Eleven Penan leaders have demanded that Adelaide University in Australia return A$400,000 (about RM1.2 million) in donation received from former Sarawak chief minister Taib Mahmud.
The letter, sent to Adelaide University vice-chancellor Warren Bebbington and signed by the Penan leaders with their thumbprints, said the donation should be returned to Sarawak as they claimed the money was illegally acquired by Taib.
“When Taib studied law in Adelaide as a young man, he was as poor as we are today. Later on, he decided to become a politician.
“But instead of helping us indigenous people, Taib became greedy and was only interested in enriching himself and his family members,” read the letter, which was signed by former Penan penghulu James Lalo Keso.
They were self-sustaining until Taib (now Sarawak governor) gave their land away to logging and plantation companies without their consent, the Penan leaders said.
“It is an open secret that the loggers gave a lot of bribes to Taib and his family members,” the letter alleged.
Bebbington should “take a courageous decision” and return the donations from Taib to correct injustice done by the latter, the leaders also said.
“We need this money urgently to develop the Penan Peace Park and send our children to school and higher education.
“For you, A$400,000 is not much, but for the Penan this is a lot of money which can help change our young generation’s lives,” the letter said.
The Penan were nomadic hunter-gatherers until their rainforests were mostly destroyed by logging and plantation during Taib’s tenure as Sarawak’s chief minister beginning mid-1980s.
The indigenous people have been struggling to protect their rainforests for almost 30 years, with the Penan Peace Park being their latest attempt for a community-administered forest reserve.
The donations from Taib to Adelaide University had been disclosed under a Freedom of Information request by South Australian Greens MP Mark Parnell.
Malaysiakini had tried to get comment from Adelaide University but there was no reply so far.
Taib, who is now Sarawak governor, has repeatedly denied allegations of corrupt practices during his 33-year tenure as chief minister. – Malaysiakini