Malaysia’s controversial Bakun project
THE LAST FRONTIER CORRUPTION, RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AND ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION PLAGUE WATCH VIDEO AT HTTP://SUARAKEADILANMALAYSIA.BLOGSPOT.COM/2012/09/MALAYSIAS-CONTROVERSIAL-BAKUN.HTML
A ground-breaking report released by Swiss-based NGO Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) estimated the assets of Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud’s family at US$21 billion (RM64 billion).
The wealth of Taib himself has been put at a whopping US$15 billion (RM46 billion), making him Malaysia’s richest man, outstrippingtycoon Robert Kuok who has US$12.5 billion.
The report entitled ‘The Taib Timber Mafia: Facts and Figures on Politically Exposed Persons from Sarawak, Malaysia’ was released today in Brussels to coincide with a visit by the Malaysian Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Bernard Dompok to the European Commission.
It is the first report that describes in detail the business activities and personal wealth of 20 members of the Taib family in Malaysia, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, United States and other countries.
The report aimed to build international pressure against the Sarawak’s first family and provide investigating bodies, journalists, Sarawakians and interested parties with hard evidence on the Taib financial empire.
BMF estimated the combined net worth of 20 Taib family members at close to US$21 billion, spread over 400 companies around the globe – all built through their near complete political and economic control of Sarawak – one of the poorest states in Malaysia – over three decades.
However, the research is restricted to Taib’s family members and does not include the wealth of Taib’s close associates, all of whom have benefitted from the powerful chief minister’s patronage during his almost 31 years in power.
Taib holds three key posts
In particular, the family of the longest-serving chief minister in Malaysia has established monopolies over the granting of logging and plantation concessions, the export of timber, the maintenance of public roads as well as the production and sale of cement, and a number of other construction materials.
“The Taib family’s business outfits, particularly its flagship company Cahya Mata Sarawak (CMS), have also benefitted from untendered public contracts worth hundreds of millions of US dollars,” said BMF.
CMS is the largest private company in the state with net assets totalling RM2.4 billion in 2010.
It has been awarded some of the state’s largest contracts including the RM300 million construction of the state legislative assembly building in Kuching, a contract over the maintenance of all 4,000km-long state roads in Sarawak and a 15-year concession to maintain 643km of federal roads.
The report claimed that the Sarawak state government enjoys total autonomy as to the use of the state’s forest resources and state lands, while Taib has abused his triple positions as chief minister, state finance minister, and planning and resources minister, to award his family members vast timber concessions, palm oil concessions, state contracts and directorships in Sarawak’s largest companies.
“In 2009, his three ministries controlled 49.6 percent of the state’s operating expenditure of RM1.19 billion and 80 percent of the state’s development expenditure of RM3.08 billion, with the other 10 ministers sharing the rest.”
As Sarawak planning and resources minister, the report explained, Taib has ultimate control over the granting of logging concessions in Sarawak that are worth several billion US dollars.
“Already in the late 1980s, family members and clients loyal to Taib were estimated to control over 1.6 million hectares of timber concessions in Sarawak which constitute more than 10 percent of the total land mass of Sarawak”.
All in the family
The report also zoomed in on Taib’s modus operandi as to how these assets were transferred overseas to countries such as Canada (Sakto group of companies), US (Sakti Corporation and related companies), Australia (Sitehost Pty Ltd), UK (Ridgeford Properties), Hong Kong (Richfold Investment Ltd) and to a number of offshore finance centres, in particular the British Virgin Islands.
“While the above-mentioned companies officially name Taib family members as their shareholders or directors, it is believed that many other companies are held through nominees.”
Individuals profiled in the extensive 45-page report include Taib’s brother Onn Mahmud, who is second richest family member with an estimated net worth of US$2 billion, while Taib’s eldest son, Mahmud Abu Bekir Taib, a major player in the Sarawak construction, property and energy business, is ranked third at US$1.5 billion.
Next in line are Taib’s Canada-based socialite daughter Jamilah Taib Murray (US$1 billion), Taib’s brother and timber entrepreneur Tufail Mahmud (US$600 million), sister Raziah Mahmud (US$500 million), daughter Hanifah (US$400 million) and son Sulaiman (US$300 million).
Meanwhile, timber conglomerate Ta Ann founder and Sarawak Energy chairperson Hamed Sepawi, a first cousin of the chief minister, has an estimated wealth of US$175 million.
Faced with mounting criticism, Taib had last year took to the Internet to defend his family’s wealth.
