By Jeswan Kaur
In a surprising move, the United Nations say it is pleased with Sarawak for overcoming various socio-economic challenges in the past decade. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Abuse of human rights and environmental damage in Sarawak are an ongoing issue. And it is hard to believe that the UN through its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 2010 report has ways to credit Sarawak for a “job well done”.
The MDGs are eight international development goals that all 193 UN member-states and at least 23 international organisations have agreed to achieve by 2015.
The eight goals are: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development.
As far as Sarawak is concerned, it has so far failed to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
The World Bank last year pointed out that Sabah and Sarawak had both achieved the dubious distinction of being the poorest and second poorest states in Malaysia.
Sarawak, under the corrupt leadership of Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, has refused to promote gender equality and empower women, as seen from the never-ending rapes of the Penan women and girls by timber loggers.
The blatant round-the-clock logging has also disturbed the lives of the natives, with the loggers so brazenly encroaching into native lands, which have been snatched for logging, mining and plantation purposes.
But it is Taib’s burgeoning greed that is the culprit behind the once green and lush Sarawak rainforest going bald, no thanks to the continuous logging carried out by his cronies.
Rampant human rights abuse
For over a decade, the women and girls from Sarawak’s Penan community have been trying to seek help from the federal government and the police from being continuously raped by the timber loggers to whom these women and girls turned to for transport .
These timber loggers have never been hauled up as corruption and nepotism run deep among the “powers that be” in Sarawak, with Taib leading the entourage of Sarawak’s politician-cum-marauders.
For the rape survivors who dared to take on the timber loggers, justice remains a distant dream.
In 2010, it was reported that a Penan women from Long Item, Baram in Sarawak, given the pseudonym “Bibi” by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry’s National Task Force Report (in September 2009), gave birth to another baby in February last year.
The father of Bibi’s child was her alleged rapist, an Interhill logging camp worker known as “Johnny” or Ah Hing.
Yet the UN has found reason to heap praise on Sarawak for meeting its MDGs. Just how did the UN judge Sarawak worthy of any merit as far as the MDGs are concerned?
Taib taking rakyat for a ride
Taib made sure he took full advantage of the UN report. He said the MDGs report vouched for all the hard work Sarawak put in towards developing and enhancing the socio-economic status of the rakyat.
It is a paradox that despite Taib’s “self-first” and “rakyat last” agenda, the UN found reason to pat him on the back for meeting the MDGs.
When it comes to developing a global partnership for development, which is one of the eight MDGs, Taib once again draws a flop – looking at how Taib’s cronies have damaged the native customary lands.
In 2009, the Malaysian 2008 annual auditor-general’s report labelled the forest management in Sarawak by the state government as unsatisfactory.
Satellite images have shown that Sarawak has lost 90 percent of its forests. But Taib, as predicted, denied the claim and said 70 percent of its forests are still intact. He went so far as to say he invited independent investigations into the Sarawak rainforest.
Sarawak’s MDG success a myth
In 1980, only 31.8 percent of Sarawakians had access to water supply. But in 1995, 85 percent of the population were devoid of any.
“In Sarawak, half of its people live in rural areas and outskirts which are geographically inaccessible by road and also devoid of water and electricity supply. This is a big challenge to the state government to ensure these people are helped and can enjoy the development we are planning,” Taib said in his speech in a ceremony concerning the MDG report held last week.
Earlier in the year, it was reported that under the National Key Results Areas (NKRA), Sarawak would receive RM1.7 billion to build and upgrade roads and another RM1.7 billion to implement power supply projects, supposedly to improve basic infrastructure in the rural areas.
Sarawak will receive RM9 million to carry out projects to supply treated water to the rural areas. Another RM100 million is falling into Sarawak’s lap, supposedly for housing.
But with Taib at the helm, it is doubtful if these billions coming to Sarawak will be put to the right use.
How should then the people of Sarawak trust Taib when he says the state is highly committed to achieving the MDGs when the very core of human existence – self-respect and dignity – is openly being violated by outsiders who unfortunately receive the backing of Taib and his cronies?
Now, Taib is trying to assure the disgruntled people of Sarawak that the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) project will be the answer towards improving their quality of life.
Taib’s coffers increases while the poor suffer.
Taib has much real work to do
In January this year, Minister in the Chief Minister’s Department Fatimah Abdullah said the poverty rate in Sarawak had dropped in the past 40 years. She credited the Barisan Nasional for its effective policies in assisting the people.
Fatimah said poverty rate in the state used to be about 50 percent in the 1960s but had dipped to 5.3 percent in 2009. She added that the Taib government was very concerned with the disadvantaged group in the state and would allocate funds to help the disabled, those with chronic diseases and single parents.
The World Bank has said 40 percent of Malaysia’s poor are in Sabah, meaning that almost half of the poor people in Malaysia are in Sabah.
Compared with the economic development of neighbouring Brunei which opted out of the Malaysian Federation in 1963 and Singapore which walked away two years later in 1965, it comes as no surprise why Sabahans and Sarawakians want out of Malaysia.
Questions have also been posed as to why, despite Sarawak’s impressive income, 70 percent of the longhouse folks are still mired in poverty, still day dreaming of clean water, road and electricity supply.
From tackling the abuse of human rights in Sarawak to ensuring the rakyat there enjoy a “healthy” quality of life, Taib, who returned to power as chief minister in the 2011 state election, has a lot of real, honest work to do.
A doctoral thesis written by Universiti Malaysia Sarawak lecturer Dr Neilson Mersat alleged that Taib’s family wealth comes mostly from Sarawak state government contracts without tender and profits were exported overseas to be concealed.
This habit of allowing greed to shadow his duty towards the rakyat by giving timber loggers all the rights to empty the forests of Sarawak has to stop. Stealing the native customary right (NCR) lands to fill his already bursting pockets must come to an end.
Jeswan Kaur is a freelance journalist and a FMT columnist.