By Azreen HaniMonday, April 1, 2013

Sarawak Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud who was implicated in a ‘sting’ video which was released last month by a non-governmental organisation Global Witness described the allegation as a smear campaign against Sarawak leadership and society. The video which was released last month alleged that there is a systematic corruption and  illegitimate practices committed by Taib’s family on land matters including Sarawak’s deforestations. Setting the records straight with The Mole and several online media practitioners in a recent interview in Kuching, Taib offered his insights on the allegations and the misrepresentation of facts about Sarawak in the new media.

 Q: Recently there was a video by Global Witness on alleged corruption in Sarawak. Can you comment on that? 
A: Yes, sure. I have watched it and was quite shocked. The issue they are creating is not happening at all. There is no truth at all. Before this I’ve seen a lot of propaganda and I normally tolerate it. But today it becomes clear that they are trying to manufacture evidence (on this issue). For people who are expert on evidence matters, they know it is not evidence… it is a campaign. In the first place, the people they trust as their “middlemen” are not people who are close with me. I am good with them because of blood ties. Tun Rahman (Yakub) is my uncle and I don’t like to quarrel for the sake of unity among our community. But I also noticed these people also do not know why such questions were posed to them by someone who claimed to be a land buyer, who wanted to find out on business requirements. To use a business talk as an evidence to allege someone else it is a bit far-fetched. Any businessmen will try to promote himself with all the glorious connection he’s made, isn’t it? This is a normal business practice. I know this, all people in Malaysia know this. I don’t think we can trust this talk unless they can show us their proof that there are money that will be given to me or my bank account on how much I have received it. However this has not been shown at all. These are simply claims by “middlemen” which I don’t even know, except for Tun Rahman’s family. That’s why my first response is, well they want to promote themselves, I have no objection to it but I have nothing to do with it.

 Q: What is your comment when the NGO which produced the video is one of the fund recipients from Soros?
 A: I call it manufacturing of evidence. First you can see the way they approach it, which I’ve explained just now. Number two, why now? During the election time? It’s very obvious. They sneaked in and timed it very carefully. If they want to come in and want to smear Sarawak’s leadership and society, I can tell you we have done much better than what the British has done before (when Sarawak was a British colony). Q: In the video it stated that there are only five per cent of forests left in the state. What is the actual status from the state’s record? A: As of today, we have approximately 60 per cent of forest cover. We have reserved one million hectare of our forests for national park. Almost five million hectares have been reserved for long-term forests. It (forest plantations) will be harvested for timber but it will have to comply with very strict rules. By strict rules we mean that for every hectare, only seven trees will be allowed to be cut down for timber for every 25 years. There are no such strict rules like this even in the European countries for logging activity. This 25-year cycle sustainable forest management has been certified by ITTO. I am puzzled why people who criticise Sarawak did not look at the satellite pictures of our forest cover. You will see nothing is bold in Sarawak, you can see it straight away. But they refused to see. It is their propaganda and they completely turn their blind eyes to the realities. To me it is not fair. These critics and NGOs are not looking after the interest of the world environment but what they are just interested in smear campaigns.

 Q: Do you know Bruno Manser (Fund) and do you know George Soros personally?
 A: George Soros was known to us… and the former Prime Minister (Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) isn’t impressed with his international performance. I understand he’s backing some of the NGOs (non-governmental organisations) against Sarawak because Sarawak happens to be a part of Malaysia which he (Soros) doesn’t like. Nevermind, it’s okay. I wish that if he only knows what we try to do for the people of Sarawak to bring them from poverty, to a developed nation status by the year 2020. I think any feeling of fairness in him (Soros) would prompt him to support us rather than supporting any NGOs’ action against Sarawak. A lot of the things are based on lies. For example anybody can see the forest in Sarawak is still there. We have nearly 60 per cent of the surface of Sarawak covered by trees. We have a very rigorous strict civil culture programme, very rigidly controlled harvesting policies for our timber. Therefore some of our timber today are being harvested at the third time (from sustainable forest plantations). This just shows that the rules were laid out for more than 50 years ago. It proved to be quite a sustainable practice and I think people like George Soros should learn the fact independently from international bodies like ITTO (International Timber Trade Organisation) and from the studies by the FAO undertaken in end of 1960s and 1970s which we have accepted as the basis for our timber policies in Sarawak. So organisation like Bruno Manser Foundation…they are just blind to any facts. They just want to make themselves popular as the savior of Sarawak’s forest. I did not take his antics very seriously before. BMF…Bruno’s foundation that follows his policies is not fighting any real cause, more of an imaginary cause rather than a realistic one. 

