The Chief Minister of Sarawak faces the humiliation of being prosecuted for cheating members of his own community in a Kuching court. Some of the potential plaintiffs are among his own constituents!
The unprecedented plan by a group of Taib’s fellow Melanau, till now considered to be his most loyal supporters, was revealed on air today by the new-look Radio Free Sarawak, during interviews about the latest land grab figures released by the Bruno Manser Fund(BMF).
The Swiss-based NGO has analysed who received what out of the huge areas of Native Customary Lands, alienated by the Chief Minister’s own government. Their figures (due out shortly) prove that the vast majority went into the hands of companies owned by himself and his family.
In recent years alone, according to BMF, nearly a quarter of a million hectares have been taken, then lucratively logged and converted into oil palm plantations by companies owned by the Taibs personally, along with their business partners.
Among the communities worst affected are the Melanau, who have now decided to join the flood of land grab cases against the relevant companies and Taib’s State Government.
This case could be uniquely damaging to the Chief Minister, because Taib himself is registered as one of the key owners of the company that the community will be taking to court!
“Taib’s company cheated us”
Central to the accusations against the Chief Minister will be his involvement in the company Mesti Bersatu Sdn Bhd, of which he is personally registered as both a Director and Shareholder. Taib has always claimed that he “does no business in Sarawak”, however Mesti Bersatu has numerous interests, including substantial shares in the company Delta Padi Sdn Bhd.
The BMF figures show that Delta Padi was the largest single recipient of the lands handed out to Taib’s own family! The company received a total of 28,000 hectares of plantation land in the affected Melanau areas on the island of Pulau Bruit and around the Sibu area in return for a nominal sum to the state of just RM 6million.
Angry locals have now told Radio Free Sarawak that they received zero compensation in return for the confiscation of these lands and they say they were cheated out of their territories by false promises from Delta Padi, which the Chief Minister originally set up under the guise of a state-backed rice project.
As one community leader explained to RFS Presenter Christina Suntai, his people were told not to expect compensation when their land was confiscated in 2008, because the government would make sure they would all benefit from the rice project.
However, once the area was felled, destroying valuable mangrove areas, the company turned to oil palm instead and the locals were left with nothing:
“Taib cheated us” , he said. “This was supposed to be a paid scheme to help us, but now it is an oil palm plantation for his cronies and family” [Radio Free Sarawak, Nov 17th]
Zero compensation while Taib makes billions
The spokesman, an inhabitant of the now ravaged island of Pulau Bruit, also pointed out that his people had been granted the area way back during the Rajah Brooke era. Yet he said Taib, had removed it from his own people and given nothing in return.
Interviewees on the show expressed shock when they learnt of the enormous value of the timber removed by Delta Padi in their territory over the past two years and also the billions that the area will become worth to the Taib-owned company as an oil palm plantation.
The people of this region are desperately poor fishermen, whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the development following the collapse of the fish stocks, caused by the removal of the mangrove forests and the pollution of the waters of the area by fertilisers and pesticide. Many are facing sickness and starvation along with the loss of their homes.
The PKR candidate Nicholas Mujah, who is a campaigner for native rights and also Secretary of the land rights organisation Sadia, says that the remaining 15% of the island’s forested area, which is supposed to be National Park land, is also being eroded by the logging initiated by Delta Padi.
Sadia believes that a court case could be filed over the coming days by a number of local people against the State Government and against Delta Padi. Chief Minister Taib Mahmud would be implicated on both fronts Mujah told the Iban language programme:
“They feel they have been conned by the company, so they want their land back and they want to sue” said Mujah
Scale of graft
The vast profits which Taib Mahmud stands to make at the expense of the State in the case of Delta Padi is just one of the numerous examples that BMF has drawn from its analysis of the land grab data, which was originally released by Sarawak Report last year and can still be accessed on this site.
The NGO is due to release shortly a list of over 100 concessions handed to just over 30 companies in which Taib family members have extensive interests. Titanium Management, owned by Taib’s son Abu Bekir, for example, has been granted valuable plantation lands larger than the land mass of Singapore in the past few years, most of it entirely for free.
Likewise, Taib’s favoured sister, Raziah Mahmud, and her influential husband the Lebanese-Australian, Robert Genied, have also received even larger estates, once again in return for a mere pittance to the Ministry of Finance (which is also headed by Taib)
Once again, many of these lands have been taken from local communities in defiance of their native land rights, which had been enshrined in the law.
In the case of Delta Padi local people, who received zero compensation, expressed shock and anger when RFS explained the profits such companies stand to make in turning such areas into oil plantations.
Based on the price that Taib’s brother Onn Mahmud has been asking for his own oil palm plantations of around RM1 billion for 12,000 hectares, the 28,000 hectares given to Delta Padi could become worth well over RM2billion to Taib Mahmud and his fellow shareholders!
These business partners include his own family members and close business cronies, the the timber tycoon Hii family, who own the Pullman Hotel in Kuching.
“70% of our land has now gone” villagers told RFS “land that was given to us by the White Rajah”
Taib now faces widespread suspicions among his own people that they have been cheated and abused by their relative and state leader, whom they had trusted to help them. The suspicions are correct.
In the dock
This allegation of fraud and deception has the potential for enormous damage to the already beleaguered Taib.
Not only have his people received nothing for the lands which the Taib family have taken, but clearly neither has the State of Sarawak received its rightful payment.
A mere RM 6million premium for land for lands worth billions of ringgit in the case of Delta Padi is a clear scandal.
The taxpayer of Sarawak has therefore lost money, which could have been spent on genuine development projects for those people who have been deprived of their lands and livelihoods by Taib’s self-serving projects.
Radio Free Sarawak’s latest exclusive could signal the beginning of a process that might at last bring the Timber Tyrant of Sarawak to account – as a witness in the dock of one of his own court rooms!