Saturday, March 31, 2007

MOHD. NAJIB TUN RAZAK IN TROUBLE: A series of Messy Scandles

Pressure mounts in Kuala Lumpur to put the brakes on a scandal-tainted Malay politico.

Speculation is increasing in Malaysia that of one of the country ‘s elite politicians, Deputy Prime Minister Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak, is in serious trouble due to a series of messy scandals.

There is considerable speculation that Najib, the son of Malaysia’s second prime minister, will be forced to step down from national politics. One rumour has him becoming chief minister of his native Pahang state, although the exit route for most discredited or politically suspect figures in Malaysia is a diplomatic or other posting overseas, according to sources contacted by Asia Sentinel. In any case, on March 13, he became sufficiently concerned that he called a press conference in his Pekan constituency to deny rumours that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was considering dumping him in favour of Muhyidin Yassin, currently Minister of Agriculture and Aagro-based Industries and a Badawi ally.

Najib in better times

Najib is said to be fighting back on a several fronts, making the rounds of the old bulls of the United Malays National Organization(UMNO), Malaysia’s biggest political party, in an effort to save his career. In January, Najib reportedly flew to London to attempt to meet with Tun Mahathir Mohamad, the octogenarian former prime minister who still carries considerable clout inside UMNO, in an attempt to shore up his support. Mahathir reportedly declined to see him.

In particular Najib has been wounded by speculation of his involvement, however peripheral, in the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu, the 28 year-old Mongolian beauty whose body was found in a patch of jungle outside a Kuala Lumpur on October 20. Two policemen from an elite Special Operations Force whose ultimate boss was Najib were arrested for the crime. Altantuya disappeared after attempting to confront Abdul Razak Baginda, the head of a think tank closely tied to Najib, over support for her 18-month-old son. Razak Baginda is also facing charges for conspiring in the murder.

Originally, a third member of the force – a 22-year-old woman lance corporal – was also arrested. She was never named in news stories by Malaysia’s government-friendly press and was released a week later without being charged. There is widespread speculation in Malaysia that she is the aide-de-camp and bodyguard to Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor.

Razak Baginda is scheduled to go on trial in June. The case leaves open the question of how two – and possibly three ‑ elite police officers became involved with a political analyst who has no formal government authority. The top leadership of UMNO, the dominant force in the ruling national coalition, have been tiptoeing gingerly around the case ever since the arrests in November.

Razak Baginda, originally scheduled to go on trial in March 2008, had his trial date moved up by months in an unusual move. That has raised additional questions in political circles over whether the move was engineered by Prime Minister Ahmad Abdullah Badawi or individuals close to him because there is evidence that would tie Najib to the case.

Kuala Lumpur’s energetic blogs are buzzing with rumors that prosecutors have a letter indicating that Najib asked Malaysia’s Immigration Department to issue the doomed Altantuya a visa, and that at one point Najib, Razak Baginda and Altantuya were said to have gone overseas from Malaysia together, although others point out that visitors from Russia, China, Mongolia and from lots of other countries can get visas very easily to visit Malaysia.

In addition to questions over the murder case, Najib is also under fire for the 2002 purchase by the Malaysian Ministry of Defense of three submarines that cost the treasury RM$4.5 billion (US$1.3 billion) for which a company controlled by Abdul Razak Baginda was paid a commission of RM510 million (US$147.3 million) in a sale that included no competitive tenders. Although Najib was cleared in an investigation at the time of the purchase, his position has been weakened enough by the Altantuya scandal that opposition politicians, particularly onetime Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, have again begun to assail him over it. On the Al-Jazeera television network, Anwar Thursday also questioned commissions paid over the purchase of 18 Russian Sukhoi-30 jet fighters in 2003 when Najib was defence minister.

"There are complicities over the huge and massive commissions accrued by the government involving the Defence Ministry, Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak," said Anwar during the interview.Najib said he wouldn't respond to Anwar's charges. But, he told reporters recently, "Don't listen to the stories on the internet...they are all a myth. We should not react hastily, we must stick to principles and the truth...what is important is that we understand and know who will help us."

Driving Najib from national politics would be difficult. In addition to the cachet he enjoys from being his father’s son, as deputy party president he has strong ties among UMNO leaders in a career that goes back to 1978 as a functionary in the very strong UMNO Youth wing. The party’s nearly 200 division chiefs are key to his political wellbeing, and reports are that he has been wooing them assiduously, arranging in some cases for overseas junkets.

And, as UMNO goes, so goes Malaysian politics. Despite its endemic corruption and the pervasive sense of rot at the top, it appears highly unlikely that any outside political force could even dent it. Anwar Ibrahim, who was jailed on charges of sexual abuse that were widely perceived as spurious, has been leading a reform party movement, making speeches across the country about party corruption and in particular Najib’s connection to it.

But few believe Anwar has any chance to take down UMNO. The odds are instead that if Najib were to be sent packing, it would be at the behest of UMNO leaders who have decided he is too hot to handle, not by the country’s full electorate.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Mr PM, indict Zulkipli!
by P Ramakrishnan
Aliran President
Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Anti-Corruption Agency chief Zulkipli Mat Noor can no longer be in office holding on to his position as Director General. It is an embarrassment to the ACA! An institution entrusted with the highly demanding responsibility of checking and eradicating corruption cannot be headed by an individual whose character and integrity comes under a cloud of suspicion. We cannot tolerate this absurd situation. The Prime Minister must surely understand this.

Zulkipli was not merely accused of being corrupt by any ordinary citizen. It was not a wild allegation by any means. But in this case, the accusation came from a senior (now retired) ACA official, Ramli Abdul Manan, who had investigated the issue of corruption involving Zulkipli. According to Ramli, the former Sabah ACA director, he had studied this particular case and had indeed filed his report in July 2006 alerting the ACA, the then Inspector-General of Police and the Prime Minister regarding Zulkipli's corruption. Strangely, no action was taken to pursue this matter.

Besides this, it has been disclosed that several reports dating back to 1997 were lodged with the police by a woman alleging sexual molestation and behaviour unbecoming of an official, who strangely seems to be enjoying the confidence of the authorities.

In spite of these earlier reports, Zulkipli’s contract was extended three times since his appointment by former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2001. (His current term ends on 31 March 2007.) We are now told that the police are investigating this case.

Notwithstanding this, further allegations of corruption have emerged with Dr Jeffrey Kitingan lodging a 24-page police report implicating Zulkipli with corruption.

What is really worrying Malaysians is that Zulkipli continues to be on duty and in service as Director General of the ACA. There is this real fear that, because of his top position, he has access to ACA files and information pertaining to his case. It is legitimate to wonder whether there is a possibility that evidence can be tampered with or witnesses threatened. This is something that cannot be easily dismissed or overlooked.

Zulkipli’s position in the ACA is tarnishing the image of the ACA. People are losing their confidence in the ACA as a body truly dedicated to wiping out corruption. When citizens no longer view the head of this very important agency as a man of impeccable character, then the entire outfit suffers. Its credibility is shattered and the very purpose of setting up the ACA is rightly questioned. We cannot have a person remaining in such a crucial office if his integrity has been called into question or if there is the slightest hint of irregularities.

Aliran is of the view that Zulkipli should be indicted. Indicting an officer while the case is being investigated is part of the disciplinary process. When an officer is cleared, he can be reinstated without suffering any loss in salary or seniority to his rank. Why should it be different for Zulkipli, Mr PM?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Problems of NEP: Is it the Policy or its Implementation

(Link edited by YM)

Former Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Musa Hitam seems to be playing to the non-Malay gallery. Last Dec in an interview with the largest circulated daily newspaper in the country, Sin Chew Jit Poh he was quoted as telling the GLCs to stop pinching Malay professionals from Chinese enterprises.

The story was picked up by the Sun newspaper on Dec 19. I find such a call most intriguing as I keep wondering how many Malay professionals have the GLCs pinched from the Chinese enterprises?

Subsequently I wrote to the Sun seeking Tun Musa to tell us how many Malay executives have the GLCs pinched from Chinese enterprises. For I keep wondering whether there are enough Malay professionals being employed in Chinese enterprises for them to be pinched in the first place? As expected the letter never got to see daylight.

(In that letter to the editor e-mailed on Christmas Day last year I had also responded to Chairman of the Malaysian Chapter of Transparency International, Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam who had claimed that it was difficult for non-Malay companies to employ Malay professionals. In the report (Dec 21 issue of the Sun) he justified his claim to the “unavailability of suitably qualified Malay professionals and those with the right corporate values and attitudes of diligence and commitment”.

Isn’t it odd that on the one hand Musa had asked the GLCs to stop pinching Malay executives from the Chinese companies but Navaratnam had claimed that it was difficult for chinese companies to employ Malay executives and professionals. So if there are so few Malay professionals and executives being employed by the Chinese companies what is there for the GLCs to pinch? I found such claim really incredulous. I am sure Malay professionals would take umbrage to Navaratnam’s claims that Malay professionals and executives do not have the right corporate values and attitudes of diligence and commitment.

Navaratnam had also blamed extremists (Malays) for perpetrating and encouraging the myths of non-Malay companies not wanting to employ Malays. But I countered if what the Malays think as mere myths then he should give the figures to show otherwise. I am sure the Malays would like to know the number of Malay executives and professionals as well as the number of Chinese companies that have employed them.

It seems he made the generalisations that non-Malay companies find difficulty in getting Malay professionals just on the basis of an experience of the Sunway Group where he is a director. But I believe Sunway faced such difficulties out of its own reputation vis-à-vis the Malay professionals.

Navaratnam also claimed that the Malay professionals prefer to work in GLCs and government service where they are more comfortable. My rejoinder: so the Malay professionals are not suitable for non-Malay companies but they are OK with the GLCs and government because the government entities do not require diligence nor commitment from their staff? Is that why they are more comfortable there? So the Malays are not diligent nor committed in their work? Doesn’t such remarks smack of racialist sentiments?)

And in the face of such unprofessional and racist attitude by a very senior non-Malay corporate figure we now have a decision by the Advisory Panel of the Iskandar Development Region – made up of five very wise and influential men – that the race quota favouring the Malays should be done away with. The other members are tycoon Robert Kuok, Tan Sri Samsudin Osman former Chief Secretary to the Government, prominent Indian business tycoon Tan Sri Kishu Tirathai and economist Datuk Andrew Sheng.

Musa who made the announcement gave this reason: the Iskandar Development Region being actively promoted to upgrade development efforts in southern Johore can only succeed if policies favouring the Malays are dropped.

The IDR is the biggest project announced by the present government with the hope that it could spur economic growth with greater foreign participation not just for southern Johore but extending to other parts of the country as well.

It is indeed odd that a lot of people are making out as if affirmative action for the Malays is becoming a hindrance to greater economic growth. Foreign Direct Investment in the country is said to have dropped to RM15billion in 2005 from RM17.6 billion in 2004. And it looks as if the affirmative action in favour of the Malays is being made the scapegoat. Musa seems to agree. Thus the Advisory panel’s recommendations as articulated by Musa.

But we also know that foreigners would invest wherever they can make money even if they have to comply with various local requirements. So what’s the drift?

Is the NEP the real problem for it to get such a bad reputation? As I see it the problem is not the policy but its implementation. How can we blame the policy for the various problems when undeserved so-called Malay companies are selected for various jobs and projects merely because of political connections and other unprofessional considerations? In the end the Malays get the ‘shit’.

Now if implementation of the policy is at fault, the remedy is to ensure better and more transparent implementation. Do away with the political connections, the patronage and the ‘greasing of the palms’ for approvals. Not to discard the policy.

In any decision over awards of contracts or whatever jobs only the genuine Malay company should be considered. The rent seekers should not be considered at all. But this does not mean that a real working partnership between the Malay and non-Malay should not be considered.

It looks as if for the sake of the IDR we are willing to forgo anything, not just compromising Malay interests, but even to the extent of compromising our sovereignty over the region to the Singaporeans. Under the proposals Singaporeans can come and go as they pleased without having to go through Immigration and Customs formalities. It looks as if Johore is being made the playground for the Singaporeans.

