It has emerged that the ownership of the controversial 930 hectare concession, secretively handed out by the Selangor state government for logging and construction development in the present Kuala Langat protected forest, has been quietly flipped to interests owned by a Sarawak family, namely the Yaws of Samling.
The people of Selangor may till now have ignored the plight of their East Malaysian neighbours who have been subject to the tough tactics and destructive, careless actions of this company for decades, thanks to the uncaring government of Taib Mahmud only interested in family kickbacks from this major crony company. However, they would now do well to inform and steel themselves for a taste of the same medicine or else kick them out.
More of Samling later, but the first concern is how did this project evolve in the first place and then fall into the hands of such a notorious timber giant, all unbeknown to most representatives in the state government of Selangor let alone the general voting public?
Records and reports detail that the plans to de-gazette half of Selangor’s remaining shard of protected forest at Kuala Langat first emerged with a surprise notice issued on February 10th 2020.
The project to take out over 900 hectares of valuable timber and then develop the area with various mooted projects had been quietly rushed through behind the scenes by the state government without the proper notice, discussion and consultation required, leaving indigenous communities who are dependent on the forest stunned to hear they will lose their homelands.
It turned out that driving the secretive and apparently unlawful project was Selangor’s state investment arm (Menteri Besar Inc) plus a newly incorporated company named Titian Jutaria Sdn Bhd, apparently appointed without any competitive tendering having taken place. This company was rumoured to have ‘royal connections’.
In fact, as Sarawak Report has established, the owner of Titian Jutaria Sdn Bhd was none other than the Selangor Sultan, Idris Shah himself, together with a nephew, Syed Budriz Putra Jamalullail. Furthermore, the Sultan’s son and the same nephew were the only registered Directors of the company.
Could this lofty ownership have been the reason for the failure by the state government to follow the correct procedures in considering this deeply unpopular proposal that threatens the welfare of Selangor’s remaining wildlife and its poorest people?
Surely not. After all, just yesterday it was reported in a study by the respected Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) that Malaysia ranks among the top six countries in the world at risk from devastating biodiversity loss from further logging. The full responsibility for rescuing what is left of Malaysia’s once rich natural wealth lies with state governments such as Selangor, but ought also to be of deep concern for the wealthy royals entrusted with championing the welfare of their people.
Yet it turns out that already, 90% of the original Kuala Langat reserve, originally gazetted by foresighted and public spirited individuals back in 1927, has been destroyed by similar greedy land grabs, making this last corner a final refuge for now endangered species of irreplaceable significance:
Among the most at-risk trees are species including magnolias and dipterocarps — which are commonly found in South-east Asian rainforests. Oak trees, maple trees and ebonies also face threats, the report said.
Trees help support the natural ecosystem and are considered vital for combating global warming and climate change. The extinction of a single tree species could prompt the loss of many others.
“Every tree species matters — to the millions of other species that depend on trees, and to people all over the world”.[Malay Mail]
Were any of the above concerns reviewed by the Selangor Government, as they ought to have been, when considering the consequences of this decision to hand over this remaining wilderness to its royal family for exploitation?
Given the failure to conduct a proper enquiry and consultation exercise it would seem not. Angry state parliamentarians say they were also kept in the dark and given insufficient time to make their response, meaning that due process was entirely by-passed.
In which case, it would seem the Sultan himself may have been insufficiently warned of the environmental consequences of the ‘development proposal’ put forward by his own private shell company and of the clear disaster the project would wreak against poor inhabitants he is supposed to care for in his own state. A proper consultation exercise would have at least publicly enlightened him and possibly changed his mind?
After all, the Sultan as a constitutional local monarch receives a handsome annual allowance from Selangor’s taxpayers to perform his role as Head of State. Naturally, he is supposed to perform it in the public interest and not to abuse his status for personal gain or creating public harm. In pushing for this project it would appear he was misadvised.
In the first place the failure clearly lies with the PKR Menteri Besar. A proper, open and transparent enquiry would have saved the Sultan from the embarrassment of association with this shocking land grab that threatens to wreak the remaining beauty and wildlife in his own homeland, which he is pledged to defend.
Perhaps this was embarrassment that the Sultan was seeking to belatedly avoid when just a week after the de-gazetting notice became public and the ensuing uproar, he is recorded as having transferred his 40% shareholding in Titian Jutaria Sdn Bhd entirely to his nephew.
That a small private company, recently incorporated with no past record in managing large logging and development projects should have been awarded such a massive venture by the state would certainly have taken some explaining had any proper tendering or consultation taken place.
The owners and officers of Titian Jutaria were plainly not developers, yet at the time of the announcement folk were led to understand that “construction giants are behind the move“.
It is therefore perhaps of little surprise that once the valuable permission had been granted by the state to acquire this land and develop it, this for purpose vehicle simply sold on those rights to an actual construction giant, namely Samling, then dissolved without registering any financial details whatsoever.
At the moment no one knows for how much or under what terms the rights granted by the State of Selangor were sold to Titian Jutaria and then off-loaded, but surely the public of Selangor, who already generously fund their royal family, have a right to know how much they got out of this apparent purloining of public land in return for doing absolutely nothing?
Has it happened before is what any enquiry into this matter should seek to find out and has this been the standard practice and indeed motive behind the flattening of so much of Malaysia’s extraordinarily significant and valuable bio-diversity?
It is perhaps necessary at this point to address a view that still apparently prevails in certain quarters in Malaysia (given various comments that have been made) which is that the handful of royal families ‘own’ the country: under the law they clearly don’t.
Malaysia’s constitution establishes the country and its constituent states as modern democracies subject to the rule of law, as opposed to feudal fiefdoms from a long bygone era where princes ruled supreme.
