biggest and most notorious Malaysian multinational logging-plantation corporation, Samling, are instigating irrational hatred and division between the anti-logging/plantation Indigenous Penan communities and the logging supporters from the Indigenous Kelabit community of Long Lellang.
Long Lellang, a village which is well-developed with all the basic infrastructure including an air-strip, is clearly being used strategically by the logging companies to prevent remote Penan communities from affectively resisting with their resistance and movement being monitored strictly which include restricting them from traveling by air to go out of the area. Such strategy is also used to prevent other activists from outside to travel easily by air into the surrounding remote Penan villages and Sela’an-Linau Forest Reserve which is currently being logged heavily by Samling, or when trying to fly out. Such strategy would involve ticketing agents based in the village, usually from the Kelabit community of Long Lellang, preventing both the Penan and outside activists from being able to get seats on the small flight (unless the flights are booked online earlier) by lying falsely that the flights are fully booked.
Moreover, the government’s primary school in Long Lellang which places mostly children from the surrounding anti-logging/plantation Penan villages, is left in disrepair with broken chairs and tables and a messy library. The school also charges various unnecessary fees, and absentee teachers are common, of which these factors have contributed (I suspected intentionally) towards some of the Penan children dropping out of schools and still being illiterate even after they finished the primary school at twelve years old. Meanwhile, of the boarding-house which places mostly the Penan children attending the school as conditioned by the government for remote communities, there were rusty nails jutting out of the walls, lack of mattresses (the children used to sleep on the floor until early this year and they have to share the mattresses), no furnitures, dirty toilets, and the children being fed non-nutritional food (mostly rice and vegetables most days) and having to bathe by the river without adult supervision (which can be dangerous during the rainy season) despite that pipe clean water is well-developed in the village.
Some of the anti-logging/plantations Indigenous communities have made some accusations towards European Union (EU) officals who were representing the European Commission (EC) delegation that visited Malaysia in January this year to investigate logging practices in Malaysia, as part of the requirement in the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) process being negotiated currently between the Malaysian Government and the EC. Some of these accusations included that the EC delegation have failed to meet with genuine representatives from the anti-logging/plantation communities despite this delegation have traveled all the way to remote Upper Baram, Sarawak.
In addition, the EC delegation had failed to observe properly the implication of the tragic oppression of the Indigenous communities impacted by the logging and plantation industries mostly by the Malaysian multinational corporations such as Samling, Interhill and WTK, when traveling through the logging dirt-roads through Lapok to Upper Baram. This area as demarcated within the Sela’an Linau Forest Reserve, used to be such beautiful and massive tropical highlands with so much glorious and diverse ancient wildlife including Orang Utan, Hornbills, Rhinoceros, Wild Elephants, Tigers*, ancient plants and trees, beautiful clean rivers and traditional Indigenous way of life.
Furthermore, the EC delegation was even staying for the night at the notorious corporation, Samling’s logging camp of Kelisa whilst there, instead of at the villages. Moreover, one of the company’s worker who is from the Indigenous Kenyah community, claimed that this camp has been notorious for false labeling of timber supposedly cut under the scheme of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) and for polluting the Sengayan and Selungor Rivers when using anti-pest chemicals on the logs which would eventually seep into the rivers after rainfall, and with waste from the camp toilets.
Other tragic implications include the continuous dust, the extremely dangerous conditions of the roads with huge holes and the logging /plantation activities especially endless monstrous lorries driving through with heavy logs and the heavy pollution of all the rivers along the road. Such failure of proper observation by the EC delegation was also due to the logging companies strategically stopping such activities and repairing the road during the delegation’s visit. However, the EC officials must also be made to bear responsibility or even to be indicted in the European Court of Human Rights by European NGOs towards such failure or probable complicity with the logging/plantation industry when failing to meet up with genuine anti-logging/plantation communities, where they would have been able to get genuine and correct information regarding such injustice and non-participation of such communities. In addition, if the EC delegation have taken the trouble to go trekking through the still unlogged part of this forest reserve to the remote Penan villages and staying for a few days there (instead of traveling comfortably in four wheel drives the whole time and staying in logging camps), they would have seen with their own eyes and understand deeply why the communities are resisting the logging and plantation industries.
And these officials would probably have come to appreciate the fact that it is not at all impossible and further, why it is so important to protect such ancient and diverse wonders of the natural world including the wildlife and clean rivers, and diverse traditional way of life of the Indigenous communities, in truly harmonious balance with genuine sustainable development as required by the UN and EU Conventions.
In addition, if these officials have also taken the extra effort to travel to Limbang also in Sarawak, where there are also massive logging and plantation industries going on from Mendamit towards the Kalimantan of Indonesia Borneo border, they would have also seen such unjust consequences of the industries that include the Limbang river being filled with chemical-laden logs despite that there are still many traditional Indigenous water villages existing by the river and villagers using the river still as their main transportation route, and for food and drinking water.
And lastly, these logging and plantation industries are also notorious for causing many fatal and tragic accidents. Such as when two Indigenous Malay youths died whilst fishing when their small boat was pulled under a tugboat laden with logs in Limbang (see The Borneo Post, Unfulfilled dream of seeing the birth of his first child, 10/04/07). Or in another extremely tragic example, three Filipino workers died with one of them, having his head blown apart, in an explosion in a Japanese papermill in Tawau of Sabah Borneo (see Harian Express, Kepala mangsa tercabut melambung ke udara, 21/04/07).
Furthermore, some villagers even claimed that many illegal foreign workers hired at low-pay by these industries are hastily buried in unmarked graves without being reported to authorities when accidents occurred. Clearly this further illustrated the reality of endless barbarity of such industries towards humanity and the natural world and all its wildlife!
In order to understand and promote socio-environmental justice in the EU regarding this critical issue, EU activists are welcomed to visit short-term or long-term, the traditional Indigenous communities of Borneo, especially in Sarawak. Accomodation is free with very low cost to cover transport through logging roads and rivers, and for forest guides and food, all paid directly to the communities.
(*The writer may not have realized that there are no tigers on the whole island of Borneo, leopards yes, but tigers no).