Comparison is being made of how Shenzen in China had developed after being tied with Hong Hong. But it must be remembered that Hong Kong and Shenzen are part of the same country, whilst Singapore and Malaysia are two different nations.

And we know the mentality of the Singaporeans and how they looked upon us. But we seem to be going out of our way to please the Singaporeans.

A newspaper columnist Gavin Yap earlier this month has this to say of the Singaporeans arising from an encounter he had with a Singapore chick. She had kept on boasting of the many more opportunities available in the republic than in Malaysia, “better this, better that, more professional, more talent, blah, blah, blah”.

He wrote: “When I meet Singaporeans in Singapore, they never come across as annoying as they do when I meet them here. I mean, they're still annoying but something happens to them once they cross the bridge, I don't know. It's like they get possessed by demons hell-bent on making as few friends as possible.

“They get out of their car, look for the nearest local and hit them with the verbal equivalent of a baseball bat — Singapore this, Singapore that, cleaner, more efficient, everything works, everyone's pretty, everyone's rich, no crime, no pollution, no war, no sex, no fun, no problem!

“Yet, the moment they get here, every single one of them starts enjoying the simple freedoms that are not afforded to them back in their sterilised utopia. What freedoms, you ask? Well, let's count them, shall we?

“Littering, smoking, chewing, sucking, drinking, laughing, smiling, flicking, eating hawker food that actually tastes good, and meeting people who have the guts to venture outside without an Armani T-shirt. You see where I'm going with this?

“So, what gives, neighbours? What's the deal with the superiority complex? We know you've done well for yourselves. We know your shopping malls rock. We know your cinemas show uncensored movies. We know you're very pleased with your public transportation. We know you're very proud of your Esplanade.”

I responded to Mr. Yap’s very perceptive piece in a letter to the editor a few days after that. You guess it: the letter also never saw daylight.

Some excerpts: Actually I think the Singaporeans' behaviour towards us is not because they think they are superior. In fact it's the converse.

Deep within them is their inferiority complex of being small, a dot on the map as described by former Indonesia President, B.J. Habibie. Their being successful is to a certain extent also due to their being exploitative in their relationships with their immediate neighbours ie Indonesia and Malaysia. Thus this obsession to convince themselves that they are better. The one-upmanship, the kiasu mentality.

And at the same time they have this fetish of either Malaysia or Indonesia want to gobble them up. Thus the fortress mentality.

Their coming into being is also not something they would want to cherish. Especially when comparing to other countries that attained their independence after so much of struggles against their colonial masters and the sacrifices made by their people.

While in their case they were actually 'kicked out' by the founding first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra after the island's leaders, especially Lee Kuan Yew who went on the offensive to play up racial issues during the 1964 elections when the PAP contested for a number of seats for the federal parliament. Such campaign tone could compromise the somewhat fragile relationships between the Malays and the non-Malays then.

Despite the combative nature of the campaign by their leaders spearheaded by Lee Kuan Yew who had harped on the "Malaysian Malaysia" issue and continuously questioned Malays rights as enshrined in the Federal Constitution, the PAP lost. The Malaysian Chinese refused to be baited and thus only one of the PAP's candidates, C.V. Devan Nair who stood in Bangsar was returned even though the party had contested only in Chinese predominant areas.

Still Lee Kuan Yew cannot accept facts and continued with his "Malaysian Malaysia" rhetoric to the extent that by 1965 the atmosphere was racially charged and could easily have sparked some ugly incidents. The Tunku then felt it was becoming untenable and decided to cut off the cancerous lump thereby denying the PAP from continuing with its devisive rhetorics.

Lee Kuan Yew was stunned by the Tunku's reaction and decision. To their credit they not only survived the trauma of being cut off but made the best of that situation to carve out for themselves to becoming a developed nation within the space of less than 40 years.

Unfortunately they made the mistake of consulting and engaging the Israelis as their advisors since they had drawn a parallel to their existence of being surrounded by the Malays (Malaysia and Indonesia) to that of Israel which is surrounded by the Arabs.

But they forget that Singapore is no Israel. Singapore is a legitimate entity even if formed by being not wanted by the Malaysian leader then. Israel is not. It was illegally and artificially created by the British (the Balfour Declaration of 1917 made in a letter by the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild, a British Jewish leader for transmission to the Zionist Federation following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire with Britain agreeing to the Zionist plans for a Jewish "national home" in Palestine and then forcibly brought into being to place all the Jews unwanted by Europe in the land already occupied by the Palestinians after the Second World War).

So the Jews do have a legitimate fear of being pushed out by the Palestinians whose land they had illegally confiscated and occupied leading to millions of Palestinians being displaced as refugees until today. But this is not the case for Singapore. So what do they have to fear from Malaysia or Indonesia? Indonesia let alone Malaysia is not going to overrun that island. So why this obsessive fear and the siege mentality?

This can be explained by Lee Kuan Yew's obsession of making Singapore the rugged society able to withstand any pressures inside or outside. And the belief that they cannot be seen to give away anything lest they be seen as a weakling. So they need this self assurance that they are not 'pliable'.

And this uncompromising attitude has brought them to the current very low ebb in their relationships with Indonesia and Thailand. They cannot be seem to be weak at all but must always flex their muscles.

(Their relationships with Malaysia is no different. We still have the four unresolved issues to contend with even if the current leadership had placed them on the back burner merely because we are groveling to be pally with them and opening up the Iskandar Development Region to the full for the Singaporeans).

Thus the statement by its Foreign Minister, George Yeo earlier this month is not surprising at all. This is what he said: "From time to time we must expect countries to pressure us in the hope that we will give way to their demands. Singaporeans know that if we give in to such pressure, we would only invite more such pressures," so said Yeo in the Singapore parliament.

Their huge defense expenditure (averaging RM20billion a year) for the past 10 years has ensured the republic's armed forces especially its air force to be equipped only with the latest and the best war machines including combat air crafts and armaments including missiles.

This attitude of its leaders has rubbed off onto the ordinary Singaporeans. So Mr Gavin Yap's description of them is apt. They are so docile in their homeland but seem to be let loose as if they don't know what to do once out of their cage.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sarawak Politics 2006: 'Wake-Up Call' and 'Withering Dayakism'

Dr Neilson Mersat Ph.D (ANU), M.A. (UKM), B.A. (Hons) (UKM)
Department of Politics and International Relations
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak

The defeat of nine candidates from the Sarawak Barisan Nasional (SBN) coalition in the Sarawak state election held in May 2006 was regarded as a 'wake-up call' for the SBN. SBN was returned to power but with its pride dented. In fact, opposition inroads surprised even those in Sarawak. Prior to the dissolution of the State Legislative Assembly, SBN controlled 61 out of 62 seats. The defeat was, to a certain extent, a humiliation for SBN which has been long known as the bastion for the ruling [federal level] Barisan Nasional coalition in the East Malaysian state of Sarawak. For a component of the SBN, the Sarawak United People Party (SUPP), which lost eight seats to the opposition, it was a disastrous outing. Moreover, four of the defeated candidates were the party's top brass: one minister, one assistant minister, a mayor and a political secretary to the Chief Minister of Sarawak. In fact, SUPP supporters concurred that it was the hardest blow for their party since it was established in 1959. This prompted SUPP's chief, Tan Sri Dr George Chan, to make a public apology to the Chief Minister, Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud and also to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi for SUPP's dismal performance. George Chan himself won, but with a majority sliced by half. For SUPP leaders, the tremendous decline in support for the party was due to their failure to address several important issues, which affected urban voters. For example, one of SUPP's defeated candidates attributed the party's defeat to the announcement made by the federal government just prior to the state election, regarding the sharp increases in oil prices. Another issue involved landowner concerns over the renewal of sixty-year land leases, mostly in Kuching and Sibu, which were about to expire within the next five years. They were also concerned that they would have to pay a high premium to renew their leases. They even asked for automatic renewal of land leases and that such leases be converted into grants in perpetuity. However, their requests were rejected.

Meanwhile, the 2006 election was considered the best outing so far for the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP). The party was established in Sarawak in 1978 and only managed to make a breakthrough in the Sarawak State Legislative Assembly in 1996 when it won four seats. Support for the party, however, has been far from consistent, and in the 2001 state election the party only managed to win one seat. The electoral swing in the 2006 election meant that the DAP's six seats were now only two seats less than those held by the SUPP. The DAP claimed that it had regained support among urban voters who are predominantly Chinese. The SUPP, however, was subsequently penalized for its poor performance. On 25 September 2006, the Sarawak cabinet made an 'out of the norm' decision by appointing a civil servant to become the mayor of Kuching South City Council, a position which was 'traditionally' given to a SUPP member. The former mayor, Chan Sheng Kai, from SUPP had resigned in June 2006 after he lost to a DAP candidate. Unlike in urban areas, the political landscape in rural areas did not change much. As usual, election candidates capitalized on the Native Customary Rights (NCR) issue with the opposition claiming that the current practice of land development did not really benefit the landowners. However, SBN candidates argued otherwise. Ethnic passions were heightened using so-called 'Dayakism' sentiment to galvanize the Dayak voters. If the election results in the rural constituencies is anything to go by, then one can argue that rural voters remain loyal supporters of SBN except in the constituencies of Engkelili and Ngemah, where the SBN lost. Candidates from Barisan Bersatu Sarawak (BBS), which promised 'to build a new Sarawak', performed badly. SUPP's candidate in Engkelili lost to a candidate from Sarawak National Party (SNAP), while in Ngemah, an independent candidate trounced the SBN candidate from Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS). The two candidates who won against SBN candidates in the Dayak heartland were reportedly contemplating joining BN parties. It is not difficult to understand why they want to join SBN. They need to hook themselves into the patronage networks in order to serve their constituents more effectively. By providing them with those tangible benefits, which are known as 'development projects' (In Iban: projek pemansang), enables elected representatives to sustain their political support.

The significant increase in the number of opposition representatives in the State Legislative Assembly has created an excitement of sorts among the people in Sarawak. The stronger opposition presence was definitely welcomed by those who, for too long, felt that their voices have not been heard in an almost unanimously SBN state assembly. The State Legislative Assembly, which convened in July 2006 was very 'colourful' with nine opposition members representing three opposition parties: one from SNAP, six from DAP, one from Parti Keadilan and one independent. Indeed, the opposition members tried to make their presence felt by raising several issues pertaining to development in Sarawak. The NCR land issue was raised several times. The formerly 'quiet' state legislative assembly is no longer so. For example, all the DAP representatives refused to wear ceremonial dress for the opening ceremony of the State Legislative Assembly attended by the Governor. They claimed that the dress was too expensive and they did not want to burden taxpayers with the expense.

The election also saw an increase in the number of women representatives from two to six. Initially, there was strong opposition to the attempt to increase the number of women candidates among SBN members. For example, when a woman candidate was nominated for the Bekenu seat, she was opposed even by some of her own party supporters, who argued that the geographical nature of that constituency does not allow a woman representative to serve the people. Nonetheless, she managed to pull through and get nominated. She contested and won the seat for SBN.

Apart from the increased number of opposition members in the State Legislative Assembly, the ever-volatile nature of Dayak politics is also making Sarawak politics more exciting. On 25 July 2006, the Registrar of Societies (ROS) rejected the application to register another Dayak-based party, the Malaysian Dayak Congress (MDC). One reason cited by the ROS is that MDC, if approved, might have security implications. The decision by ROS not to register MDC as a political party also surprised many in Sarawak. The party was established and submitted its application to ROS in May 2005. Ironically, the new party claimed to be 'pro-BN' and indicated that they would join BN once registered. Earlier, in their attempt to get the party registered, they had also asked the Prime Minister to intervene and a human rights body, the Malaysia Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM), to help. Nevertheless, their appeals fell on deaf ears. One of the implications of this decision is that Dayak leaders feel that their rights to establish a political party to champion their ethnic group are being denied. This decision might have some far reaching consequences. For example, a significant number of former Parti Bangsa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) supporters are now 'party-less', after they had announced their intention to join MDC once it was registered. Thus, with the rejection of MDC's application, it will be interesting to watch the realignment in Dayak politics especially when the 'party-less' Dayak leaders make their move.