In particular, Taib explained that his daughter Jamilah’s (right) business was initially funded from his income as a federal minister, which his daughter through her business acumen expanded into a global empire.
“Well, my children make money, yes, quite big. I don’t know whether what they said 100 million is correct… in Canada,” he said in a four-minute videoposted on YouTube a month before the Sarawak state election last year.
“But it all started (when) I gave money to my daughter. I was resigning from the federal government. I got gratuity, I gave some money to her to start a new business, it thrived.
“It is a property development company. When our town was still small, they had foresight to buy pieces of land and sell them quickly,” he said.
BMF compares Taib’s family with the clans of former Indonesian president Suharto and former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos – the two families had embezzled between US$15 billion and US$35 billion, and between US$20 billion and US$900 billion respectively.
“We believe our research is showing merely the tip of the iceberg as many (Taib) family assets are likely to be hidden overseas or in offshore districts where information is virtually impossible to obtain,” said the report.
“BMF is therefore calling on anti-corruption and anti-money-laundering authorities worldwide to investigate the Taib family’s business activities.”
Have you ever noticed how some people are determined to always get the last word in in every argument, discussion or debate? How they seem to wait till everyone is just about finished, when everyone but him / her has put their pens and writing pads away and pushed their chairs back to stand up, when this person decides to launch a fresh torrent of ideas that set things off on a tangent?
If this were all and such people had a valid observation to make that would lead a discussion forward or lend a fresh perspective to a problem, such people would have been bearable and definitely an asset to have on your team; but often times, such people either lurk in the sidelines waiting for the opportune moment to disrupt things or are every ready to launch a tirade against the windmills even when their isn’t an opposition in sight.
Such people speak because they like to hear the sound of their own voices; because they believe other’s expect them to speak; because they believe they should be considered the last word in everything being discussed however little their knowledge or experience of the subject; because they believe keeping quiet would equal defeat and they don’t believe in losing; or they simply don’t understand that their speaking at that time will virtually jeopardize the whole argument that the erstwhile speaker had striven to establish.
What really irks me the most is that such people, despite your prompting them, reasoning with them or even pleading with them are predictable to a fault: they will have to speak as surely as night follows day every time they find themselves in such a situation, and will continue to speak till everyone else in the room shuts up or turns away in sheer frustration. Little do they realize (or perhaps care about) the impression they create through their determined, more often than not completely uncalled for verbal jousting. The next time the twain meet, the audience, if intelligent, is better prepared for the ensuing verbal duel and either completely ignores the person or walks away from the discussion with ‘its perhaps better for all of us to fight another day’ writ large on their faces.
What worries, is that the number of such people that I seem to be bumping into – as I pass through life – seems to be increasing exponentially. I meet such people at work, in my professional circles, in the housing society, when I am on holiday and even at parent-teacher meetings. What such people fail to realize that this rarely helps accomplish anything other than create a fragile equilibrium that is disturbed by the slightest tremor.
Is the predictability of their behavior, and their desperate need to be heard a sign of their competitiveness, their intelligence or their mediocrity? Aren’t the brilliant supposed to be somewhat unpredictable and eccentric? Is this a reflection of some childhood insecurity – as my psychiatrist friends would say – when their parents never allowed them to get a word in edgeways? Or is this a veiled arrogance that makes them believe the world must sit and learn at their feet even when they know precious little about the subject at hand? Whatever the case may be, there is no denying that very few things infuriate a thinking person more than coming across or having to co-exist with such an individual in his / her immediate vicinity – a fact that is fast becoming the case in most walks of life.
A Little Learning Is A Dangerous Thing
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of arts,
While from the bounded level of our mind,
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind;
But more advanced, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise!
So pleased at first the towering Alps we try,
Mount o’er the vales and seem to tread the sky,
The eternal snows appear already pass’d,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last:
But, those attain’d, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthen’d way,
The increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes,
Hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!
– Alexander Pope
When I started this blog, I had promised that it would not only be about public policy and development issues, but would also feature stories of inspiring individuals, stories of hope and human spirit. I came across one such story in the heart of a favela or slum in an enchanting city on the north eastern coast of Brazil, Salvador, the original capital of the Portuguese colony.
Enderson Araujo is a 21-year-old who grew up in Sussuarana, one of the dangerous favelas still plagued by the drug trade that swallows a lot of the young people. However, a media work shop that taught young black people communication technology and the importance of communication changed his whole life. Inspired by the power of finding a voice through communication, Enderson went on to start a weekly community newspaper called Midia Periferica.
