Hornbill Unleashed

January 26, 2012

Court victories herald change in Sarawak

Keruah Usit

Sarawak natives have jammed another wrench into the land acquisition machine of plantation companies with close ties to Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.

Taib is the state minister responsible for land, and is under investigation by several foreign governments, as well as (ostensibly) by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, for alleged graft.

Tua Kampung Nyipa Anak Tingang, representing his longhouse of 30 doors in Sebauh, 25km from Bintulu, has notched up another significant victory against state-sponsored plantation tycoons, in the campaign for native customary rights (NCR) land.

On Jan 20, Nyipa won a court injunction against Pusaka KTS, a forest plantation giant with vast interests in Bintulu, Belaga and Baram.

High Court Judge Rhodzariah Bujang, in a hastily convened hearing in Kuching, put the brakes on Pustaka KTS bulldozers in a ‘buffer zone’ of land claimed by Rumah Nyipa.

The ‘buffer zone’ comprises an area 60 metres from limestone caves, highly treasured by the villagers as a source of edible swiftlets’ nests.

Pusaka KTS is a lucrative partnership between state logging agency Sarawak Timber Industry Development Council (Pusaka) and timber conglomerate KTS Holdings.

KTS is owned by the Lau family, longtime supporters and beneficiaries of Taib’s administration for over 30 years.

Native communities say Pustaka KTS clears natural forests on NCR land for profit, then replaces the forests with fast-growing tree plantations or oil palm.

Pusaka KTS has been lampooned for promising ‘development’, but delivering monocultural plantations instead – while natives forfeit their ancestral land.

Suing government was last resort

Nyipa, 49, is a Punan village chief. The Punan are a settled, agricultural ethnic group. They are culturally and linguistically distinct from the Penan, a traditionally nomadic ethnic group, that has also suffered immensely from logging concessions.

In his submission to the court, Nyipa claimed that he discovered last July that Pusaka KTS had trespassed onto his village’s NCR land, felling trees using heavy machinery.

He met a Mr Lau, an employee of Pusaka KTS, in early August, to try to persuade him to stop logging. He explained the NCR land had been farmed, and the buffer zone around the caves had been used by the natives to harvest birds’ nests over several generations.

“I told him that I have rights over the said land and that the extraction of the timber would cause damage to the ecosystem inside the buffer zone and this will endanger and would seriously harm the breeding, life and environment of the swiftlets in the birds’ nests caves,” he recounted.

He also wrote to the Land and Survey Department Superintendent’s office in Bintulu.

“However I have not received any reply whatsoever,” he stated.

He corresponded with the Forest Department, and lodged a police report. The local Forestry Officer assured him on Jan 6 that the buffer zone was protected from logging. Yet felling continued apace, and the police took no action.

Lawyers turn lawmakers

Dismayed, Nyipa turned to Baru Bian and See Chee How, PKR land rights lawyers elected to the Sarawak state assembly last April.

His lawyer See, state assembly representative for Batu Lintang in Kuching, was delighted the injunction was granted.

“This is good news for Sarawak NCR landowners, a cause for celebration,” he said.

He pointed out that Malaysia is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). UNDRIP has increased the pressure for all parties to respect constitutionally guaranteed NCR land claims.

As a result, amidst barely concealed fury among state ministers, legal precedents have been piling up against the executive’s land deals and logging concessions.

But Pakatan is unlikely to feel confident that such court decisions will translate into large gains in rural seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

There are several examples of communities that, despite having NCR land snatched from them, still voted for the incumbent candidates, and re-elected staunch supporters of the land grab.

The reason for this is not as simple as vote-buying during hustings, though this undoubtedly exists.

baru bian ncr decision by federal court front bato bagi caseA widespread feudal attitude of deference towards Barisan and its patronage, a lack of information about alternative governments, and Taib’s effective ‘divide-and-rule’ strategy among ethnic groups, are other crucial factors.

Pakatan is changing the tide in several rural constituencies, by championing NCR land issues. Some Pakatan leaders have also shown a multi-ethnic concern for all rural folk.

NCR lawyers representing rural communities, like Baru (left in photo) and See, have turned into lawmakers as a result.

These political developments are certainly transforming rural Sarawak politics.

But this painfully slow ‘revolution’ will take years to produce politically aware voters. The impact will be unlikely to be seen in most rural seats during our upcoming general election.

Barisan rural incumbents enjoy the edge, with enormous advantages in money, logistics and media coverage.

They will expect to win handsomely, though they may lose two or three rural seats in Bintulu, Lawas and Baram.

KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist – ‘anak Sarawak, bangsa Malaysia’. This weekly column is an effort to provide a voice for marginalised Malaysians. Keruah Usit can be contacted at keruah_usit@yahoo.com



  1. Taib corrupted them all. Everyone Taib comes in contact with from Land Survey Dept, to Sessco are all corrupted by Taib.
    All those top bosses working in Land Survey Dept need to go to jail too.

    Comment by Rc — January 29, 2012 @ 3:46 AM | Reply

  2. BTW, the Kayan in Baram ply dumb? Pusaka KTS,Samling and Shin Yang are bulldozing their longhouse and they are celebrating!

    Comment by HH2H — January 26, 2012 @ 10:50 PM | Reply

    • That is what happens when they drank too much liquor and ate too much swine gifted by these companies! But then, they deserve it. Come election, bn gives them rm15 is more than enough for them.

      Comment by mike — January 27, 2012 @ 11:54 AM | Reply

  3. Press Release: Bruno Manser Fonds

    Bruno Manser Fund to launch international campaign against Sarawak timber corruption

    Campaign focus on Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud – Corruption identified as one of the main drivers of Borneo deforestation

    The Bruno Manser Fund is about to launch an international campaign against the blatant corruption and abuse of public funds by Abdul Taib Mahmud, Chief Minister of the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

    A campaign website, http://www.stop-timber-corruption.org, will go online on Monday, 21 February 2011, and will be regularly updated and equipped with features for an interactive campaign with public participation.

    Taib, one of South East Asia’s longest-serving politicians, has been in office since 1981 and is planning to celebrate his 30th anniversary in power on 26 March 2011.

    The 75-year old kleptocrat will stand as an incumbent for another five-year term of office in the upcoming Sarawak state elections, which are due to be held before July.

    Taib has abused his public office to a frightening extent and has managed to convert the state of Sarawak into his family’s private estate. He simultaneously holds the offices of Chief Minister, and Finance Minister, as well as that of State Planning and Resources Minister, which gives him enormous political power.

    In addition, Malaysia’s “Barisan Nasional” coalition, which forms the federal government, is dependent on Taib’s support to remain in power.

    Sarawak’s largest private company, its electricity supply, large-scale logging interests and the control of log exports are also concentrated in the hands of the Taib family.

    Since 1983, Taib and his immediate family members have started to transfer considerable parts of their ill-gotten assets overseas.

    The Bruno Manser Fund has established a black list with 49 Taib companies in eight countries worth hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.

    The list will be published next week, and the authorities of these countries will be asked to freeze all Taib assets and to launch criminal investigations against the Taib family.

    In Sarawak, corruption has proved to be one of the main drivers of deforestation. While most of the state’s forests have been logged or converted into plantations over the last three decades, Sarawak’s indigenous communities have seen little, if any, benefit from Taib’s so-called politics of development. Poverty, illiteracy and a lack of basic infrastructure are omnipresent in rural Sarawak.

    Sarawak’s numerous indigenous communities, and particularly the Penan, have struggled since the 1980s against destructive logging and have fought for their land rights but, in most cases, they have been out maneuvered and cheated by Taib and his cronies.

    Since 1981, the Malaysian state of Sarawak in Borneo has been governed by Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, one of the most corrupt politicians in South East Asia.

    While Taib himself has personally profited immensely from the destruction of the Borneo rainforest through logging and oil palm plantations, Sarawak’s indigenous communities have lost their land, the source of their livelihood, and have been increasingly marginalized.

    Taib and his family members have illegally acquired assets worth billions of dollars in Malaysia, Canada, the UK, Australia, the United States and other countries.

    All these assets should be restituted to the people of Sarawak, and the Taib family should be prosecuted for corruption, the abuse of public funds, fraud, money-laundering, tax evasion and other related crimes.

    Help us to build up international political pressure against the corrupt Taib family and sign the online petition against timber corruption.

    Comment by Mata Kuching — January 26, 2012 @ 9:45 PM | Reply

  4. If you folks again continue to play sympathizers for BN coming this GE13 you are going to be pinned right flat down and stuck you onto the muddy floor and no more to as being pushed to the wall. Anang selalu berasai ati mit agi. Aram, ngoreng meh enggau sida baru iya kami sebilek ngerami. Let’s not forget to know more who reigns mightily over Fair Land Sarawak. Let’s stop our Land Code from getting amended to the maddest state come this GE13.

    Comment by miaOwkia — January 26, 2012 @ 6:00 PM | Reply

    • All those boses working in Land Survey are all crooks too. Taib corrupted them all.

      Comment by Rc — January 29, 2012 @ 3:42 AM | Reply

  5. Anang ngelaban perintah…..the battle of Jabu and the Iban will sheepishly follow…..

    Comment by rentapsingh — January 26, 2012 @ 10:40 AM | Reply

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