Hornbill Unleashed

March 1, 2011

Clare Rewcastle Brown : Malaysians say their country is corrupt

Mariam Mokhtar, Malaysia Chronicle

Malaysia has been successful in hiding many of its problems, including the official countenancing of corruption and bribery.

Malaysians themselves say their country is corrupt, and the BN ruling coalition will use every trick to hang on to their seats in Sarawak, including bribery, intimidation and vote-rigging.

And perhaps the darkest blot on Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government – allowing women of interior tribes like the Penan to be raped systematically by timber workers from huge logging syndicates.

“Malaysian authorities are doing nothing because they fear exposure. They don’t want the world to know the extent of their logging activities.”

The world has been watching and will continue to watch

Those were the sad indictments on the South East Asian nation by Clare Rewcastle Brown, the Sarawak-born sister-in-law of former British prime minister Gordon Brown.

Clare may be just another concerned and conscientious world citizen. But Najib would do well to take heed of the fast-spreading public opinion against his recalcitrant BN coalition, which has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1957.

Already, defenders of Sarawak’s indigenous communities and the Borneo rainforest have announced street protests for today (February 28) in the United Kingdom and Canada against what they call Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s corruption and deprivation of his people’s humanity.

Another Malaysia watcher from the West, former U.S. ambassador John Malott, recently wrote a controversial article entitled The Price of Malaysia’s Racism, in which he accused the Najib administration of deliberately stoking racial and religious tensions to cling to power.

Depsite the decades of nation building, few Malaysians would deny that racial polarization has not widened nor religious bigotry reduced. Yet, a minister from Najib’s office has said Malott would be banned from entering Malaysia because of his ‘uninvited’ comments.

It is likely that Clare will also be disallowed entry should she try to visit Malaysia or Sarawak again.

Toppling the corrupt and freeing the poor

A UK citizen, Clare decided to take up the cudgels for the downtrodden in her state of birth after a recent visit. She began the Sarawak Report blog and then the Radio Free Sarawak station that broadcasts to the interior regions of the state, where there is no Internet.

Both the blog and the radio station are dedicated to exposing Taib Mahmud’s alleged corruption and his political ouster, which many experts believe is the prerequisite first step towards reforming the resource-rich but poverty-stricken state.

According to Clare, it is not impossible to topple Taib despite his fabulous weath and awesome power.

“He has pushed his greed too far and snatched the lands of countless local communities. His future plans are also terrifying for the people who live outside the towns, since he is planning to double the area of oil palm plantations and flood the country with a new wave of 12 more unnecessary dams!” she told Malaysia Chronicle in an exclusive interview.

“I can’t predict what will happen, but who would have thought just six weeks ago that decades old regimes would be toppling like nine pins in the Middle East? We will need to see whether Sarawakians will show the same courage and determination to change their future, despite intimidation at the polls.”

The 51-year old former BBC journalist also said that while Malaysia was known for its kind and friendly people, it will have to work extra hard to shed its image of being a country where corrupt politicians rule and have final say over almost everything, including the fundamental civil liberties of the citizenry.

She points out to a recent interview Taib’s political secretary Karim Hamzah gave to RFS, wherein Karim actually “stated it was fine for politicians to make money from business while in office and to take ‘opportunities’, such as the offer of cheap land, that made them rich.”

“I have never met a Malaysian who didn’t say the country was corrupt!” said Clare.

Malaysia Chronicle appends below the full text of the interview with Clare Rewcastle Brown, the founder and editor of the controversial Sarawak Report and Radio Free Sarawak station.

Chronicle: In your report, you mentioned that the Malaysian government was corrupt and would not go after Taib because he always “delivered Sarawak”. How did you come by such a view? Was it formed from reading the press, speaking with Malaysians, Sarawakians, or people you met while in Malaysia or is it a general opinion of the world at large including the West, of the Najib administration?

Clare: Well I am not an expert on West Malaysia and I have not written stories about KL. However, Malaysia admits to being pretty far up the international corruption league and I have never met a Malaysian who didn’t say the country was corrupt!

But as far as Sarawak is concerned, Taib’s political secretary Karim Hamzah gave an astonishing interview, broadcast by Radio Free Sarawak, in which he exhibited just how attitudes among a certain political class have slid into a culture of corruption.

Hamzah stated it was fine for politicians to make money from business while in office and to take ‘opportunities’, such as the offer of cheap land, that made them rich. He seemed to be unworried by the matter of conflict of interest and said it was ‘only fair’ that politicians should be able to enjoy the same comfortable lifestyle as rich businessmen. He seemed unaware of just how corrupted such ideas are compared to what is acceptable in other countries.

However, there are clearly plenty of Malaysians who do recognise this as corruption and they want to get rid of it and achieve an honest government. A lot of them regularly read Sarawak Report.

Chronicle: After being involved directly with Malaysia through Sarawak Rreport and RFS, do you think such a view (that corruption is endemic) is true or fair? And why?

Clare: I have uncovered numerous cases of corruption in Sarawak focussed at the very top of politics. Corruption is a top down problem, unfortunately.

Chronicle: What are the chances of a polls upset in Sarawak? Do you think Taib’s government will be toppled and why?