Meanwhile, the newly formed, Dayak-based party, Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), is now facing a leadership crisis. The PRS was formed by former PBDS leaders in 2004 after the PBDS was deregistered. The party was admitted to the BN coalition in 2005. There are two factions in PRS and both claimed to be the rightful group to lead the party. ROS had sent a show cause letter seeking explanation as to why the party should not be deregistered. Prior to that, PRS had agreed to merge with the SPDP. In the words of another PRS leader, the merger would mean the 'empowerment of the rural communities'. Since PRS is in political limbo, the attempt to merge the two parties, PRS and SDPD, which was ostensibly to strengthen the voice of the rural voters, especially the Dayaks, has now been put on the back burner.

While Dayak politics remain volatile, the state leadership remains intact. When Taib Mahmud was sworn in again as the Chief Minister on 26 May 2006, he made a record of sorts by becoming the longest serving Chief Minister in Malaysia. He was appointed in 1981 by his uncle, Tun Abdul Rahman Yaakub, who was then the Chief Minister of Sarawak. This is his seventh term. Surprisingly, the succession issue, which was a 'hot issue' before the state election, no longer takes centre stage. A senior party leader, who was tipped to be his successor, was not even included in Taib Mahmud's new cabinet line-up. What is obvious is that Taib Mahmud is now set to bring Sarawak into the second phase of his 'politics of development'.

Among the rural voters who gave unwavering support to SBN, it is only logical that they should anticipate more intensive rural development, especially under the Ninth Malaysia Plan. Besides, they want to see the slogan 'more seats, more power, more development' (In Iban: mayuh kerusi, mayuh kuasa, mayuh pemansang) materialize. In their attempt to push for more development in the rural areas, several elected representatives from SBN have suggested that the government should propose more development in rural areas, where the actual strength of SBN lies. Of course, such a call is nothing new, as similar calls have been made many times in the past. Whether SBN is going to reciprocate the support they received in the May state election by intensifying more development, as expected by the rural voters, is yet to be seen. There is a lot that needs to be done in the rural areas. Despite having successfully 'leap-frogged' from being one of the three least developed states in Malaysia some twenty years ago, to now being one of the three most developed states, Sarawak has today the fourth highest number of hard core poor after Sabah, Kelantan and Terengganu. The hardcore poverty line in Sarawak is RM482 per month a family.

WATCHPOINT: Points of interest will be how SUPP strategizes to win back the support of urban voters who are predominantly Chinese and how the Abdullah-Mahathir spat in Kuala Lumpur will impact Sarawak politics.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

What caused the Great Inflation? And what might bring it back?

Anatomy of a hump
Mar 8th 2007 From The Economist print edition
(Link edited by YM)
What caused the Great Inflation? And what might bring it back?

IF YOU were to draw the path of inflation in the typical big, rich economy over the past half century, your picture would look much like a dromedary's back: a low flat line in the 1960s; a knobbly hump of high and volatile price rises in the 1970s; dramatic disinflation in the 1980s; and low, stable inflation rates since. Japan and Germany, which were quicker to quell inflation, are well-known exceptions. But for the rest, the shape and timing of the Great Inflation bulge look remarkably similar.

This is a bulge that today's central bankers are anxious not to repeat. So it is no surprise that several governors from America's Federal Reserve are attending a conference on March 9th to discuss a new report* on the Great Inflation, written by a weighty group of macroeconomists from academia and Wall Street.

Most scholars agree on a basic explanation of the hump, placing both blame and credit squarely on central bankers. Consumer prices accelerated in the late 1960s because monetary policy was too loose. German and Japanese central bankers realised this earlier than others and tightened policy accordingly. Eventually others followed suit, and general disinflation began in the early 1980s. Since then inflation has stayed under control because central bankers are credibly committed to price stability and far better at their job.

Beyond that broad tale lie several debates about important details. Economists differ on how much non-monetary phenomena, such as closer trade integration, affect the inflation process. They also offer competing explanations for why central bankers botched things so badly a generation ago. One possibility is that they simply got the numbers wrong, consistently overestimating their economies' speed limits. Others blame theoretical misjudgments, particularly the belief that higher inflation could buy a lasting drop in unemployment. A third approach emphasises political pressure. Inflation got out of hand because central banks were under the thumb of politicians who preferred rising prices to higher joblessness.

In this latest report the authors subject such controversies to painstaking cross-country forensics. They show that price stability across the G7 countries has been far more closely correlated than economic stability. Almost everywhere, inflation took off between 1969 and 1970. And every country, except Germany and Japan, failed to tame it until the mid-1980s. Output, however, was less tightly synchronised. Although recessions in many countries have become less wrenching in recent decades, output volatility began to ease in the mid-1980s in America, but not until the early 1990s in Britain, Canada and France.

What to make of these differences?
The Great Inflation, because it was felt simultaneously across countries, must have had a common cause. This cannot have been the 1970s oil shocks, because consumer prices started accelerating long before the price of crude did. Easy money is the only remaining suspect. And although the Great Disinflation was also simultaneous across many countries, GDP growth settled down at very different times. This implies that better monetary policy cannot take full credit for today's less painful recessions.

The statistical magnifying glass also casts doubt on some favourite alibis for monetary misrule. Bad data, for example, do not get central bankers off the hook: revisions to statistics on trend growth and unemployment were not big enough to excuse the scale of inflation. Instead, monetary policy was simply too loose. The authors show that the central bankers of the 1970s failed to adhere to the modern “Taylor rule”, a formula that links the appropriate level of short-term interest rates to the deviation of output from its trend and inflation from its target. Of course John Taylor, a Stanford economist, did not formalise his rule until 1993. But even without this guide, central banks should not have flunked the basic tenets of sound money.

Neither the Taylor rule, inflation targets nor any other bits of the modern central bankers' toolkit were necessary to end high inflation. But the scholars think these tools have helped to keep inflation down, which, in turn, has spawned a virtuous circle. When inflation is low and stable, a temporary uptick in consumer prices has far less impact on long-term price trends. The economists' model implies that less than 1% of a temporary price surge is translated into a permanent rise in inflation today, compared with 60% three decades ago.

That may give today's policymakers more leeway than their predecessors enjoyed. But since this wiggle-room is the legacy of low inflation volatility, it cannot be taken for granted. Were central bankers to lose their guard, inflation could soon resurge.

More worrying, the economists pour cold water on many a policymaker's favourite gauge of his own performance, namely the public's expectations of future inflation. Central bankers often cite low inflation expectations as evidence that monetary policy is appropriate. That may be a mistake. This paper argues that expectations were a good guide to future price pressure only when inflation was high. But now, if anything, inflation expectations are a backward-looking indicator, lagging measures of actual inflation. [Actual Inflation Rate = Expected Inflation Rate + Constant x (Actual Unemployment Rate – Natural Rate of Unemployment) The actual inflation rate is dependent on two factors: the expected inflation rate and the unemployment gap (the difference between the actual unemployment rate and the natural rate of unemployment)].

All told, this statistical sleuthing suggests today's central bankers have little room for complacency. Inflation remains low and stable because policymakers are vigilant, not because any deep, structural changes insulate the modern economy from price pressure. If central bankers relax, higher, more volatile inflation could easily return. Rudyard Kipling's camel, remember, got its hump for being “most 'scrutiatingly idle”.
* “Understanding the Evolving Inflation Process” by Stephen Cecchetti, Peter Hooper, Bruce Kasman, Kermit Schoenholtz and Mark Watson.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Economic growth is not all in the numbers

Opinion: Economic growth is not all in the numbers
New Straits Times, 22 March 2007

(Link edited by YM)

Trade is the lifeblood of the Malaysian economy. However, care must be exercised in interpreting trade statistics.

THAT Malaysia’s trade recently crossed the RM1 trillion mark was, indeed, great news. This represents an important milestone and a feather in the cap for the Malaysian economy. While the announcement was certainly newsworthy, the euphoria and hype it generated was a little disquieting. Some even went so far as to label Malaysia a trillion-ringgit economy, regardless of the fact that its gross domestic product (GDP) is still roughly one-half of that.

A closed economy’s GDP represents the sum of consumption and investment expenditures. With an open economy, exports are added to and imports are subtracted from the aggregate of domestic consumption and investment, to arrive at GDP. If exports exactly equal imports, trade numbers cannot affect the aggregate in the accounting sense. This does not mean that trade does not matter in the economic sense. It certainly does: In the absence of trade, domestic consumption and investment would be significantly lower.

The importance of trade to Malaysia can hardly be exaggerated. It is the lifeblood of the Malaysian economy. The country’s progress and prosperity is attributed primarily to its openness to foreign trade and investment flows. However, care must be exercised in interpreting the trade statistics.

There is much less to the RM1 trillion trade figure than meets the eye, as there is a lot of double, triple or even multiple counting. Most of the intermediate products imported are re-exported after domestic value-added. The high import content results in double counting, to the extent that a given item is counted twice, first as import and later as export.

What is more, since the bulk of the country’s international trade is conducted by multinational corporations with extensive regional production networks, intra-firm trade often entails movement of goods back and forth a number of times between countries for additional processing. Thus, it is possible for the same item to be imported twice and exported twice in a year, notwithstanding the greater value-added every time it is imported and re-exported. This seems to be typical for some of Malaysia’s trade with Singapore and China, which, by the way, is good for all. But the point is that domestic value-added in all this is only a small portion of the total RM1 trillion, which is not necessarily bad news either.

There is nothing sinister in all this. The trade figures are quite reliable and accurate. Given the ways in which trade flows are defined and measured the world over, RM1 trillion in trade is an achievement that Malaysia can rightly take pride in.

But care must be taken to ensure that no one is deluded into thinking Malaysia is already a trillion-ringgit economy. Malaysia has a long way to go before reaching the trillion-ringgit GDP threshold. If the economy can grow at an average annual rate of not less than seven per cent, it will take another 10 years to get there, which sounds fine. It will take a little longer if the average GDP growth rate were to fall below seven per cent per annum.

It is also noteworthy that, according to the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) forecast, Malaysia’s trade will exceed RM2.6 trillion by 2020, with RM1.35 trillion exports and RM1.28 trillion imports. Given that trade accounts for roughly 200 per cent of Malaysia’s GDP, this would translate into a GDP of about RM1.3 trillion in 2020.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, prior to the 1997-98 financial crisis, the Malaysian economy was growing at an average rate of about nine per cent per annum.

Such rapid growth cannot be repeated now, not only because the base is getting bigger but also because such growth, as experience has shown, is simply not sustainable.

The Malaysian economy was able to expand so fast, in excess of its potential, thanks primarily to imported labour and capital. It is now obvious that such input-driven growth is fraught with pitfalls. That Malaysia could grow too fast for its own good was one of the factors that contributed to the 1997-98 crisis.

Estimates at MIER show that Malaysia’s "potential" GDP growth, which implies full employment with no overheating, is 6.5 per cent. As an open economy, Malaysia will be subject to external fluctuations, with growth oscillating above or below the potential. The government’s target of six per cent average growth, seen in this light, appears to be fairly realistic, notwithstanding MIER’s somewhat conservative growth forecast of 5.8 per cent on the average for the medium term.

The trouble with GDP growth numbers is that the focus falls squarely on the quantum rather than the quality aspect of economic expansion. The kind of growth now taking place in the country is quite different from that experienced before, especially in terms of employment generation. Malaysia was quite successful in creating jobs not only for its own people but also for foreign migrant workers. This now seems to be a thing of the past. Last year, 249,000 jobs were created, which pales in comparison with the 429,000 new jobs added in 2005.Apparently, there is no meaningful relationship between Malaysia’s GDP growth and its employment growth.

Thus, it is hard to understand why employment could only expand by 2.3 per cent last year, despite the fairly robust GDP growth of 5.9 per cent. It is pertinent to recall that employment had grown at a faster pace of 2.8 per cent in 2001 despite sluggish GDP growth of just 0.4 per cent. Unemployment has remained stubbornly high at 3.5 to 3.6 per cent since 2001, despite reasonably good GDP performance. Also, the growing income disparity in the country (Malaysia) may have much to do with the fact that GDP growth does not readily translate into job growth.