Q: Maybe because George Soros has never been to Sarawak…
 A: I don’t know. If he wants he can come and see with his own eyes. I can tell him he can travel all the way from Limbang or Lawas to Kuching and he will see nothing else but trees and trees. Most of them are our natural trees, some are palm oil which I think is as healthy a producer of oxygen for the environment as our natural trees. Q: For the past 15 months there were three different documentaries by BBC on the issue of deforestation of Sarawak, and that it was affecting certain tribes. There’s one which focused on the Penan community. Can you comment on that? A: There are two misrepresentations in connection with that. In the first place there are barely 5,000 Penans in all of Sarawak. Most of them have been resettled, they enjoy better standard of health and life and make greater penetration into modern education than they ever had during the time when we were a British colony. Sorry as I had to mention it. Five thousand people, a lot of them have settled down and one of them who had settled down in Niah and has now become a millionaire by organising his tribe to open up land to become oil palm plantations. That man is called Datuk Hassan Sui. So all this imagination in the part of BBC is based on inaccurate reports probably by Bruno Manser before. My advice, why can’t BBC treat us fairly like it treats any other countries that have been relying on their good will? Come to Sarawak and take independent view and see what you’ll find. You will find Sarawak still have 60 per cent of its surface covered by trees. You’ll find that the Penans are slowly getting better way of life as result of government’s development help and particularly those people who have been resettled due to the building of dams. Their houses are three times better than the nomadic life they used to live. A lot of their children do not want nomadic life anymore. It’s an archaic concept by outsider that try to preserve the people in pristine condition. I can’t do that. I am a Chief Minister, I can tell you that my people here, the electorate that I serve will in fact accuse me of discriminating against the Penan. I need to look after them (Penan) and see what needs to be done to upgrade their standard of living. They will get the same settlement, housing and other amenities through our resettlement programme like any other people we help. I don’t think we should yield to some misperception from outside in order to say “we are very nice to the Penans” by preserving their culture of wandering about in the jungle. What they (BBC) failed to mention is on the cases of childhood deaths, miscarriages among the Penan communities and deaths in the jungle due to their life. Things like these to me are regarded as sufferings which we need to elevate the Penans from. I don’t think anyone in Malaysia will accept that I should leave the Penan to live like how they used to a 100 years ago.  

Q: How are you going to address the misrepresentation of facts about Sarawak in the new media?
 A: People like me coming from a small state like Sarawak, I can’t afford to spend hundred of millions of dollars to have bloggers and all sort of those things. During the election a lot of political parties can spend money on bloggers, I know one party can get 200 bloggers to work for them for the purpose of election. For me, I got to maintain a kind of system of information that is enough to get my people first, to be able to follow the trend of development and to allow them to participate and to accept development through various stages…it’s part of growing up. That’s my main aim in communication. Still we are using the radio and other means. Engaging bloggers to me is still relatively a luxurious thing. I could (create a team of bloggers) if I’m politically over sensitive about, but I’m not that over sensitive because I know that even during the last state election the same kind of smearing campaign was launched from outside. Some people told me not to reply. They said: “Please don’t reply. We know you for the last 50 years”. “We know you for the past 20 years, if you are as bad as they say we don’t see all the progress in Sarawak and good services from public offices, district office at divisional levels and such.” A lot of people got a lot of common sense in this country. Leave them alone, let them find out. Of course younger people are a bit mad about it but they can fight it back, I have no objection to that. I say thank you to them-lah but I am not in the position to be able to maintain a team of a few hundred bloggers…it’s not a justifiable expenditure for me to run for a state government with the size of budget I have.

Q: There is an online portal, Sarawak Report which had been attacking you for many years now. Will there be any effort to respond to their allegations against you? 
A: If we were to reply, there will be too many of it. It’s too much to do. Secondly, a lot of people do not trust it. So, just leave it alone. Everyone knows who is behind Sarawak Report. Those behind it can’t hide anymore.   

#This the first part of The Mole’s interview with Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud. Other parts will be published soon.up100%down

By cikzah

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