Clare: Past evidence shows that BN will use every trick to hang on to their seats in Sarawak, including bribery, intimidation and vote-rigging. It is up to the people to decide whether to stand up to that or give in. I do think there is a groundswell of changing opinion against Taib.

He has pushed his greed too far and snatched the lands of countless local communities. His future plans are also terrifying for the people who live outside the towns, since he is planning to double the area of oil palm plantations and flood the country with a new wave of 12 more unnecessary dams!

I can’t predict what will happen, but who would have thought just six weeks ago that decades old regimes would be toppling like nine pins in the Middle East?

We will need to see whether Sarawakians will show the same courage and determination to change their future, despite intimidation at the polls.

Chronicle: How then do you think the chips will fall in Sarawak? What will happen post election? For example, do you think there will be a purge on the opposition, riots, etc ? How do you think Taib will react and also the Najib federal admininistration? And why?

Clare: These are not areas where I am best qualified to comment. I am still an outside observer and I have been concentrating on specific issues of corruption and lack of freedom in the State of Sarawak.

Chronicle: Do you think Malaysia has lost credibility? Which part of the system do you think the world at large has least confidence in eg. the economy, the police, the judiciary or its politicians and in particular – who? Also, why and what do you think can be done, to repair this?

Clare: I think Malaysia has been successful in hiding many of its problems from the rest of the world. Overall, the Malaysians are known for being kind and friendly people who hold the same values and understandings as countries like Britain and America, while also having strong cultural ties with fellow Muslim countries.

They seem to have achieved a good balance in so many ways and I just hope they can extend their underlying sense of fairness to allow a better treatment of the poor people in the State of Sarawak who have been stripped of their lands and wealth.

Chronicle: A lot of people have talked about the degradation of Sarawak’s forests, its ill treatment of the Penan people? Can you elaborate on both and will you be able to provide some comparative figures that there has been degeneration and that it is not just perception?

Clare: Less than 5% of the primary jungle of Sarawak remains, while just 30 years ago, it was well over 50%. That is a staggering amount of wood that has been carelessly stripped away, yet the native people have been left with virtually none of the profits from this environmental catastrophy.

Chronicle: Bakun has already been built. The size of Singapore has already been excavated and concretised. How do Sarawakians best live with this permanent damage, repair the surrounding enviroment and make the project as economically unburdensome as is possible?

Clare: I think this matter will be one of the big questions that Sarawakians will have to decide upon in the future. They should consult experts and look to the help of the International Community in trying to reverse some of the damage that present government policies have inflicted on their lands.

I think there are many exciting opportunities for reversing much of this damage over coming years and that there will be a lot of support and sympathy from the global community, since we all have an interest in keeping the world’s tropical rainforests alive.

Chronicle: Is the rape of the Penan women really true? Why do you think there is so little reaction from the state and federal governments? Can the world help? What can Malaysians and Sarawakians do more about it, or are they doing enough? Is there a UN body to complain to, what more can Malaysians do to create national and global awareness?

Clare: Yes it is true. I am just one of a number of reporters and researchers who have looked into this problem and met the victims and the children that have been born out of rape.

It is disgraceful that the Sarawak authorities have gone so far as to refuse to even investigate the widespread problem of women in the interior falling prey to timber workers.

The authorities are doing nothing because they fear exposure. They don’t want the world to know the extent of their logging activities.

Luckily the press and NGOs have exposed the situation anyway, but so far nothing has been done to bring support and redress to the women and girls who have been attacked. Taib’s government must bear that disgrace.

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1 Comment »

  1. WE WERE WARRIORS ONCE- HIGH NOON

    Clare R Brown: “We will need to see whether Sarawakians will show the same courage and determination to change their future, despite intimidation at the polls”.

    FULLY AGREED. Sarawkians like to think that they were once warriors and fighters and that was 100 years ago. Not any more. Once long time ago.

    Since then they have become timid COWERING people with only a few daring to stand up to the UMNO PBB BN inflicted injustice plunder and oppression.

    You cannot live on past glories.

    What Peter John Jaban said is right “You have to be a man”.

    There comes a time when not one but everyone of us must stand up and fight for his/her rights and even make the supreme sacrifice.

    We should be reminded again that in 1962 a large number of Sarawak and Brunei youths made this sacrifice to rise in armed opposition to the British Malayan idea to annex Brunei Sabah and Sarawak into the neo-colonial and artificial of creation “Malaysia”. They sacrificed their whole lives fighting for the ideal of freedom and independence.

    Many of the youths fought till 1990.Most younger generation do not know this as this memory has been erased by the UMNO education system or they may only know of UMNO’s version of the history.

    Nowadays many of us stand by the side path watch and gawk and just clap hands as the Penans and NCR people fight their battle mostly by themselves.

    “We will need to see whether Sarawakians will show the same courage and determination to change their future, despite intimidation at the polls”.

    THEY NEED YOU BY THEIR SIDE AS THEY FACE OFF THE UMNO PBB BN REGIMES!

    This point is made in the movie High Noon-

    The sheriff faces off criminals alone. Although he triumphs, victory is empty. It must be shared by all who have contribute their effort.

    Comment by Orang2bangkit — March 1, 2011 @ 7:17 AM | Reply


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