The phenomenon of jobless growth is a cause for concern.

This trend is likely to persist, now that the Malaysian economy is moving up the value chain, away from unskilled, labour-intensive, low value-added operations towards skill-intensive, high value-added activities. As Malaysia is likely to create fewer jobs in the years ahead than before, care must be taken to ensure that a large chunk of them does not dissipate unnecessarily or carelessly into jobs for foreign migrant workers.

Professor Emeritus Mohamed Ariff is the executive director of the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sabah: The Battleground For The UMNO Deputy President - Revisited

Sabah: The Battleground for the UMNO Deputy President

by Raja Petra Kamarudin

Anwar Ibrahim managed to topple the then incumbent Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Ghafar Baba, by cornering Sabah. Sabah is certainly a most important state and the fact that in Sabah money talks and bullshit walks means that that is the state one should buy up and put in one’s pocket. And Najib did just that. Recently, he used RM50 million of Felda’s money to buy off the 25 Umno division heads there. After receiving RM3 million each from Abdullah Badawi in September last year, the 25 Umno Sabah division heads are now receiving another RM2 million each from Najib. Isn’t it nice being an Umno division leader, especially if you are a Sabah Umno division leader?

But is this enough for Najib to fend off any move to remove him? Time will tell and we are certainly in for interesting times ahead of us.
In May 2005, Malaysia Today carried a special report in two episodes called ‘Sabah: the battleground for the Umno Deputy Presidency’. These are some of the things we said then: It is said: the Battle of Britain was won on the playing fields of Eton. But that is what the English say. Malays have another saying. And that is: the Battle of Umno is won in the State of Sabah.Since we are in the mood for clichés, might as well I ramble on with some others.

It is said: those who forget history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. Well, on the flip side of the coin, those who remember history can also ape its successes. And Sabah is one case in point where history has taught us that one man’s loss was another man’s gain.

When Anwar Ibrahim took on the then Umno Deputy President and Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Ghafar Baba, he chose Sabah as his battleground. If he could defeat Ghafar in Sabah then he could take him on throughout the rest of Malaysia. Anwar did not even have to do that. Once Ghafar saw he had lost Sabah, he backed off, allowing Anwar to win the post uncontested. To attempt any defence against Anwar’s onslaught would have been futile. Once Sabah is gone he might as well retire and make way for Anwar.

That is how important Sabah is to whosoever aspires to be the top dog in Umno.As they say: (yet another cliché) there’s no point in trying to re-invent the wheel. Sabah is a proven formula. So, Sabah must be the battleground for anyone who wishes to take, or retain, the number two slot in Umno -- and the number two will be the one who traditionally goes on to become the top dog in Umno as well as Malaysia’s Prime Minister (and the phrase ‘top dog’ is not used as any mark of disrespect here). And I say ‘traditionally’ because this is not a party rule cast in stone.
Traditionally, whether you eventually do become number one or not, would all depend on whether you can sustain the number two slot. Anwar Ibrahim did not. Neither did Ghafar before him. And Musa Hitam before that too suffered the same fate. They all retired as number two and never made number one. Of course, if Tun Dr Ismail had not died prematurely, things may have worked out very differently, especially since Tun Razak died in office.

But Tun Dr Ismail died ahead of Tun Razak so everyone’s fortunes changed along the way and the end result was Malaysia ended up with Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister for 22 long and dreary years...sigh...Okay, back to Sabah, what has Sabah got to do with all this? Simple, the Battle of Sabah has already begun. It in fact started awhile back as soon as Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over as Prime Minister and Najib Tun Razak as Deputy Prime Minister soon after that.

The multi-billion Ringgit question is: how long will Abdullah stay on as Prime Minister and will Najib take over once he retires (or is forced into retirement -- which is a scenario that cannot be discounted taking into consideration his dismal performance as Prime Minister thus far)?

Not even Abdullah knows how long he will stay on as Prime Minister. It could be another five years. It could be ten years. There are many factors that would decide this and Abdullah may have no say in the matter. And there is no guarantee either that Najib would be taking over once Abdullah finally moves aside, whenever that may be.

I have said this before and I will say it again: 24 hours is a long time in politics. Anwar Ibrahim got reduced from being Dr Mahathir’s anointed successor (as confirmed by Dr Mahathir himself in Penang in late August 1998) to being ‘unemployed’ (on 2 September 1998) in a matter of days. If your political fortunes can change drastically in less than a week, what more if you need to linger for five or ten years? Much can happen in five or ten years to change the course of history. The 13 May 1969 race riots, Tun Dr Ismail’s and Tun Razak’s deaths, Umno’s entry into Sabah, the 1997 Asian Economic Crisis, and so on, all had a bearing on who eventually went on to become Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister or Prime Minister.

It is no secret that Abdullah’s son-in-law, Khairy Jamaluddin, wants to be the next Prime Minister after his father-in-law -- and he wants this to happen by the time he is 40. That is slightly over ten years from now.

So Khairy needs Abdullah to stay on for at least another ten years. If, for any reason, Abdullah has to retire prematurely, then Khairy’s fortunes would change. His chances of becoming the next Prime Minister are tied to Abdullah’s chances of staying on for another ten years or so. And, within the next ten years, Khairy needs to wangle himself into the number two slot in Umno -- meaning, he would then be the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia.

But this is easier said than done. Currently, the number two is Najib. And Najib too wants to be the next Prime Minister (and so would I if I was currently the number two) so he is not about to roll over and play dead. If Khairy wants Najib’s job he would have to fight for it. And Najib would certainly give Khairy a run for his money.

Khairy (read the Khairy Chronicles) has given himself ten years. This is what he told his close circle of friends who, understandably, are all excited over the prospect. He will go for broke these next ten years. If he makes it, well and fine, he will become Malaysia’s Sixth Prime Minister some time after 2015 (or maybe seventh if there is an ‘interim’ Prime Minister a la Goh Chok Tong of Singapore in the form of Anwar Ibrahim). If he does not, he will then move on and maybe build a new life for himself overseas. Either way Khairy has nothing to lose.

Khairy’s first task would be to dislodge Najib from the number two slot. The acid test would be the Sabah Chief Minister’s post. Khairy is backing the Chief Minister, Musa Aman, who is also the Umno Chief for Libaran. Najib, on the other hand, is backing Mohd Shafie Haji Apdal, the Umno Chief for Semporna and Federal Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs.

If Najib can engineer the ousting of Musa and can successfully place his man on the throne, then his hold over Sabah would be secure, just like Anwar before this. However, if Musa gets to stay on as Chief Minister, then Najib would find Sabah tough going, just like what Ghafar experienced. And, as mentioned earlier, whosoever wins Sabah would have the better chance of making it to, or retaining, the number two slot in Umno.

Khairy is definitely going all out to ensure Najib’s man does not make it and that Musa stays. And Musa, because of the many ‘cases’ hanging over his head, would have to ensure he is in Khairy’s good books lest he gets inserted into the list of 18 ‘high profile’ corruption cases sitting on Abdullah’s table.

So let’s watch Sabah. What happens in Sabah would be a good indicator of how the fight for the number two slot in Umno is developing. If Musa is retained as Chief Minister, then Khairy would be in a very strong position to take on Najib. However, if Musa falls, then Khairy would be weakened, especially if his successor is a Najib man.

Sabah Umno has 25 divisions. Currently, 18 are opposed to Chief Minister Musa Aman while only seven support him.Sabah politics, just like in Sarawak, is unique in that ‘warlords’ call the shots and the federal government or the Umno headquarters have very little hold over the state -- worse still in Sarawak that does not even have any Umno presence there. That was the whole reason why Umno entered Sabah -- to control the state -- while Sarawak has ‘wisely’ resisted Umno’s entry into the state.

Musa is only useful to the federal leaders as long as he can control his 25 state divisions. If he cannot, then he is of no use to them and he might as well be removed. Musa’s future would therefore depend on how he is perceived by the federal leaders, in particular Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his team -- ‘team’ here meaning, of course, Khairy Jamaluddin, his son-in-law.

Both Abdullah as well as his deputy, Najib Tun Razak, are fighting tooth and nail to extend their tentacles into Sabah, a state that in the past has been the kingmaker for those who aspire to move up Umno’s ladder -- or retain their positions as the case may be.

It is crucial therefore that Musa is able to give the impression he has a strong hold over the 25 divisions to convince the federal leaders he is able to serve them as their ‘proxy’ in Sabah.

Amongst those said to be opposed to Musa are:
  1. Datuk Haji Hajiji Mohd Noor, Bendahari Umno Sabah, Ketua Penaja Umno Bahagian Tuaran and Menteri Kerajaan Tempatan & Perumahan (a contender for the Chief Minister’s post)
  2. Datuk Haji Mohd Shafie Haji Apdal, Ketua Penaja Umno Bahagian Semporna (another contender for the Chief Minister’s post and staunch Najib loyalist)
  3. Datuk Haji Abdul Rahim Ismail, Ketua Penerangan and Menteri Pembangunan Pertanian Dan Industri Pemakanan (originally a ‘Musa man’ but recently turned foe)
  4. Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Osu Haji Sukam, Ketua Penaja Umno Bahagian Papar (rumoured that Musa recently bought him over with a sizeable amount of hard cash)
  5. Datuk Seri Panglima Kol. Dr Haji Lakim Haji Ukin, Ketua Penaja Umno Bahagian Beaufort (another contender for the Chief Minister’s post whom, it is rumoured, Musa has bought over with a sewerage project and timber concessions)
  6. Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Haji Mulia, Ketua Penaja Umno Bahagian Kota Marudu
  7. Datuk Abdul Ghapur Haji Salleh, Ketua Penaja Umno Bahagian Kalabakan
  8. Datuk Haji Masidi Manjun, Ketua Umno Bahagian Ranau, Penolong Setiausaha and Menteri Pembangunan Belia, Kebudayaan Dan Kemajuan Sukan (staunch Najib loyalist)
  9. Datuk Haji Sairin Karno, Ketua Penaja Umno Bahagian Keningau (it is rumoured Musa has bought him over with a timber concession)
  10. Datuk Bung Moktar Radin, Pejabat Umno Bahagian Kinabatangan (it is rumoured Musa has bought him over with a timber concession)
  11. Datuk Masrani Parman, Ketua Umno Bahagian Kudat
  12. Datuk Uzair Yahya, Ketua Penaja Umno Bahagian Sepanggar
  13. Tuan Faisal Daeigo, Ketua Umno Bahagian Kota Kinabalu (brother-in-law of Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Haji Mulia)
  14. Datuk Rizalman Abdullah, Ketua Penaja Umno Bahagian Tenom (it is rumoured Musa has bought him over with a timber concession)
  15. Abdul Ghani Mohd Yassin, Ketua Penaja Umno Bahagian Pensiangan (straunch supporter of Datuk Haji Abdul Rahim Ismail)
  16. Datuk Surady Kayong, Ketua Penaja Umno Bahagian Beluran
  17. Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Ampong Haji Puyon, Ketua Penaja Umno Bahagian Sandakan
  18. Samsu Baharum Haji Abd Rahman, Pemangku Ketua UMNO Bahagian Silam

And those in support of him are:

  1. Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Yahya Hussin, Setiausaha Perhubungan, Ketua Penaja Umno Bahagian Putatan and Timbalan Ketua Menteri/Menteri Pembangunan Masyarakat; John Ambrose, Ketua Penaja Umno Bahagian Penampang (staunch Najib loyalist but recently bought over by Musa with a timber concession)
  2. Datuk Hj. Tawfiq Datuk Abu Bakar Titingan, Ketua Penaja UMNO Bahagian Tawau/Pembantu Menteri Pembangunan Luar Bandar & Keusahawanan (controls all the projects in Tawau and Musa is using him to undermine Datuk Abdul Ghapur Haji Salleh)
  3. Datuk Haji Sapawi Haji Ahmad, Ketua Penaja Umno Bahagian Sipitang and Pembantu Menteri KewanganDatuk Haji Juhar Mahiruddin, Ketua Umno Bahagian Batu Sapi (close ally of Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Haji Mulia)
  4. Datuk Haji Musbah Hj Jamli, Ketua Umno Bahagian Kota Belud (close ally of Datuk Seri Panglima Haji Osu Haji Sukam)
  5. Datuk Hj Hanifah Aman, Ketua Umno Bahagian Kimanis (Musa’s brother)

Some time back there was much brouhaha when a senior minister in Abdullah’s government announced there are 18 high profile corruption cases which the Anti-Corruption Agency would soon be bringing to book. After that sudden outburst, the country reverted to silence.

