Saturday, March 29, 2008

Stunning Incompetence – And Proof That Nothing Has Changed

ALIRAN

If we thought that dealing an electoral blow to the Umno-led BN would serve as a wake-up call, we’d better think again. Far from learning anything from the rebuke, the new cabinet is proof that not one thing has got in those thick skulls, observes Tingang.

First, it would be a normal assumption that there is consultation before announcing a cabinet. But the two instant rejections show the arrogance behind the appointments. The assumption is that people are so hungry for cabinet positions that you don’t have to consult them.

Second, the huge disappointment of the Dayaks in Sarawak pushed even the usually subservient James Masing, disputed leader of the Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), to voice his disappointment.

Now, if one wants to know what the NEP really means to today’s Umno, Sarawak is a great place to learn about it – and the cabinet appointments only serve to underline that.

This is a state whose bumiputera – a majority non-Malay bumiputera – have seen the favoured grow rich while first the forest and now the land is literally being taken away from them. For these bumiputera, there is no NEP, instead lectures about changing their mindsets while their sources of livelihood are handed over to the well-connected, mostly apparently Chinese companies, but who knows the ultimate beneficiaries.

So, a first-term MP, son of the Chief Minister of Sarawak, is immediately given a deputy ministership, while long-serving Iban, Bidayuh and Orang Ulu MPs are left out in the cold. Now, if anyone is interested in how politics and business are intertwined in Sarawak, just look up the Annual Report of Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd (CMSB), a company laughingly referred to as Chief Minister & Sons Bhd.

Go along most major roads in Sarawak and you’ll see signs proudly announcing that the road maintenance is under CMSB. The proposed USD2 billion aluminium smelter is a joint venture with CMSB – and we can guess why Rio Tinto picked CMSB as a partner. The concrete and cement and steel for Bakun is from CMSB. CMSB’s tiny Bank Utama was allowed to do a reverse take-over of much larger RHB Bank – but unable to turn a profit out of it, it’s now sold to EPF. CMSB owns the former JKR construction arm. And so on – to the tune of doing business amounting to 10 per cent of Sarawak’s GDP. One company, owned by the Chief Minister’s family – and our Mr Clean had no problems appointing the first-term MP son to the cabinet.

Well, it should be interesting to see Suleiman Taib Mahmud’s asset declarations. But if the government means what it says – who believes that anymore – then it should insist on asset declarations covering the extended family of parents, siblings and nephews and nieces.

But it gets worse. The new environment minister is from Sarawak, as is the plantations minister. Guess which state has done more deforestation in the past ten years? Right, Sarawak. And for what purpose? Right, for plantations. Check and balance? Or, green light to go ahead and further dispossess the bumiputera of Sarawak, handing over the degraded forest to the same people who degraded it with terrible logging practices, so that they can plant acacia and oil palm? Look at the timber companies. Now look at the ones in plantation. They are the same – the Big Five – they call them. And the economy of Sarawak is being handed over to them: forests, plantations, shipping, hyper-malls, hotels, real estate, etc.

Rafidah Aziz deserved to go. But by all accounts she was a competent international trade and industry minister – she deserved to go not because she couldn’t do that job, but because she got too good at some other jobs.

Whover has replaced her, it should be fun. But even more of a joke is the deputy minister, a long-serving Orang Ulu MP, also from the CM’s party, whose only knowledge of international trade and industry is staring at oil palm and acacia plantations coming up all over the Baram. Now this is a man who dare not even talk with his constituents when they want to talk about the land issue. And he is going to represent us in those international forums facing the sharks?

If Mr Clean had appointed him to the works ministry, it might at least be understandable. After all, he is MP of an area where, after more than twenty years, the government road remains unfinished, and is in worse shape than even the logging roads! They used to blame Samy Vellu. Now we don’t have Samy to kick around any more, it would have been good to let Jacob Dungau prove himself and finally get the road completed.

Come to think of it, maybe we should present the whole cabinet with pillows. Things might actually be better if they all went to sleep.

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