MACC Must Investigate Sabah’s ‘Carbon Cowboy Conspiracy’

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The proponents of the controversial Nature Conservation Agreement have secured the support of 16 native non-governmental organisations and associations following a briefing on the project and its benefits.

According to a press release sent by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Jeffrey Kitingan’s political secretary Mohd Anuar Abdul Ghani, representatives from the 16 associations were briefed today at the Kadazandusun Cultural Association building.

“They said that after listening to the briefing, they have full understanding of the NCA and give their Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) and support to the NCA,” he said in a statement released today.

“It is their fervent hope that the people in particular the natives of Sabah who will be affected and involved will get the benefit of the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. They urge the state government to immediately implement the NCA and abide by the 17 SDGs,” he said.

Over a year ago Sarawak Report, along with numerous NGOs, media platforms and even Sabah’s own Attorney General, lambasted a blatant bad deal cooked up by the Sabah state leadership in the name of ‘carbon trading’.

The so-called Nature Conservation Agreement (NCA) purported to be based on UN backed REDD principles in order to raise carbon capture deals for an unspecified 2 million hectares of state forest/ indigenous lands. However, as a joint protest to the UN Special Rapporteur pointed out, none of the correct procedures had been followed, including necessary consultations with native stakeholders.

Investigations further revealed a mass of red flags over the deal itself, which had been signed by the new chief minister of the state and his deputy Jeffrey Kitingan, whose party held the balance of power after Kitngan had flipped sides to overthrow the previous administration.

Indeed, the state’s own AG wrote that the NCA document was “Incomplete”, “illegal”, “inequitable”, “absurd”, “unfair” (see her statement).

The red flags included what the protestors described as a vastly inflated estimate of the revenue potential of the scheme for an area yet to be delineated. The projection was that Sabah would make $800 million a year from the project – 80 times the realistic value, say the NGOs.

Another red flag was the appointment, without tendering naturally, of a ‘management company’ for the scheme that turned out to be one Hoch Standard Pty Ltd, a newly incorporated shell company in Singapore without any staff or track record, but which the deputy chief minister Jeffry Kitingan chose to describe as a “global player, involved in private equity funding all over the world”.

Hoch Standard has been accorded the right to take no less than 30% of all those massive anticipated profits for the next 100 years under this NCA deal signed off by Kitingan and the boss who relies on him to stay in office….  And this shell company just happens to have as its sole ‘authorised representative’ one Stan Lassa Golokin, a businessman who goes back a very long way indeed with none other than Jeffrey Kitingan.

According to the protest lodged with the UN, Golokin managed a string of previous ‘eco-ventures’ commissioned by Kitingan when Kitingan was CEO of the Sabah [forest] Foundation in the 1980s (appointed by his brother who was chief minister at the time).

Most went bust, causing a billion dollars of public money to go missing unaccounted, according to a Price Waterhouse report at the time.

Kitingan was arrested and prosecuted, but got off and flipped to support the federal government. Golokin chose to reside abroad during that tricky period, continued the joint protest letter to the UN Special Rapporteur in March 2021.

In which case, have either of these longstanding venture partners the right track record to mastermind yet another grand ‘eco-venture’ proposed by them? Kitingan has never countered or denied Sarawak Report’s coverage of these several accusations over a year ago.

The other red flags attached to this deal are more shocking still. There has been no transparency as to who is the lucky shareholder of the BVI company Lionsgate which in turn owns Hoch Standard. Nonetheless, the two Sabah leaders signed what was termed as a ‘binding contract’, despite the AG’s belated attempts to insist it was only a ‘provisional’ arrangement.

And that ‘binding contract’ contained a so-called ‘cancellation clause’ that pledged to pay the mystery beneficial ownership of this shell company its 30% of those inflated projected profits in full, even if the NCA itself proved to be a total failure or if the state decides to sever the agreement.

Who could have Mr Kitingan have sought to favour with such a sweetheart arrangement whereby Hock Standard could end up billing the people of Sabah potentially hundreds of millions for doing precisely nothing? The state government has neglected to provide an answer.

The NCA project appeared to founder last year after the deluge of rightful criticism and the rebuttals of the state Attorney General. However, it emerges that the multiple party hopper, ‘Kanga’ Kitingan, who has undoubtedly sought to exploit the benefits of holding the balance of power/trading his votes throughout his political career, has not given up on this carbon trading dream of his.

Despite the change in federal government, Kitingan has started plugging his NCA proposal once more as a great solution for Sabah (as if a more transparent, tendered project would not be preferable) and has started pushing again for the NCA to be adopted.

In his latest move he has sought to address one of the glaring flaws in his original plan by dragging together some ‘native representatives’ for a one day gathering and then issuing a press release claiming that (having had his good intentions explained to them) they now all happily support his plans with “free, prior and informed consent’!

He gets full marks for brass neckery. However, the MACC must investigate before this proposal goes a step further.

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