According to Khairy, the government has not abandoned the cases. Far from it, the cases are still very much on the government’s radar screen. They just need to wait for the opportune time before pursuing them.On this list, according to what Khairy told his close associates, are ex-Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, one-time Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin, International Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor, Perlis Chief Minister Shahidan Kassim, Selangor Chief Minister Khir Toyo, and a few more -- basically all those viewed as a threat to either Khairy or his father-in-law.

Senior Umno officials feel the list is slightly too high-powered and smacks of another Anwar Ibrahim corruption/sodomy situation. They are of the opinion that, while Khairy may be all gung-ho in his spring cleaning, Abdullah would never dare go for it. Dr Mahathir and Daim are just too powerful and untouchable, and if Khairy presses his father-in-law to bring both these warlords to book it may spell the end for Abdullah.The same goes for Najib and Rosmah as well. As much as Khairy may be keen to remove Najib as number two together with whom he perceives as Najib’s ‘mastermind’, Rosmah, it would be too obvious that it is politics and not corruption that is the issue. So Najib and Rosmah may be just as untouchable as Dr Mahathir and Daim. As we all know, a Tsumani starts with an earthquake. Will there be a major tremor in Sabah that will trigger a political Tsunami, resulting in a significant power shift in Umno?

In the past, Sabah has been a factor in both Anwar’s and Abdullah’s political fortunes. Both Najib and Khairy hope, once again, Sabah would be able to play this role of kingmaker. But they must ensure, first of all, that ‘their man’ gets to sit on the Sabah throne.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

I have to ensure State has a good successor before I retire: Taib

During the hour-long live interview on TV1’s ‘60 Minit Bersama Menteri’ on Wednesday (14/03/07) that he (Tan Sri Taib) would never abandon the State without first ensuring that he had a good successor ready.

This statement from Taib is really demeaning to the politicians to the like of Tan Sri Alfred Jabu and Dato Sri Abang Johari Openg. Being the Deputy Chief Minister for several years, Taib meant to say that Jabu and Johari are not capable leader to be a good successor? If none of his deputies is good, he should sack them. Why keeping a no good leader at the expense of the taxpayer money?

“I hoped to retire last year but the situation did not permit, so I had to wait and prepare a team so that they can continue the work on policies that I have put in place towards ensuring that Sarawak can achieve the developed status like other states come 2020,” said Taib, who is the Sarawak BN State coalition chairman.

It would be almost impossible for Sarawak to achieve a developed state come 2020, because for the past 26 years Taib helmed the state not much progress has been achieved, beside those superficial development in the big town like Kuching, Miri or Sibu. Going further to the interior, you will see the most deplorable road conditions. People are sufferings from rising cost of livings, NCR land being confiscated, longhouse dwellers are being evicted and displaced. They are deprived of their ancestral land. They are threatened and being forced to accept whatever the state government want them to be.

Conflict of Native Customary Rights and practice with the State enactment
Niah Tragic Clash - Updates on 9th September 1999, with historical and new background information.

Author: Unknown

None would find or experience elsewhere, the frenzy rate and extend of subsidiary enactment and amendments to the Sarawak Land Laws (This is well documented in books and research papers.
Recommended: Tanah Pengidup Kitai Our Land is Our Livelihood - The undermining of indigenous land rights and the victimizations of indigenous people in Sarawak, IDEAL publication 1999).

It is through this legislation that indigenous land rights, which initially were accorded full legal efficacy, are gradually but substantially undermined. It has been a process typified by:
· ever-tightening definitions of what constitutes native customary land;
· ever-limiting procedure for establishing native customary rights;
· ever-expanding procedures for the extinguishment of such rights;
· ever-increasing state powers to define for itself compensation rates and procedures for such annulment; · ever-tightening control of movement of indigenous communities;
· ever-severer penalties for failure to comply with state legislation.

Through the legislative process, indigenous land rights become increasingly obscure and restrictive in its legal application.

Can the indigenous communities rely on customary rights as protection against encroachment onto their land? What may result should customary rights and practice conflict with state legislation?

In this case, under the present state land legislation, Rh. Busang and Rh. Bali will have to produce 'legal' proof that there is state recognition of such native customary rights over the disputed land, or they must prove that there was occupation on the land on or before 1957, in order to establish their customary rights.

Sarawak Oil Palm Berhad claimed to hold legal title over the disputed land with a temporary lease from the state land authority. On the other hand, residency of the villagers from these 2 longhouses went back a long time and there has been extensive cultivation over this disputed land by the people. There is also evidence of enforcement of native customary practice on this land.

So, whose rights should prevail?

Hearing of the Chief's Superior Court On 13.06.1999, the Chief's Superior Court heard testimonies of Headman Busang ak Nyandang who lodged the complaint and appeared on behalf of the villagers of Rh. Busang and Rh. Bali and Mr. Airul Faizili b. Abdullah & Tay Siaw Phiang ('Ah Ping') who is the manager of Vintay Enterprise, the contracting company of Sarawak Oil Palm Berhad.

Held in Sepupok, Niah, the Chief's Superior Court was presided by Temenggong Jawi ak Baki, Penghulu Atong and Councillor Mr. Janting, the Court held that Vintay Enterprise was guilty of trespassing onto the farmland belonging the villagers of Rh. Busang. Vintay Enterprise was thenceforth fined RM1,000.00 as 'penti-pemali' (xxxx). The amount was paid immediately and a payment voucher was signed to the effect.

The Inspektor Kawasan (Head of Police Station) Niah, Paul Paran Ibau was present at the hearing of the Chief's Superior Court and agreed to be witness of the proceedings.

Particulars of the "Bayar Adat Penti-pemali" (this phrase means that payment of fine according to the Cutomary Law for unlawful acts or prohibited acts which disturbed the ritually harmonious state of the house, or farm or state of living):
· Babi siko' (1 pig)
· 'Manok siko' (1 cockerel)
· 'Duku sebilah' (1 working knife)
· 'Pinggai seringkap' (1 set of round bronze tray which is used to contain food for offering during offering ceremony "miring")
· 'Kebok sigi enggau belacho sedepa' (one small earthenware jar and a piece of plain cloth at the length of two arms out-stretched)
· 'Pengerugi, pengelelak serta pengiroh' (loss, deprivation, strength consuming as well as take care over it): RM300.00
· Pemerat babi (weight of the pig): 50kg
· Rega babi siko (value per kg of the pig): RM10.00

The Chief's Superior Court, an integral part of the Malaysian judicial system, has the power to adjudicate disputes arising from customary practice in Sarawak.

By the hearing, it clearly indicates that the villagers of the two longhouses have customary rights over the disputed land which is further augmented by the ruling. Vintay Enterprise, through its manager Mr. Airul Faizili b. Abdullah @ Tay Siaw Phiang ('Ah Ping') has also willingly submitted itself to the ruling of the Chief's Superior Court, and has abided by its decision.

Sadly, despite this ruling of the Chief's Superior Court and in total disregard of the judicial system in this country, Vintay Enterprise as contractor of Sarawak Oil Palm Berhad continued its encroachment of the village farmland, this time with the assistance of 6 Field Force Police personnel (Ref: Police report lodged by a villager, Majang ak Guba on 20.06.1999, NA/RPT/513/99).

The company based its claim over the disputed land through a letter issued by the Land & Survey Department, Miri Division, dated 17.09.1997 which was received by SOP on 11.02.1998, indicating a lapse of 5 months in the transmission of such an important document, which approved the application of Sarawak Oil Palm Berhad for land by the issuance of 60 years' provisional lease to the company.

However, a land search conducted by the delegation of villagers visiting the Land & Survey Department Headquarters in Kuching on 30.07.1999 had shown that no person or company was issued with the title on land described as Lot 75, Sawai Land District, Niah, Sarawak, where upon the disputed land was located.

In Malaysia, where the system of land registration was adopted and practised, records of the land registry is conclusive. It is dubious how SOP could produce a letter from the Land & Survey Department (Miri Division) to show that it was issued with the land lease while there was no such record in the Central Registry in Kuching, the State capital.

While awaiting the explanation of the authenticity of the letter held by SOP, there is a further question whether this piece of land should rightly be alienated to SOP.

It must be noted that the application of the villagers for land rights from the 2 longhouses had gone back 2 decades.

On 19.06.1979, the Headman of Rh. Bali, TR Bali ak Belukun and the families submitted a written application to the Miri District Land & Survey Department for land alienation and allocation.

In a letter dated 25.06.1979 [Ref: 911.0(VII)-92], the Director of Forest (Miri District) replied TR Bali ak Belukun saying that the application could not be considered because the particular land was within the Niah Protected Forest Reserve.

As indigenous communities residing over the land, Rh. Busang and Rh. Bali together with other nearby longhouse communities continued to dwell and cultivate on the farmland in the vicinity, in accordance with their customary practice.

Over the years, the industrious villagers of these communities planted cash crops such as pepper, rubber, fruit trees etc and later oil palm and had gained much prosperity.

Life had been harmonious and peaceful for the communities in the region until the early nineties when plantation companies began to occupy land in the same district.

Many longhouse communities began to apply for land for communal usage in order to protect their landed interests and some had been successful.

Rh. Busang and Rh. Bali submitted their joint application for land alienation on 31.01.1994. The 2 headmen, TR. Busang and TR. Bali, with 19 other families of the 2 longhouses requested the state land authority to alienate communal land to the size of 20 acres for every family, in order for them to plant crops and do market gardening. This represents a massive concession on the villagers as such acreage represents only a small fraction of the land they could have asked for, using the customary practice as a yardstick.

Over the years, these 2 longhouse communities successively sent delegations to visit the Land & Survey Department in Miri and Kuching to follow up on the initial application. Numerous letters were written and sent to these land authorities, including those dated 07.11.1994, 21.8.1997, 13.04.1998, 07.05.1998 and 30.07.1999.

Within the same period, no less than 100 letters and copies were also sent to various offices, ministers and political leaders seeking their support and assistance.

Their applications to the Land & Survey Department, through visits and letters, were all turned down with no reasons given. Their letters to the ministers and government leaders were plainly ignored.

However, the villagers of Rh. Busang and Rh. Bali continued the tedious and costly effort in the hope that their application would one day be considered by the land authorities. Such tolerance and patience is typical of the indigenous communities in Sarawak.

Undoubtedly, the unfortunate incident on the 1st September clash would have been avoided if the land authorities or the government had even considered the most reasonable plight of the villagers at any time during the last 20 years.

It is therefore most unfair for the controlled Malaysian mass media to portray the villagers as the violent aggressors in their dismal reports when they have turned a deaf ear to the plights of the villagers and were completely ignorant of the development in this land dispute which dated back 2 decades.

The Malaysian mass media must be enlightened that there has never been any reported incident of violence resulted from land disputes which was initiated by the indigenous communities in Sarawak.

The law enforcement body at a press conference held in Bintulu, Sarawak on 09.09.1999, Member of Parliament for Bintulu, Mr. Chew Chin Sing and Elam ak Busang, a daughter of the arrested headman TR. Busang ak Nyandang, revealed 7 police reports which had been lodged by community representatives of Rh. Busang and Rh. Bali prior to the clash. They also disclosed a letter written by the village committee to the Malaysian Inspector General of Police at the Police Headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

Content of the 7 police reports lodged by the community representatives:

1. Police Report file number NA/RPT/513/99 (Report lodged by Majang ak Guba on 20.06.1999)On behalf of the villagers, Majang reported that on the 19.06.1999, a team of workers (number undetermined) belonging to the contractor of the Sarawak Oil Palm Berhad encroached into the farmland belonging to Rh. (Longhouse) Bali and Rh. Busang. In presence were 6 Field Force policemen. Majang reported that 660 oil palm trees, 10 durian (fruit) trees, 10 rambutan (fruit) trees, 5 banana trees which were planted by the villagers were bulldozed. Majang requested the police to investigate into the matter and halt the destruction as clearing on the villagers' farmland was carried out without their permission and it had polluted their source of drinking water.

