Hornbill Unleashed

December 30, 2019

Peak-905 sloping to a squeak

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 7:32 PM

The Pakatan Harapan coalition victory in the general election on 9 May 2018 (Peak-905, as I call it) was hailed as the creation of a “new” chapter in the history of the nation. After six decades, UMNO-BN was ultimately ousted. Mahathir Mohamad, then portraying himself as accommodating the will of the voters demanding for change, had worked with his old adversaries and critics Lim Kit Siang, Anwar Ibrahim and others to engineer an election victory. The takeover of power by Pakatan Harapan (PH) and the “unthinkable” removal of a kleptocrat prime minister triggered wild celebrations across the country.

In May 2020 the PH government will be two years old. I am reminded here of the promises made by PH in its election manifesto and now as the new government. Promises included, among others, systems of transparent and good governance, intitutional and structural reforms (independent judiciary, media, academic freedom, etc.), investigations into 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and other financial scandals including the corrupted leaders, restore local government elections, abolish repressive laws such as the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) , the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota), the Prevention of Crime Act (Poca) and the National Security Council Act.

As I point out in a previous article (https://aliran.com/thinking-allowed-online/after-peak-905-another-great-hill-to-climb), “If the PH government wants to be different from its predecessor, it will have to offer the people the best hope for change so that they feel secure about the present and future of Malaysia.” However, many elected wakil rakyat and cabinet members in both federal and state governments have not lived up to that. After they gained power, they forgot what they had said and what promises they had made to the electorates.

The rural poor and Orang Asal (indigenous) communities – especially those fighting against the infringement of their land rights from commercial loggers, oil palm plantation developers and dam projects, to name just some examples, are again and again to be frustrated. Many low-waged local and migrant workers, refugees, single mothers, and other marginalised groups are constantly struggling with the rising cost of living, housing, education, health and other basic social needs. First under the BN government and now the PH-Parti Warisan government.

Let me honed in on one issue – dams, which I have studied extensively. In Sabah, the affected villagers in the interior Ulu Papar areas know too well that the Papar Dam will not be scrapped. The Papar dam project is announced by the Sabah government led by Parti Warisan after the 2018 general election. The state cabinet is the highest policy-making body in Sabah and has the power to discard the proposed dam to allay concerns of the local folks. Significantly, although there are former non-governmental organisation campaigners and activists now in the state government, this controversial dam gets the state cabinet’s backing. Reportedly at least 3,000 people from 12 villages will be threatened with displacement. Communities will be displaced, which some ministers said is expected. The project costing some RM2-3 billion, to be financied on a soft loan from the federal government, is envisaged to supply 700 million cubic metres of water when completed. Above all, the Papar dam is touted as an important infrastructure project that will take Sabah out of the water crisis. The same excuse for building the Babagon dam in the 1990s. Where is the growing need for water coming from? Sabah faces growing water pressures because of highly uneven distribution between cities and remote areas and regions, uncontrolled urbanisation, population increase, degradation of the environment, and rapidly rising demands for energy and town water from urbanites and tourists. So really for what and for whom the Papar dam is built?

The dispossession of villagers in the way of logging, large-scale oil palm plantations, mining and the likes has also been widely reported in the printed and online media, in the post Peak-905 era. Various Orang Asli communities in the peninsula continue to be forcibly displaced from their lands earmarked for “development” resulting in the loss of their main sources of economic livelihoods and access to their natural resources, besides unresolved land disputes between the big business-government and the local people. The PH-led federal government in many ways continued the BN-style of “economic development” through exploitation of forests with Orang Asli living nearby or in the forests as if they do not exist, only this time under the so-called “New Malaysia”.

Sarawak paints a similarly disturbing picture of how indigenous peoples and poor communities are affected by “corrupted-develoment” resulting in increased landlessness and poverty of the masses. Yet, the action to be taken by the relevant authorities to charge Sarawak’s chief minister-turned-governor, Taib Mahmud and bring him to court for his widely-reported corruption remains rhetoric.

Another electoral promise was the holding of local elections, which until now remains as a listed number on the Buku Harapan. Many writers, commentators, bloggers and ordinary citizens have expected or reminded PH to fulfil all its election promises. I would not frustrate readers with more examples of how things are going from bad to worse, in what looks like a Sepang Formula One race to be as bad as the BN. Understandably, it has always been an uphill struggle to bring changes to a country like Malaysia that has seen its deep-rooted problems with race and religion worsening over the decades because of nonstop politicising, conservative mindsets and centralised power. But have we not been told that the PH government wants to be different from its predecessor?

Several indigenous leaders, alternative journalists, activists and the likes have been incorporated into the current ruling government side, ministries and think tank. This development is unlikely to see them campaigning against the motives of their government officials pushing for large-scale “development” plans and projects, many which have social, political, economic, environmental and financial concerns. Here I am reminded to a recent letter that a former journalist and producer of two films highlighting the plight of Sarawak’s indigenous peoples especially the Penans and their resistence against massive deforestation for oil palm, disruptive logging practices and huge hydroelectric projects, wrote to the press. The gist of the letter rebutted an eminent foreign primatologist’s comments on palm oil production and forests in Malaysia. The words that draw my attention most was, “It has to be noted, regrettably, that there has been a protracted disinformation campaign associating Malaysia’s land use change, including oil palm development, to deforestation.”

Yet, in 2010, the then journalist-filmmaker had rebutted news articles by a pro-Taib journalist that commented the documentary film on the plight of the Penans presented “a false picture of their long-standing resistance against logging” in the state, and the filmmaker “is now treading on the trodden path of foreign NGOs bent on attacking Malaysian primary industries.” In response, the filmmaker rebutted: “As was typical of mainstream media reporting, particularly timber company-owned Sarawak newspapers, on conflicts arising from commercial logging in the state for the last quarter century, [X] pointed his finger to western media/NGOs evil interference.” Back to the present: An interesting shift of position on the issues compatible with the government line, because the former journalist-filmmaker is now holding an important position in the ministry?

At the day’s end, the politicians and elected officials tweet about their achievements and sacrifices for the people and the country. Ordinary folks address the elected wakil rakyat and ministers as “Yang Berhormat” (YB), or Your Honorable, which made them feel “important”and further distanced from the people.  So why is this happening, given the hopes and pledge made by PH before the Peak-905?

I asked Syed Husin Ali, a prominent politician, academic and social activist. His response was clear and direct: many of them are afraid to lose their positions. His deep political insights bring home the point: Some of them remain silence, and worse still, some have lost their grounding and are not serving to safeguard the interests of the majority population. Rather, they prioritise the gains for themselves and the ruling government.

Source : Carol Yong, independent writer

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