Periferia refers to favelas that often exist at the periphery of cities often physically and also metaphorically when it comes to provision of civic amenities. Midia Periferica (http://www.midiaperiferica.blogspot.com/) was meant to give voice to the periferia or favelas. “After the media workshop by the Institute of Ethnic Media, where they talked about the right to communication, I thought about the situation in my community and all its problems. I decided that we needed to give a voice to the community as the traditional mainstream media only showed the drugs, violence and police action here. That’s not all that is there to favelas. It is also a place where people live and work and I felt the need to show the positive things too,” explains Enderson.
Midia Pereferica started by telling stories from the favelas on social media like facebook. “Everything started with just a cellphone to access the internet and social networks where stories were told. Pay 50 cents and you get internet connection for the whole day. Slowly even the traditional media started using our stories and talking to us as sources and even asking us to write for them. We might not have high education, but we communicate in our own way,” says Enderson who had discontinued his studies to work to help his family. He is now studying to complete the final year of high school.
The weekly newspaper was started when they realized that the reach of social networks was limited to just the people with internet access. The newspaper is just two sides of an A4 size sheet designed using Word software, photos clicked with cellphone cameras and a 100 copies printed on a laserjet printer in the backroom of a shop, which serves as the office of Midia Periferica. The 100 copies are distributed free in Sussuarana. “We have started getting advertisements from local businesses and that is keeping us going for now. The secretary for affirmative action of Salvador has also promised us funding,” says Enderson, who is reporter, editor, publisher all rolled into one. A group of like-minded young people from the favela is also part of this venture now.
Midia Periferica draws attention to problems of bad roads, lack of health facilities, poor garbage collection and inadequate public transport facilities, problems of everyday life in Sussuarana, which mainstream media, with its one dimensional focus on drugs and violence in favelas, is said to ignore.
Enderson Araujo- giving a voice to favelas
The editor at work
Community newspaper that reflects local concerns
Moving beyond Sussuarana, Midia Periferica is trying to forge ties with other favelas across the city. Enderson and his group are constantly innovating and coming up with new ideas to give voice to the favelas. The latest is called Postcards from the Periphery where people from favelas send in their favourite images clicked in their favelas. The relatively recent project has already yielded some stunning images of favelas encouraging an entirely different way of looking at these spaces teeming with people. (https://www.facebook.com/midia.periferica)
Questioning the consolidation of mainstream media ownership in Brazil, Enderson and his group work to promote the democratisation of communication made possible by the internet and argue for greater plurality of voices in the media. Today, Enderson, a confident and tech savvy communicator, has come a long way from where he started two years back. He is one of the coordinators of a National Network of Adolescents and Young Communicators who appears frequently on television shows and address meetings in Rio and Brasilia on the right to communication, an inspiration for youth in favelas across the country.
Only someone so knowledgeable in economics can talk to the nation in this manner. Only someone so intellectually honest can tell it so straight. Only someone so well regarded can teach – almost berate – the nation with his Money doesn’t grow on treesstatement. The PM showed in his televised speech last night that not only is he a good economist, he’s also a great Professor who’s willing to teach his students (and the opposition) a good lesson!
The PM was so right. Each one of us knows it in our own personal lives. Money indeed doesn’t grow on trees. How many of us resort to deficit financing in our personal lives – spending more than we earn and then borrowing to cover the gap? None. And yet we expect the government to do precisely that. Now I know that there is a very rational reason for deficit budgets in economics, but there is a limit to which those deficits can be allowed. Stretching the elastic band of the deficit beyond that limit would make it snap. Most people understand that instinctively. But most people don’t know how the country has reached the precipice of fiscal imprudence. Most people don’t know how deficits cause inflation. The diesel price hike may cause a short term spike in inflation, but the deficit reduction will alleviate inflationary pressures in the medium term. The cacophony of politicians typically (and intentionally) tends to obfuscate the facts; hide the realities. Most people now know that diesel has gone up by Rs 5, but hardly anyone would know that the government will still spend Rs. 1.6 lac crores out of its pockets as subsidy.
The truth is intentionally obfuscated like I said. Sitaram Yechury appeared to be asking an innocent sounding question last night, except that it was anything but innocent. If there are so many losses on fuel, he asked, then how come the Oil Marketing Companies (IOC, BPCL etc) are making so much profits? The veteral politician – an MA in Economics – does not realize that the OMCs “make profits” because they get the subsidy from the government? That’s the Rs 2 lac crores that the government gives to the OMCs, so that the OMCs can report clean results. The government takes the hit in its own budget. Does Sitaram Yechury not realize this simple fact? Of course he does, but he is in the business of obfuscating the truth.