Under this system (known as constitutional monarchy) certain royal figures are subsidised by the public to perform a clear but limited role as heads of state, whilst remaining subject to the sovereign representative assemblies chosen by the people. Parliament can, with a sufficient majority, alter those terms and conditions if it choses or could abolish the royal role entirely.
Meanwhile, under this arrangement lands not already granted legal title belong to the state and are therefore subject to due process and the law as agreed by the elected Parliament. Such laws must apply to all equally without fear or favour and the royals have no more right to help themselves to forest areas or mining zones than anybody else.
This is all the more the case since Malaysia is a federation where not all the constituent states form part of the monarchical system (in particular the key wealth providers of East Malaysia and Penang) making it crucial that equal treatment is seen to prevail, according to the treaties signed.
This was the deal that forged a modern state: there was no princely conquest. To the contrary, the Federation of Malaysia was expensively protected from major challenges to its integrity during its early years (by forces from the UK) otherwise most of the oil from which West Malaysia has benefitted for over half a century would have gone to Indonesia or perhaps to China. The royal families have benefitted greatly from that prosperity and the protection given.
Is it ‘seditious’ to say as much or to suggest that royal figures from West Malaysia should not be allowed to plunder public lands or exploit their own people by avoiding scrutiny and due process any more than the ‘White Haired Raja’ mega-kleptocrat from Sarawak (Taib Mahmud)?
Sarawak Report has been told that its stating of such facts have provoked ‘investigations’ by the authorities in Malaysia for ‘sedition’ and it would be interesting to hear their logic expressed in a UK court of law, should they seek to attempt to extradite the editor of the site as has been threatened.
Unfortunately, despite these facts, the indulgence of powerful figures who have sought to help themselves to public lands has plainly been supported for decades across Malaysia, owing to the self-interested deference of entrenched ruling parties who have boosted their own wealth and power in the process of collaboration.
The lion’s share of the take may have gone to those at the pinnacles of power, however rich pickings have been made available to mainly UMNO stooges and facilitators across the country and to the party itself at both local and national levels.
So, who is surprised that after a series of backdoor deals and the bought treachery of MPs, like Azmin Ali of Selangor, the party has manoeuvred itself back into office and is presently letting party members off their corruption charges as fast as they are able?
The convicted kleptocratic, former PM Najib Razak, who remains an honoured member of the now ruling party and who retains a key vote in its wafer thin majority, predicted just as much after he lost GE14. It was just a matter of time and money in UMNO’s view before the election could be over-thrown in the manner that it has.
Selangor on the other hand remains nominally in the hands of the opposition PH coalition, despite the fact that many of its leading figures were put in place by that key defector to PN/UMNO, Azmin Ali. Therefore, the call for a proper and open enquiry into just what happened over Kuala Langat should be respected.
The reasons for a thorough review are now pressing, because everyone in Selangor should be deeply concerned at the takeover of this project by a company with a history like Samling.
First, who first made that connection to set up the business deal between the Sultan, his family and this Sarawak company to acquire the rights he secretively obtained from the state government to monetise tracts of protected public land?
Perhaps it was his longstanding confidante, the British lawyer cum businessman Richard Curtis, who for a decade saw no shame in acting as the Chief Executive and then board member of the Taib family company CMSB?
Working at the hub of one of the most corrupted kleptocratic regimes in all Malaysia, Curtis would have been well familiar with this key crony timber, plantation and now construction conglomerate that has received over a million hectares in concessions directly from the present governor Taib Mahmud.
Samling has wreaked devastation throughout this area, ripping out the trees, creating careless mudslides, polluting rivers and bullying the local people who sought to complain and who received zero compensation for their loss of lands and livelihoods.
Cutis would have certainly been able to reassure anyone who chose to listen that Samling has a long history of dealing harshly and effectively with local people who seek to stand in the way of their logging operations – at this very moment they are outrageously taking the impoverished communities of Baram (from whose lands they have raised billions in purloined timber) to court on grounds of ‘defamation‘.
The protests of the people, who say they were not properly consulted and want the loggers gone has sullied Samling’s fine reputation, claim the company’s lawyers, in a legal case that has sparked global outrage at the blatant attempt to silence a community by legal bullying.
In fact, Samling has no reputation to defend and has been blackballed by numerous global investment funds (including the Norwegian pension fund) owing to documented evidence of its illegal activities, bullying of local peoples and its disastrous destruction of the environment across several jurisdictions.
However, thanks to this new opportunity passed to this toxic company behind the scenes and without scrutiny, protestors from Selangor’s poor communities should prepare to receive similar treatment with costly civil actions brought against them should they speak out in protest as Samling moves in to mow down their homelands for nothing in return.
The people of Papua New Guinea can add their voices to the oppressed people of Sarawak. Another Yaw family/Samling subsidiary, Concord Pacific, was found guilty of exploitation and malpractice towards communities by a court judgement in that country which fined them nearly $100 million.
Likewise the same company was exposed by the NGO Global Witness for defrauding the people of Liberia of their timber and has caused trouble in Guyana in South America and in Cambodia having spread their tentacles across the globe.
Moving into construction Samling can even take the credit for triggering the disastrous sub-prime mortgage crisis in the United States that caused the global financial collapse. Their development in Califormia, Mountain House, was labelled the ‘epicentre of the sub-prime mortgage crash’ by the US media, although the Yaw family had bailed out of the project some months before the disaster struck.
It is this notorious company that has now slid into the driving seat it would appear to push through the flattening of the Kuala Langat once-protected forest, to sort out local opposition voices and to then construct development projects for the people of Selangor.
Alternatively, the people of Selangor could at last join hands with the neglected, impoverished and brow-beaten local people of Sarawak to fight off this backdoor land grab facilitated by the failure of the authorities in the state to look after the public interests of the people they are elected to represent.