Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud is in effect, already king. To his right, sits his “arm-candy” wife. All that is missing from the royal portrait are the jewelled crown, the ermine robes, the coat of arms, sceptre and orb.

Spread before the wannabe king and his consort, is his kingdom - Sarawak - which is both blessed and cursed with an abundance of natural resources; blessed because it has the means to benefit the Sarawak people; cursed because the riches serve to benefit only one man - Taib.

Taib has amassed a fortune of RM45 billion although 95 percent of Sarawak’s oil revenue should have been siphoned off to Putrajaya. So, what has been the true value of Sarawak’s output over the years? Who has it and where is it? The irony is that Sarawak remains one of the poorer states in Malaysia.

azlanThe exposé by the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) of Taib’s wealth is something we long suspected, but could never prove. What is invaluable about the BMF report is the detail of the sources of his wealth, his accomplices and the location of the loot.

The wannabe emperor holds court in a palatial mansion on the riverbank in Demak, Kuching, but dotted around the world’s prime locations are his other residences. Contrast this with the other Sarawakians, most of whom have been resettled in government communes.

In most cases, they have no running water and an intermittent supply of electricity. They lack land to cultivate their seasonal crops and the jungle to hunt in, or to make a living from. By sleight of hand, the lifeblood of the indigenous natives - their ancestral lands, have become Taib’s.

Taib knows a thing or two, about recycling. Initially, timber, and timber concessions provided the bulk of his income. With the depletion of the sources of timber, he authorised the formation of oil palm plantations. Mono-culture will not support the various plants and animals like deer, wild boar or monkeys, needed for hunting.

sarawak corridor of renewable energy score project 110208 mapThe latest recycling is Taib’s ‘Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy’ (SCORE) project - his venture into the halal food business. The oil palm has a ready market for processing into palm oil products. These industries need construction and a labour force.

Conveniently, the family-owned cement company Cahya Mata Sarawak Bhd (CMSB) is responsible for many construction projects, but not, it seems the building of roads, schools and clinics for communities in the interior.

The people Taib hounded from their lands became his source of labour. It did not worry him if these Sarawakians were not interested in dull, repetitive work for a pittance. He, and his cronies, had a plentiful supply of cheap labour from Indonesia.

Seduced by money

With one master stroke, Taib then set about the complete annihilation of the people who opposed his vision for Sarawak. Timber and palm oil activities managed to pollute the waterways, making people ill and unable to earn a living. In his grandiose project, the Bakun dam, an area the size of Singapore, was submerged. Taib dampened the Iban spirit, but felt compelled to remove all traces of the Iban past, their traditional landmarks and ancestral burial sites.

Taib’s hangers-on and a private army of sycophants will do his every bidding, whether legal or illegal; but it is not just Malaysians who are seduced by money. The foreigners, including the Australians, Canadians and Europeans are also complicit in Taib’s grand design.

These foreigners care nothing about the average Sarawakian - the jungles, Panggau Libau (the mythical kingdom), the Iban sense of adventure in berjalai or the Iban warriors, Keling, Rentap and Sawing.

Three decades ago, Taib couldn’t have imagined that his wealth would surpass even his wildest dreams. Had he known, he might have turned the day he was sworn in as chief minister, into his coronation. He was a political novice then, with much to learn from his uncle whom he later cast aside. The young Taib hadn’t yet mastered the act of plundering his own people and country.

pantu iban 211005 kampung aping dadakAnyone with an interest in the history of Malaya and Borneo knows that the indigenous peoples of Sarawak are renowned for their hunting skills and bravery in battle. In the last century, the Ibans played a prominent role in the liberation of Borneo and also of Malaya, from the Japanese in WWII. So when will they liberate themselves from Taib’s tyranny?

Taib is like every other despot in Malaysia. They carve out a fortune from what is rightfully the rakyats’ and they will not rest till they have established a dynasty of sorts, just as former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad wants to bequeath Malaysia to his son.

With the BMF exposé, the ball is now in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) court and the nation looks up to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to order an investigation. Najib promised, when he became PM, to eradicate corruption; but hell will freeze over, before Taib is investigated.

Najib has already poured scorn on the BMF findings and said, “There are all kinds of allegations, jangan kita layan (let’s not entertain it)”. Najib has too much emotional and political baggage. Anyway, some of the leads point to his doorstep.

Even if 97 percent of Sarawakians vote for the opposition in GE13, BN will still emerge the victor, because the elections will be rigged. That is why the action will have to come from the people, on the ground.

Determined to effect change

Every repressive regime will one day come to an end. If the people cannot use the democratic process to replace a ruling party, they will eventually become determined to effect change. When this happens, and they can no longer stomach the corruption and injustices, it is usually the dictators who meet a violent and bloody death. Most of us want to see the end of Taib’s tyranny, in our lifetime, so our children will have a bright future.

Four years ago, the mass rapes of the Penan women and children were exposed but none of the culprits have been brought to justice. All the organs of the state, including the police and state ministers, dismissed the Penan allegations.

In Victorian times, Borneo was a land of fascination, adventure and jungle exotica. Those days are almost over, for one day, we might just read in our history books, of the new sultanate under Taib. With this latest BMF exposé, it remains to be seen how much more hardship the Sarawak people can endure. Even dams have been known to burst. Only the Sarawak people can act to recapture their lost lands and restore their dignity.

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In ‘real-speak', this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.