Or take the BJP which made so much noise about the diesel hike. The BJP always speaks with a forked tongue. So it also seeks to take credit for the fact that it had decontrolled diesel. Now how many people understand what decontrol means? Very few. And that is precisely what the BJP counts on in obfuscating the truth. In reality, if the decontrol had been continued by the Congress in 2004, the price of diesel today would have been another Rs 12 higher. But the BJP won’t say this. Incidentally, I think the BJP was right in decontrolling diesel. The 12 rupees higher pricing would have been spread over a much longer period of time and there would have been several ups and downs during those years. People would have got used to it by now. So the BJP was right; what it should rightfully be saying is that this method of increasing diesel prices (in jerks) is wrong; it should not be opposing the price increase itself. See the subtle difference? So easy to obfuscate!
No one of course brings out the other truth that the central government is out of pocket to the extent of Rs 50 thousand crores on account of fuels subsidy (it gave Rs 1.4 lac crores to OMCs last year. Got Rs 90 thousand crores as taxes. Net loss Rs 50 thousand crores), while at the same time, the states earn Rs 1.25 lac crores on account of the taxes they levy without having any matching liabilities. This is their “profit” as it were. This time around, the taxes pocketed a cool Rs 8000 crores more because of the Rs 5 hike. How convenient is this? Everytime fuel prices rise, the BJP gets a stick to wield the Congress with; and at the same time, the coffers of its state governments become even fuller. How nice! But such lies have to stop sometime right? A national party tasked with providing a responsible opposition cannot cheat in this grotesque way, right?
The truths about FDI in retail are similarly obfuscated. In this regard, Dr. Amit Mitra – a man I regarded a lot in his earlier avatar as a capitalist – sounded almost like a joker when he was questioned by Arnab Goswami about why he had changed his tune after becoming a politician. Amit Mitra’s answer was funny and silly. “Even you changed your tune from the time you were in NDTV”! What kind of an answer is that? Then he rattled off some poverty numbers in his constituency. So is Dr. Mitra saying that when he was FICCI Secretary General, he did not know that India was a poor country? Amit Mitra’s only lame duck excuse was that he has now become a politician. So he must change his tune?
So much misinformation is being spread about FDI in multi-brand retail too. People may not realize the kind of strides our domestic large format stores have made in the last ten years. The Aditya Birla group has 540 stores under the “More” brand and it plans to more than double that number by 2016. There are more than 200 Big Bazaars, more than 200 Spencers and more than a thousand other brands in the domestic organized market. In spite of such rapid growth, has anyone seen any kirana store shut down? Not even in the vicinity of these large formats. How many Walmarts and Carrefours and Tescos will come up? I can bet….not even 50 in the first ten years. What are we talking about here? The BJP intentionally spreads this misinformation to protect its money-extorting and anti-people trader community.
The BJP’s Yashwant Sinha again lies in today’s Economic Times. In “Why the Media and Pundits are wrong on reforms”, he complains that “our own impressive record of economic reforms during 1998-2004 did not help us electorally”. The stats reveal otherwise. The BJP delivered just 5.8% average GDP growth in these six years, down from the 6.7% in the Congress/UF period prior to 1998. The BJP had no impressive record of reforms – in fact, it had a very poor record. That’s why it lost in 2004. Yet, its easy for Yashwant Sinha to obfuscate the truth.
Only the PM with his enormous credibility could have done what he did yesterday. He explained the truth; he sought support from the people; he punched at the opposition; and he promised to do whatever it would take to get the country going. The mood in the country is with the PM. People understand that a Rs 5 increase in diesel is no big deal. They want a government that reassures them that it knows what it is doing. The opposition better realize this mood in the country. This mood is returning after 2 years of gloom. This mood will devour those who try to put a lid on it. Indians are happy people; and they are cheering the PM today.
The real truth is that the PM was honest and knowledgeable in his TV address. Honesty is the PM’s hallmark. Knowledge his forte. He’s been hemmed in by Mamata now and the Left in UPA-1. Give the PM 5 years of unfettered rule; and see how India changes. I remember in the 1980s (yes, before Modi!), how a single IAS officer and Ahmedabad’s municipal commissioner Keshav Verma changed the face of the city by his strong administration. Another municipal commissioner, SR Rao of Surat, made the city the 2nd cleanest city in India after the plague. All this in 5-10 years. But they had the backing of their political bosses. Let’s give the PM the backing and see what he does….