2. Police Report file number NA/RPT/558/99 (Report lodged by Lily ak Busang on 05.07.1999)On behalf of the villagers of Rh. Busang and Rh. Bali, Lily reported to the police that 150 villagers of the said 2 longhouses conducted a 'Miring' (customary rite) at their farmland which was destroyed by the contractor of Sarawak Oil Palm Berhad. At about 13:30 hours on that day, the workers of the plantation company ignored the warning of the villagers and broke the ritual symbols. The villagers hoped that the police would take appropriate actions on the report lodged.

3. Police Report file number NA/RPT/583/99 (Report lodged by Lily ak Busang on 11.07.1999)On behalf of the villagers of Rh. Busang and Rh. Bali, Lily reported that up to this date, workers of the contractor of Sarawak Oil Palm Berhad had destroyed more than 10 hectares of farmland on which the villagers had cultivated. Lily reported that the workers were led by one man known as "Ah Tie". By this report, the villagers sought help from the police to halt the encroachment by the plantation pending result of surveying conducted by the Land & Survey Department.

4. Police Report file number NA/RPT/640/99 (Report lodged by Lily ak Busang on 27.07.1999)Lily reported that on the same morning, the villagers had surveyed the extend of cash crops destroyed by the workers of Sarawak Oil Palm Berhad as:

· Oil palm: 660 trees; Rubber: 50 trees; Fruit trees: 50 (belonging to Emban ak Lajun)
· Oil palm: 970 trees; Rubber: 640 trees; Fruit trees: 875 (belonging to Ungut ak Kadukom)
· Oil palm: 450 trees; Rubber: 78 trees; Fruit trees: 130 (belonging to Atu ak Lamada)
· Oil palm: 350 trees; Rubber: 50 trees; Fruit trees: 90 (belonging to Busang ak Nyandang)
· Oil palm: 150 trees; Rubber: 143 trees; Fruit trees: 60 (belonging to Majang ak Cuba)
· Oil palm: 357 trees; Rubber: 1000 trees; Fruit trees: 75 (belonging to Langgong ak Mandang)
The report called on the police to investigate into the matter.

5. Police Report file number NA/RPT/686/99 (Report lodged by Majang ak Guba on 09.08.1999)Majang reported that on the morning, a group of villagers including himself were confronted by a group of workers (driving caterpillar trucks) led by one man named "Ah Kong" who challenged them to prove that they had land title over the land. Majang reported that the villagers were afraid to answer because one of the workers pulled out a 'samurai' sword. The villagers left the scene hurriedly because they did not want anything undesirable to happen to the villagers. The report called on the police to take immediate and appropriate actions.

6. Police Report file number NA/RPT/694/99 (Report lodged by Elam ak Busang on 11.08.1999)Elam reported that at about 1.30pm on this date, 7 people of Chinese origin amongst whom one was known to the villagers as "Ah Kong", came to Rh. Busang in a Suzuki Jeep with registration number MD3641Q. They stopped for a while and left the longhouse. The report was lodged because the villagers were worried that undesirable incidents might happen to them and their family members.

7. Police Report file number NA/RPT/705/99 (Report lodged by Elam ak Busang on 14.08.1999)Elam reported to the police that about 15 workers of the contractor of Sarawak Oil Palm Berhad resumed their destruction of the villagers' farmland with 2 bulldozers despite the fact that no agreement had been reached between the villagers and the company yet. This report was lodged because at the scene, there was in presence 12 'gangsters' who carried 2 'samurai' swords, 8 pieces of wood measuring 2 1/2" x 5' and 2 iron pipes each measuring 5 feet in length. The report was lodged to call on the police to take appropriate actions to ensure the security of the villagers.

Rightly concerned about the apparent inaction from the area police and the real need to protect the communities, the villagers wrote and sent a letter to the highest police authority in the country to seek his immediate intervention.

The letter to the Inspector General of Police obviously did not generate the required action.
As was disclosed by MP Chew Chin Sing, and supported by photographs taken by the villagers, the police contingent lead by Chief of Niah Police Station Chief Inspector Paul Paren came to the disputed site on the 10.08.1999. Photographs of the 'samurai' swords and other dangerous weapons found in the cars of the gangsters were taken by the police.

Evidently, these gangsters were not arrested, least of all charged, for possession of those dangerous weapons.

The unfortunate incident would have been avoided if the police had taken necessary and appropriate action in response to the reports lodged by the villagers. It is puzzling, to say the least, why the police did not take any action at all.

It must be added that the notoriety of the 4 deceased and their gang of friends are well known to the people in this region. The same group was employed to cow and threaten indigenous villagers in Bakong, Bong, and other longhouse communities in Niah-Suai area who acted to resist the encroachment of the particular plantation company.

Leader of the group, Liaw Teck Kong (deceased), known to the villagers as 'Ah Kong', was the brother-in-law of Ling Chiong Sing (the Ling family is one of the close business associates of the Mahmud family, hence enjoying tremendous political power and influence in Sarawak, especially in Miri), a director of Sarawak Oil Palm Berhad. His brother Ah Loi is reputedly the most feared figure in Miri, reputed to have enormous connection with the law enforcers and politicians in this town.

It is still undisclosed how the incident had happened. However, it is most unconvincing that the villagers were the aggressors since they had taken the trouble to lodge 7 police reports and written to the IGP with photographs. From the police reports, it can also be seen that they had tried to tolerate and avoid the physical conflicts with the group of intruders.

The 22 villagers, aged between 17 to 74, now under remand are:
Villagers from Busang Longhouse
1. TR Busang ak Nyandang (Headman)
2. Robert ak Beji
3. Ma Chew Hwa
4. Ludan ak Mat
5. Janang ak Bandang
6. Liau ak Rambol

Villagers from Bali Longhouse
1. TR Bali ak Belukun (Headman)
2. Emban ak Lajon
3. Samsul ak Bundak
4. Unggut ak Kadukom
5. Ijau ak Rima
6. Rentap ak Lajon
7. Guba ak Jugol
8. Majang ak Guba
9. Jalin ak Antom
10. Langgong ak Mandang
11. Nyaling ak Bundang
12. Manggat ak Nyaling
13. Ruyang ak Dingun
14. Sait ak Utat
15. Mawat ak Sait
16. Meraka ak Sait

'Konsep Baru' of the NCR land development by Sarawak State Government


The disputes of NCR (native customary right) land between the indigenous people of Sarawak and the various state development agencies has been going on since earlier this century when other settlers landed.

The disputes of NCR (native customary right) land between the indigenous people of Sarawak and the various state development agencies has been going on since earlier this century when other settlers landed.

It became more noticeable in the 60s when logging first started in swamp forest and the dispute accelerated in the mid 70s when the logging industry moved upstream. The conflicts intensified lately when new legislation encouraged developers to open up further NCR land in the name of development.

Since the second half of 1995, The Sarawak state government has introduced a NCR land development scheme called 'Konsep Baru', or literally translated as 'New Concept'.

In this scheme, all NCR lands in an area would be amalgamated into one large block deleting existing boundaries and only ONE land title is to be issued.

Two state agencies, the Sarawak Land Development Board (SLDB) and the Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA) would act as the Trust Agents (with Power of Attorney [P.A.]) for the NCR landowners to form joint-venture companies with foreign or local private plantation companies. These private companies would be selected by the agencies themselves, to be partners in the implementation of plantation projects on Native Customary Land.

The land title would be issued in the name of the joint-venture company lasting a period of 60 years. Upon expiry of the 60 years, the NCR landowners 'may apply' to the 'Land and Survey Department' for the issue of a grant over one's land and the Superintendent of Land & Survey 'may issue' the grant to the landowner with terms and conditions as he deems fit to impose.

This is the process recently being passed (November, 1997) in the Sarawak Dewan Undangan Negeri (State Legislative Assembly).

The difference between NCR land and lease land is that the NCR land is perpetual subject to observance of customary laws and practices, but a grant of land by the Sarawak government is a renewable lease for 60 years. In addition, the words used in the legislation passed in November 1997 which specify 'may apply' and 'may issue' are non-guarantee terms.

In the joint-venture (JV) company set-up, the private concerns will have 60% equity while the State land agency will hold 10%, and the NCR landowners will get 30% equity share for 'investing their land' for a renewable term of 60 years.

In this joint-venture set-up, the landowners do not have any say nor the right to sit in the JV Board since they would be made to sign the 'Power Of Attorney' to leave all rights over their lands to the Managing Agent before the project begins.

After 60 years, the land may be given back to the NCR landowners, but a caveat that the investing concerns have had recouped their capital investments.

The existing land code governing all land matters in the state does not give the NCR landowners any right to what the communities claim as 'Menoa' (ancestral domain).

The indigenous peoples have been repeatedly told that if they don't jump aboard plantation schemes or have their NCR land developed, they would lose everything because land would be developed anyway. The government can do that by invoking other provisions in the Sarawak Land Code because NCR land is defined differently in the statute and as with other categories of land, the Minister is empowered to declare any piece of land as developed area hence taking over such land for development purposes.

In the JV company, the project developers, who do not need to buy land but just put in capital investment to develop the plantations, get a 60% stake. In addition, the JV company can use the land to borrow money locally or aboard. If they don't make profit during the initial 60 years, they can seek the permission of the Minister to extend the land lease.

If the NCR land is forested, the JV Company will further have free capital in areas with merchandise timber through logging.

As the NCR landowners are rid of power and rights to check the JV's management, accounts and all related matters, the landowners cannot ensure themselves that the JV Company is making profit and that they would be receiving appropriate portions of any dividend.

The fear of losing their ancestral land indefinitely is not un-founded at all.

The cultural values of the NCR land to the indigenous communities are not addressed by the government in formulating this 'konsep Baru'. In pursuant to the proposed changes, the cultural alienation and threat to a unique identity and integrity of the Sarawak indigenous communities is an inevitable result.

Besides, when the indigenous communities are not involved in the management of the JV company and they have no control over what is being proposed, the intention of such schemes by the Sarawak state government - that is to lift the standard of living of the rural indigenous communities and to rid these communities of poverty - is doubtful. This is because the aspirations, needs and other general interests of the indigenous communities are not being taken care of in the proposal.

The cases of dispute over the NCR land as some of the examples outlined below, the dispute shows no sign of heading for any amicable settlement and instead, there are increasing cases of hardships and unhappiness being experienced by these indigenous communities, with even cases of death as was the case in Bakong when the police fired and killed a person involved in a land dispute.

If anything, all indications point to the State authorities stepping up its effort to quell any form of dissent, however legitimate and peaceful, as is the case of Sarawak's indigenous communities over such proposal.
1. Bintulu Pulp and Paper Mill Project Borneo Paper and Pulp Mill project (a joint venture of Sarawak Timber Industry Corporation [a State Government body] with 40% interest and Asia Pulp Company Limited with 60% [a Singapore based holding company attached to Indonesian owned Sinar Mas Group]) is located in a new township named Semarakan, some 45 km south of Bintulu and 23 km from Tatau Town at the Tatau River bridge of Sibu-Bintulu Road.

A 3,000 hectare land next to the proposed Borneo Pulp and Paper Mill project had being earmarked for the township to accommodate more than 10,000 people working in various categories of jobs in the projects.

The mill is leading to further clearing of 216,000 ha (28% or 60,000 ha are NCR land) of land in the surrounding area for namely Acacia Mangium plantation where synthetic chemical fertiliser (800 g per tree) and pesticide would be applied. A total of 606,000 ha of primary and logged over forest land is designated as supply ground for the pulp and paper mill.

An EIA for the projects was carried out in 1996 and the project was approved in December in the same year. The 277 families of the immediately affected 12 longhouses only then started to realize that the promise of a compensation of RM 6,000 for an acre has shrank to RM 1,600.

