Could Malaysia face UN sanctions, thanks to its lack of action on graft allegations surrounding Sarawak’s entrenched chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud?
A coalition of 21 NGOs from nine countries, led by the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), has called on UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon to reprimand Malaysia for “systematic breach of its obligations under international anti-corruption and anti-money laundering treaties”.
The coalition picketed on June 4 in front of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna, Austria, the secretariat of the Convention against Corruption, and the anti-money laundering Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.
The NGOs have also requested, in a letter to Ban, for urgent action against the Malaysian authorities. The coalition argued that the government has reneged on its commitments to both treaties, by failing to act against alleged corrupt practices and capital flight by Taib.
The letter was signed by NGOs from Sarawak, Switzerland, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Nepal, Norway and the UK. Among these were the BMF and Greenpeace, as well as Sarawakian human rights groups Brimas, Ideal, Sadia and Tahabas.
Taib, they wrote, was the “main person responsible for the unprecedented destruction of the tropical rainforests of Sarawak, one of the world’s most biodiverse natural habitats and an important global carbon sink”.
They said Taib has “not only established an authoritarian government in Sarawak but has also abused his political power…and illicitly gained assets worth several billion US dollars, including logging and plantation concessions, a monopolistic control over the export of tropical timber and a monopoly over the production of cement and other building materials”.
The NGOs alleged that the Malaysian authorities are “deliberately and actively protecting … Taib and his family members from criminal prosecution” for his “massive corruption, abuse of public office and money-laundering in third countries”.
Taib and premier Najib Abdul Razak are keeping a strained mutual truce, in order to keep the BN in Putrajaya. Neither has commented on the anti-Taib campaign.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) reports directly to Najib. Its head Abu Kassim Mohamed made a languid announcement last June that there was an ongoing investigation into Taib’s wealth.
This coy admission followed an avalanche of Internet reports regarding the Taib family’s land deals, corporate holdings and lavish local and foreign properties.
On June 3, the first anniversary of Abu Kassim’s remarks, the MACC assured Malaysians that the case was “not yet resolved”. To date, it has failed to report any progress.
Conundrum for Pakatan
Political observers note that the MACC “probe” might be an unsubtle reminder to Taib to remain loyal to Najib, instead of defecting to the opposing Pakatan Rakyat coalition, if the upcoming general election is close.
“…the MACC appears not to be independent. It has no real control, but appears to be used as a tool to keep the ruling BN coalition in power,” the NGOs said in their letter.
The NGOs pointed out they had sent complaints to the Malaysian attorney general, the MACC and inspector-general of police last December, but have not received a reply.
“We believe the … government has instructed the addressees not to reply…in clear violation of the spirit and stipulations of (the two UN treaties),” the NGOs wrote.
The BMF announced that, following their demonstration in Vienna, NGO representatives were invited into a closed-door meeting with UN officials.
This complaint to the UN will cause Najib and Taib international embarrassment, but will not lead to Taib’s prosecution, with a general election looming.
Najib must hope most Malaysians know nothing of this: the state-controlled media has kept grimly silent on the story. However, the growing numbers of Internet-connected voters, including many in lower-income groups, will inevitably learn of the international furore.
Now that Taib has become increasingly isolated, an interesting question arises.
If the 13th general election results in a hung Parliament, would Pakatan aspire to form the ruling coalition by accepting Taib’s loyalty, and his party’s seats, in return for immunity from prosecution?
And what international response would Pakatan expect, if this scenario comes to pass?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org