The contractors soon arrived to carry out land clearing and claiming the right to sell the logged timber. All these factors sparked off immediate conflict between many local residents with the project proponent.
A committee of 7 members was formed by the affected families in September 1997, headed by Jaili bin Sulaiman, an ethnic Kenyah Muslim. It exists to seek justice and fair compensation for the NCR landowners.

On 5 November 1997, Jaili was arrested and charged with threatening and causing obstruction to the proposed RM3 billion project. The incident then led to the demonstration of 30 other members of the community, demanding the immediate release of their leader in front of the police station in Bintulu where he was being remanded.

The people then further organise themselves in seeking a court injunction to prohibit the project for taking over their NCR land in the total 6,200 ha of area designated for the mill project. Their counsel has also filed an initial urgent application on behalf of Jaili in Miri Hugh Court against the Ministerial Directive dated 6 February, 1997 and the court set 22 April as the date for the hearing.

2. Bakong shooting case: A dispute happened between the Iban longhouse villagers in Bakong (about 100 km from Miri) against workers of the companies that are going to develop their land. During the height of the incident, the villagers were alleged to have seized three bulldozers from the workers and allegedly attacked the police officers who had moved in to retrieve the bulldozers.

Three villagers and eight policemen were injured in the clash which followed. A villager later died from a gunshot wound in the head at the Miri General Hospital.

On 29 December 1997, the longhouse head TR. Banggau Andop & 2 others filed a suit to stop the activities of the oil palm plantation companies, Segarakam Sdn Bhd, Prana Sdn Bhd, and Empresa (M) Sdn Bhd within their native customary land. They also named the Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA) and the state government as defendants in the case. They are challenging the issue with intend to have the court declare as illegal, null and void the provisional lease issued by the Land and Surveys Department.

The counsel for Prana Sdn Bhd told the court that the firm had stop operation and is withdrawing from the area.

Immediately after the court case on 23rd January 1998, Headman TR. Bangga was arrested by the police. There was no explanation given to him for his arrest. When TR. Bangga was release after the remand, he was charged by the police with 'gang robbery' and 'using of arms in a riot'. However, these charges are yet to be produced to the magistrate. This shows that instead of carrying out an investigation on the shooting, the police are pressing serious charges against the community people.

3. In Sg. Bong 42 Indigenous People were arrested in Sg. Bong, Teru, Miri Division in a dispute with an oil palm plantation company when they were trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the land surveyors who work for the plantation company in June, 1997. The 42 arrested were then asked to sign a bond of good behaviour.

A number of them refused to sign and challenged the magistrate in the High Court. The court ruled in favour of the people. This is a clear case of wrongful arrest. The community of Rumah Reggie then challenged the company by filing a court injunction against the plantation company, Nationmark, with the hearing set for April, 1998.

4. Problems faced by the Penan community in Ulu Baram. The Penan are one of the several smaller indigenous ethnic groups in Sarawak, with some still leading their already threatened nomadic lifestyles. They were in Sarawak even before the Brunei sultanate reign in Sarawak.

The livelihood of the Penan community in Ulu Baram has been greatly affected by the logging activity in their areas since the loggers encroached into the interior of Baram, Miri Division in mid 1980s.

A series of blockades highlighted in 1987 had brought national as well as international attention. However, much efforts in the last ten year, including the numerous appeals made by the Penan themselves to the authorities and parties concern seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

The problems they continue to face become more immediately, and among others, are:
Logging is continuing to wreck havoc on the environment, encroached upon communal territories, and threaten the very existence of the people;

Water supply from the rivers and other water catchment area being polluted by logging and related activities;

The weather is getting hotter with disappearing forest, resulting in many people getting sick; (note: they are people of deep forest, drastic change of physical environment would be hard for them to adjust)

The continuing presence of armed Police Field Force and the numerous threat from the police against community people.

With the forest fast disappearing, their main source of livelihood is almost destroyed. The plants and trees, which act as a combination of food and medicinal source for the people and various animals, are decreasing and a lot of fish in the rivers are killed due to pollution.

Besides, outsiders and other communities who have the means have intruded into the Penan village vicinity and compete for their wild game, fish and other food sources. This has also caused tension among the different communities.

All these problems are a consequence of the activities of timber companies and the armed Police Field Force (PFF) in the area, with the PFF clearly on the side on the timber companies and their workers.
Whenever the affected villagers want to defend their rights over their land from further destruction by the timber companies, the PFF would be there to intimidate the Penan harshly and sometimes pointing their guns towards them, throwing tear gas, or arrest them.

Many have in fact been arrested, imprisoned and some are still awaiting their trial for defending the Penan's land and their livelihood. These have continued to worsen the people's suffering.

5. Sebatu-Suai illegal land clearing. The 110 families of Sebatu-Suai, in the Miri Division is in the process of filing for a court injunction to stop plantation company from further carry out work on their NCR land.

Since July 1996, these 110 Iban families at Sebatu-Suai have been struggling to protect their NCR land from being bulldozed and turned into an oil palm plantation by a joint-venture company between the Sarawak State Government and Tradewinds Plantation Services Sdn Bhd of West Malaysia.

Johnson Enterprise, Tradewinds contractor, had initially sent the local residents a letter offering to buy their land at RM100/ per acre. However, this was met with strong rejection by these 110 families. Nevertheless, Johnson Enterprise continued its field clearing work without the affected peoples' consent.

A series of community action to stop the destruction of their crops and land have been done by the people since the beginning, including:

· complaint lodged with the District Officer and requested for official intervention on 17th Sept.1996;
· held 'Miring Bebuling Menoa' ceremony according to Adat Asal (traditional customs) on 3 Dec.1996 and at the same day withheld company's bulldozer and sent it to Batu Niah Police Station hoping to halt further damage to their land;
· lodged police report on the damaged of their property caused by the plantation company on 7 Dec.1996;
· gathering of 60 persons at their 'temuda' (communal land) to stop the workers from continuing field work and withheld bulldozer and later submitted the key to the police station on 16 January.1997.

Instead of looking into their issue, the authority sent a troop of policemen , about 15 in number, on 17 Jan.1997 to one of the longhouse, Rumah Junit, and remanded 5 persons for 10 nights at the Miri police station for investigation and later charged them for disturbing peace.

They were released on self-bail of RM1000/- each. Later, the Magistrate bonded them over for good behaviour.

6. Suai Tengah people's alert. In December, 1997 Sarawak Oil Palm Bhd (S.O.P.), a public listed company with a state statutory body, the Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA) being majority share holders, commissioned a surveying work in the affected longhouses' menoa through private surveying company without permission from the 4 longhouses, - Rh. Lasan, Rh. Libau, Rh. Gerang, and Rh. Abot., Miri Division.

Also on 3 Jan.1998, the longhouse people came across a 'News In Brief' in a local newspaper announcing the plan of S.O.P. to open another 9 blocks of land in their area for plantation. The longhouse residents immediately realised that the two matters were in fact related or of the same project.

These Iban residents immediately took up a series of action to deal with this unauthorised survey issue. A dialogue session was arranged at Sepupok Niah SAO (Senior Administrative Officer) Office on 17.1.98.
The longhouse delegation of about 55 persons met with the manager, assistant manager and high ranking officer of Sarawak Oil Palm with the SAO as witness.

Then on 21.1.98, the representatives of the 4 longhouses went to Kuching, the State capital, to submit their memorandum in person to the Land Development Minister, Datuk Alfred Jabu and ex-Land Development Minister, Datuk Celestine Ujang.

On 24 - 27 Jan. 1998, for 4 consecutive days, the people of these 4 longhouses carried out boundary marking work on their own menoa and put up sign board of notice to deter further encroachment from outsiders.

Even after these actions, the people still felt uneasy and rather worried about the said plan of S.O.P.

An inter-longhouses meeting was called on 4 Feb.1998 to decide on actions to be taken. On the next day, a delegation of 25 representatives (Headmen and longhouse representatives) went to Bintulu to meet with the chairman of PBDS (Parti Bangsa Dayak Sarawak is a component party of the ruling National Front Coalition Government) and the State Assembly member, Mr. Michael Sim to express their anxiety over the plantation matter. These two persons in the governing structure promised to bring the matter to the attention of the higher authority.

The longhouse folks did not feel much better after these words of assurance.

On 6 Feb. 98, they had another inter-longhouse meeting and this time they decided to go to a lawyer to draft and send two memorandum letters on the matter. This was done on 9 Feb. 1998 in Miri.

7. Kanowit-Machan resistence. This area is one of the pilot project of developing NCR land according to 'Konsep Baru' beginning in 1997. However, several longhouses in Sungei Tuah (such as Rumah Pius and two others) and in Machan-Durin, Sibu Division (such as Rumah Jali, some families from other longhouses such as Rumah Muli and Seling) have strongly and repeatedly informed the authority of their stance against joining the oil palm plantation, and instead had chosen to develop the land by themselves.

However, the authority and the plantation company concerned seemingly choose to ignore their rights to decide on their own. All through the field clearing period for the oil palm planting, bulldozers razed through their temuda and Menoa without permission or consultation. Crops, fruit trees as well as the only gravity pipe water system were destroyed and land were made bareness.

Affected families then organised themselves and took shift to check and guard their land and menoa boundary in order to deter further encroachment (such as Rumah Jali's folks were on a 24 hours shift duty). Nevertheless, some parts of their land were still damaged by the plantation activities. Protest letters demanding cessation of encroachment activities and compensation for the land disturbed according to Adat (traditional custom) were either sent to or handed in person to the plantation company and authority concerned.

After all these rounds of defending their rights to their own land, the plantation company have presently cease to further encroach onto their land but demand for compensation to damages are still yet to be settled.

24 May 2000 - Press Statement

It is most distressing and disappointing that the Land Code (Amendment) Bill 2000 was passed on 9th of May, 2000 by the Dewan Undangan Negeri Sarawak within such a short time and no clarification or explanation were offered to address the doubts of natives in Sarawak as to protection and preservation of their customary rights and practice over their ancestral land.

Contrary to their wishes and aspiration, the passage of this Land Code (Amendment) Bill further restricts the indigenous communities to their claims for native customary rights over their land and enables the state government to extinguish such customary rights with greater ease.

Before the amendment, the Indigenous communities could claim and prove their rights in accordance to the provisions of the Land Code and the adat, or customary laws and practice.

With the amendment, the native rights over land are restricted to the description of the new bill, which in actual sense is a denial of the full essence of the adat.

The new bill deleted the clause of 5(2)(f) 'any other lawful methods' in claiming Native Customary Right, NCR land. This would not allow them to claim rights over the menoa (Iban term for ancestral domains or communities territory), pulau galau (communal forest) and penurip (Penan adat of forest area for hunting-gathering purposes) or Jelajah Asal for the Kenyah and Kayan, which are essential to the indigenous communities in maintaining their ways of living.

The restricted claim includes only the temuda such as farmland, buried ground or shrine. In this sense, the amendment denies the rights of the indigenous people to continue their culture and practices.

Such amendment can be seen as an effort to give easier way for the top down approach of centralisation in the implementation of leader's single-minded vision of development, rather than decentralised diverse and dynamic systems. This will inevitably led to monoculture or homogenous way of living.

Consequently, the blessed cultural diversity of the nation would eventually be lost as a result of the denial of indigenous people's rights.

Further, in the amendment, the Register of native rights is a separate register from the Register kept in the Land Office. It is unlikely that such title is of any value because the registration is merely a record with no conclusive prove of ownership to the land. It is therefore, not useful for any transfer, transmission, acquisition or inheritance, and bank loan purposes.

We, the undersigned NGOs would like to call for a review of the amendment, to give time for consultation with the indigenous communities, and to commission further study of the NCR land issue, as well as to open for more public discussion.

A sincere recognition of native customary land rights would have to incorporate the claims with the Register kept in the Land Office, with document of tittles given to these landowners with land tenure in perpetuity.

Landmark Ruling Secures Native Land Rights
By Harlan Thompson

On May 12th, 2001, the High Court in Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, issued an extraordinary ruling that could have sweeping consequences for indigenous land rights. After two years of litigation, the court upheld the customary rights the indigenous Iban village of Rumah Nor, finding that the Sarawak Land and Survey Department has wrongfully issued a license to the Borneo Paper and Pulp Company who had in turn destroyed a tract of rainforest belonging to the community.

On May 12th, 2001, the High Court in Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, issued an extraordinary ruling that could have sweeping consequences for indigenous land rights. After two years of litigation, the court upheld the customary rights the indigenous Iban village of Rumah Nor, finding that the Sarawak Land and Survey Department has wrongfully issued a license to the Borneo Paper and Pulp Company who had in turn destroyed a tract of rainforest belonging to the community.

This decision-which in no uncertain terms expands the definition of customary lands to include rivers, streams and communal forests-is a significant precedent for native villagers seeking land rights in Malaysia. Prior to the ruling, only farmlands actively cultivated by forest dependent communities could be considered native customary lands.

Over the years, laws and legislation in Sarawak have chipped away at indigenous rights to ancestral lands, so indigenous groups have been overjoyed by the news. Malaysia lawyer Meena Raman commented, "The court decision was a very major victory in terms of the jurisprudence on native rights. Let's hope it hope that it will withstand any further appeals to the upper courts."

Immediately following the decision, both the Sarawak Land and Survey Department and Borneo Paper and Pulp Company announced they would appeal the case. Yet in doing so, they will face significant pressure from indigenous Dayak groups who make up the majority in Sarawak and will likely make this a major election issue in the coming months. If upheld, the ruling could have broad implications for native land rights struggles around the world, since legal precedents from British Commonwealth countries like Malaysia can be used in other Commonwealth countries.

The ruling Two years ago, the Borneo Pulp and Paper Plantation (BPP) company began cutting down forests claimed by the Iban community of Rumah Nor. The BPP had been granted a title from Sarawak's Land and Survey Department to create a 1 million hectare plantation for raising fast growing tree species. Villagers from Rumah Nor were never informed or consulted about the title, and when they discovered the damage to their land, they sued to stop the logging and claim damages.

Given that recent laws and court decisions have favored industrial developers over indigenous farmers, this decision handed down by High Court Judge Datuk Ian Chin Hon Chong comes as a shock. The High Court ruled that the BPP was not allowed to enter a disputed 672 hectare area, and placed an immediate injunction on the company from entering these lands. The BPP title to this area was declared null and void, and the Land and Survey Department was ordered to rectify the BPP land title to exclude this area. The judge furthermore ordered BPP to pay all court costs incurred by the villagers of Rumah Nor.

However, it was the legal reasoning of Judge Ian Chin that proved most encouraging for native groups. In a 96 page verdict, he ruled that indigenous land rights were in existence before any external power controlled Sarawak, and therefore such rights were natural rights and "not dependent for its existence on any legislation, executive or judicial declaration". He further ruled that these rights extended not only to areas farmed, but to all forests, rivers and streams within one half day's journey from a village longhouse, unless limited by the borders of other nearby villages.

Common practice in Sarawak requires communities to prove to outsiders their Native Customary Rights (NCR). Perhaps half of all of Sarawak's lands should be classified as NCR lands, but so far very few villages have cleared all of the many legal hurdles needed for their NCR status to be officially recognized. So indigenous people are often treated like squatters on their own lands when loggers approach. Judge Chin, however, ruled the assumption should be that such lands are NCR lands, and the onus will be on other claimants to prove that they are not.

When considering arguments raised by the defendants, Judge Chin appeared sympathetic to the plight of indigenous peoples. For instance, the defendants did not argue that since a logging company cut down most of the large trees on Rumah Nor’s lands in the 1980, the village had given their forest rights to that logging company. The judge disagreed, stating "we must not forget that the natives ... consist of not only adults but children as well, and it is inconceivable that such children can be deprived of their rights just because the adults decide to sell some or all of the timber from a forest." He also ruled that the cutting of trees in the 1980's was the destruction of valuable evidence determining how old the forest was, and that in future cases tree data would need to be collected and inquiries into land claims conducted before any logging could proceed. Currently, villagers often do not know their land is being logged until the bulldozers and chainsaws have arrived.

Reactions Two hundred indigenous people were at the court when the lawyer for the plaintiffs, Baru Bian, read out the verdict. Many elders cried unashamedly. Village headman Nor Nyawai stated, "I am breathless and I simply cannot describe just how happy and relieved I feel right now." The indigenous community is euphoric, and villagers all over Sarawak are planning especially joyous celebrations for Gawai Dayak, the harvest festival held on June 1st.

Yet news of the case is spreading mainly by word of mouth, as Sarawak's mainstream media has refused to cover the court case. Most radio stations and one major newspaper, the Sarawak Tribune, have blacked out the story all together. The media silence is not surprising in Sarawak where most media outlets are owned by logging and plantation interests who would be adversely affected by the ruling if more villages assert their land rights.

The government announced its opposition to the ruling and will appeal the decision, since the Sarawak State Land and Survey Department is one of the defendants. The government opposition is not surprising given that Sarawak's Chief Minister has gained billions from handing out logging concessions, and the Environmental Minister is one of the largest logging concession holders in the state. In fact, many are wondering how far the government will go to oppose the ruling. The Appellate Court that will review the ruling ordinarily only looks at the finer details of the case and does not change the main thrust of the High Court's ruling, but they may face pressure to make major changes in this instance. In other cases in Malaysia, judges issuing rulings that strongly conflict with government interests have been forced to retire.

Judge Chin ruled that communities could lose their NCR rights if laws explicitly extinguish them, and if the government loses the appeal they may press hard to pass new laws doing just that. However, approximately half of Sarawak's population is indigenous, and so such steps would be unpopular. The ruling party has been beset by troubles lately, and can ill afford to alienate more voters. Elections will be held later this year, and already the opposition party Keadilan Sarawak has announced that they will make the government's opposition to the ruling a major issue in the upcoming campaign.

Maps were essential. The ruling would never have come about without years of hard work by local non-governmental organizations (NGO's) who have organized local communities and helped them understand and defend their legal rights. Rumah Nor was assisted by the Borneo Resources Institute (BRIMAS) and a legal team headed by lead council Baru Bian. A crucial piece of evidence in the case was a village map created by BRIMAS mapper Samy Anak Ising. Samy was cross examined for three days in the court room, as the defendants led by BPP questioned the methods, data and equipment he used to make the map. In the end, the judge declared, "the map he produced is as accurate as it can possibly be given the equipment he has."

The importance placed on the map in the judge's written ruling was a vindication for The Borneo Project's mapping program. Starting in 1995, The Berkeley, California based Borneo Project helped initiate a mapping program with several local NGO's, including BRIMAS, and Samy Ising was one of the many mappers trained by the Borneo Project.

This court case should greatly facilitate the use of maps in future cases. Judge Chin ruled that while the defendants "demanded perfection" from the map, such perfection was not necessary in proving who owned the disputed land area. Currently over 20 cases involving NCR claims are working their way through the Sarawak court system, and over 50 villages have been mapped. But the need for additional maps and lawsuits to prove NCR rights will undoubtedly grow in the wake of this ruling.

While the full implications of this case may not be known for a long time to come, the short term impacts have provided a boost to the indigenous and environmental movements, not only in Sarawak, but worldwide. Just as Judge Chin quoted precedents from Australia and Canada in making his ruling, so this decision may be used by native groups in any of the 54 countries belonging to the British Commonwealth. Defendants for Borneo Paper and Pulp argued in their case that "the natives are squatters" on their own traditional lands, and for far too long the government has been treating them as such. At least for now, that argument is no longer legally defensible.

The only policies that Taib's administration had proudly acknowledge is his so called 'Politics of Development' which is more of 'Politics of Exploitation'. Exploitation of the state natural resources, the NCR land, practising of nepotism and cronyism.

According to Dato Daniel Tajem the state government is carrying out a “legal genocide” by using the law to take away native customary rights (NCR) land and to abolish the word ‘Dayak’ as a subtle means of annihilating the community.

"Sarawak is rich, the leaders are rich but the rakyat is poor", said Anwar Ibrahim at a press conference in Kuching during the 2006 Sate Election. World Bank report on Malaysia's poverty index which revealed that most of the 1 million hardcore poor comprised Sarawak’s Dayaks and Sabah native peoples.

For example, the majority of the Ibans are still trapped in low-return agricultural activities, low-paying jobs, and lack access to education and business opportunities.

Look at the rural infrastructures (eg. trunk road, village road, etc) are in most deplorable condition.
When the host pressed him for an indication of who his successor could be, he answered: “I try to plan. Over the last 10 years, I have groomed some people but as I had said I can only plan but God will decide".

There he goes, invoking God as an excussed. He said he had groomed some people over the last 10 years, but what happened to those he has groomed? Where are they now?

Infact the very people he has groomed still in the government, speak volume of Taib's dictatorial style. He is in actual fact are reluctant to religuish his post as Chief Minister due to the fact that he could not trusted the very people he has groomed to protect his family vast business interests in the state.

It was Dato Sri Effendi Norwawi and Dato Adenan Satem, used to be his most trusted men. But due to Effendi marital and other personal problems, Taib was reluctant to hand over the Chief Ministership at that time. It was a well known secret that during Effendi tenured as SEDC CEO that Taib began to en-masse his family enormous wealth and fortune. To appoint Effendi as a successor more of sort as a return of favour.

The fallout with Dato Adenan Satem, perhaps was personal.

Pengkhianat kini dalang percaturan politik Sarawak
Tulisan Hakim Bujang

[...] Selama ini, Taib memang memberi keutamaan kepada naib presiden PBB, Datuk Seri Adenan Satem. Adenan ialah seorang yang bijak. Dia tidak gopoh, dan sebagai pulangan dia mendapat sokongan padu Taib.

Tetapi kini, Adenan kesuntukan masa. Dia tidak mampu lagi menunggu, jika tidak, dia akan ketinggalan dalam menempatkan dirinya dalam peta politik Sarawak. Taib yang sebelum ini sudah nampak bersedia melepaskan kuasa terpaksa menangguhkannya bagi menyelesaikan masalah perniagaan keluarganya.

Mereka yang mengikuti perkembangan perniagaan keluarga Taib akan tahu keadaan ini. Taib sedang cuba sedaya upaya untuk mendapatkan semula projek Bakun. Dia terpaksa menjelaskan hutang bank RHB. Dia juga perlu memastikan semuanya berjalan lancar bagi CMS dan juga Naim Cendera.

Taib tidak boleh melepaskan kerusi Ketua Menteri, bukan hari ini, esok atau bertahun lagi. Dia perlu memastikan jawatan Ketua Menteri dikekalkan dalam keluarganya. Pakciknya Tun Abdul Rahman Yaakub telah melakukannya dengan memberikan jawatan tersebut kepada Taib pada tahun 1981.[...]

Asked whether he could call Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Dato Sri Effendi Norwawi back to Sarawak, he said: “Effendi is now needed by the Prime Minister and I leave it to Effendi to decide on his future, and come to discuss with me when the Prime Minister no longer requires him.”

A future chief minister is expected to come from this slate of younger leaders “who would be guided by their seniors” acting as mentors, said Taib in his closing press conference after the PBB triennial general assembly.

Datuk Seri Adenan Satem, who had perhaps hoped too much to be chief minister and finally gave up in frustration, and possibly Datuk Seri Effendi Norwawi, who has had to contend with some rather well-publicised personal problems recently.

Effendi at 60, may no longer have age on his side. Nevertheless, he presents a good image, noted his friends in the PBB.

Sarawak business circles are still reluctant to write off Effendi, who for far too long was Taib’s favourite and a trusted Melanau.

For now, delegates to the triennial general assembly held at Miri readily turn to party treasurer Datuk Seri Awang Tengah Ali Hassan, the incoming senior vice-president, as the man to watch. Coming from a humble family background, Awang Tengah has suddenly found himself moving in circles where power and money are a heady mix and where he has had to exercise the greatest self-discipline to stay on course.

Well, time will tell whether he (Taib) going to religuish his post as Chief Minister any sooner. It is a well known secret that he proclaimed himself as a defacto Sultan of Sarawak, with the title 'Pehin Sri'.

Wish you the best of health, Pehin Sri.