Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Heck Of A Year…

As the small team at Sarawak Report and Radio Free Sarawak look back at our work over the past year, we feel that one way we can assess our impact is through the reaction we have provoked.
Massive and unprecedented Cyber-attacks!  Dozens of rival websites! Legal threats! US PR companies hired to write articles against us and then today a last desperate jamming attempt to knock our radio show off the air.  What better confirmation could we have asked for that our work has had an effect?

Meanwhile, like all of you, we have been watching the swelling crowds of voters gathering on the streets of towns throughout Sarawak calling for change and renewal and we can see why the perpetrators of these attacks are so worried. If we have played even the smallest part in helping the people of Sarawak to understand their situation and look for a solution, then we are deeply proud.
When we started investigating the situation in Sarawak, with the new blog Sarawak Report early last year, matters seemed very desperate indeed.  The world’s most beautiful rainforest country was on the brink of total and utter destruction.  It still is.
But there was a hope, that the coming election might just help rid the poor people of Sarawak of the appalling parasite that is Taib Mahmud and end his pernicious policies of self-enrichment.  And there was a team of decent, law-abiding, right-minded and clever people ready to take his place – the capable and united PR opposition coalition.
We were convinced that what people needed was information and courage.  Taib had covered up his greedy corruption by controlling all the media and forcing them to pour out his dusty old claptrap about ‘progress and development’.  No journalist could mention that only Taib and his small body of cronies were really benefiting. No one was allowed to point out that in fact Sarawakians, despite the wealth of their country, were being pitifully left behind in the modern world.
Neither was anyone investigating the sheer thuggery and brutality that was keeping the village folk from protesting against the rape of their lands and their forests.  The gangs from Sibu who would beat up anyone who stood in the loggers’ way.  After decades of such captivity people’s minds had closed, they could see no hope and no way forward.
So, we decided that we would do our best to use the internet to bring information to the people.  All the scandals and corruption that Taib had been covering up. Already brave bloggers like Hornbill Unleashed, Broken Shield, Dayak Baru, Dayak Nation were speaking out and getting an enthusiastic response. We wanted to show that it was possible and right to expose Taib and criticise Taib and show what the rest of the world thinks about people like Taib.
Will it be able to help stop BN buying the election yet again?  Prime Minister Najib Razak has flown in to take charge of the campaign and throw promises and money about like confetti.  This is illegal behaviour from the most senior politician in Malaysia.  He betrays himself, his country and all the values of honesty and religion in such immoral acts and he will have to live with that shame whether he wins or loses.  We will know tomorrow.
People in Sarawak know better than to believe the promises of a proven gang of thieves, who have robbed them year after year.  They know how little worth there is in an offer to return land from a gang who stole it in the first place.  But BN don’t just bribe and bully, they rig elections.  We will know tomorrow whether the thieves from Malaysia have once again stolen this election.
Unravelling the corruption of Taib Mahmud
So, while we wait, here is a reminder of what we have been unravelling for the people of Sarawak over the past year.  The reason why they wanted to shut us up.
We began by examining the information about Taib’s foreign property wealth, which was information that impoverished local researchers had found expensive and hard to find out about.  Even a foreign company search for a few dollars was hard for most Sarawakians to find, so this is where we began.
Foreign property wealth

SAKTO - We do not believe we have exposed a fraction of Taib’s real foreign property investments.  We could have reported on numerous leads and suspicions, but we have disciplined ourselves to only reporting on what we can truly verify, through documented evidence.  First we broke the story about the massive, multi-million dollar properties belonging to SAKTO, started under the names of Taib’s daughter Jamilah, brother Onn and son Mahmud Taib and now run by Jamilah and her husband Sean Murray.  The pictures of these buildings astonished Sarawakians.
Ridgeford – We had been told about Ridgeford Properties through a completely separate source.  Someone who was worried because they believed they were having dealings with a company owned by a family that was causing terrible deforestation in Borneo!  When we finally got the name of this company, we searched on the web and saw that it called itself the ‘sister company’ of SAKTO  and was run by the family of Jamilah’s husband Sean Murray!
SAKTI – Separately again, we had heard through another source that there was a branch of SAKTO in the US.  Someone had been approaching newspapers and NGOs complaining about the company.  Every time we searched for Sakto we found nothing in the United States, but then finally an American pointed out that we had got the spelling wrong!  SAKTI is also owned by the Taib family and also now run by Jamilah’s husband Sean (known as Hisham in Sarawak).  Through Ross Boyert, a former company employee who was found dead a few weeks after we interviewed him last year, we gained documents which proved that Taib was the real owner of Sakti.
Sitehost – Next we moved to Australia, where the Taibs have wide-ranging businesses and connections with a number of property ventures.  Many have testified that Taib does most of his business through nominees, but we only featured Mahmud possessions for which we have concrete evidence.  These included the Adelaide Hilton complex, the most expensive flat sold in Sydney and one of the fanciest houses in the capital.  Also hotels and restaurants.
By this time people were contacting us from Sarawak, asking us to cover internal corruption as well.  We started to develop contacts right within the Mahmud and BN hierarchy and we started to learn just how disgusted and disaffected most of even the most important people in Sarawak were by the greed and dishonesty of Taib’s regime.
We started to cover the Landgrabs, like Raziah’s attempt to take NCR forest land at Sebangan for just RM250 per family, while she stood to make millions.
We then covered the skimming of government contracts by the Mahmuds – the Kuching sewerage system that Raziah’s Kumpulan Construction made 78 ringgit profit from sub-contracting!
We investigated how in companies like Sanyan, one of Sarawak’s biggest logging companies, it could be seen how the Mahmuds only gave permits to cronies if they agreed to give at least half the profits to them.
After that the information just kept pouring in.  The landgrabs and the timber contracts.  We started to build up a shocking dossier on Taib Mahmud’s money politics in Sarawak.  The corruption surrounding Kuching’s new Heart Hospital was just one example of this!
The Landgrabs
Then we got our hands on some vital information.  The Land and Survey documents that showed just who had been getting land from Taib’s government over the past few years for plantations.  Much of it Native Customary Rights Land.  Our painstaking research was helped by some wonderful insiders who helped us work out what was happening.
Matching the records with company searches and with announcements by public companies and reports, we started to unravel how the vast majority of the lands taken by the government have been given to Taib’s family, cronies and political associates.
We also showed the huge profits that were being made by these people as they sold the territories on to commercial companies.  The full scale of the corruption started to unravel.  Taib’s own involvement and ownership of many of the landgrab companies, also.  We featured the suffering of the people of Sarawak, deprived of their lands and receiving nothing in return.
The Public Contracts
Likewise, we started to point to some of the examples of favouritism in State and Federal contracts – all of which seem to go to companies owned by the Mahmuds.  Taib’s involvement in a company should be enough to PRECLUDE it from receiving public contracts, but to the contrary in the corrupted Sarawak it had become a virtual necessity!
We showed the meanness and greediness of the Taibs as they set about swallowing everything they could in Sarawak and we pointed out that this is not how it should be and not how it need be!
Meanwhile, something was starting to happen.  Our hits on Sarawak Report grew and grew and by this time we had also started Radio Free Sarawak to make sure that our news got to the people of the interior as well – the people with no internet or even newspapers could hear our message now and they started to buy SW radios to make sure they could!
The more they attacked us the better we did!
As the going got tough our supporters got more loyal.  After the cyber-attacks at the weekends the hits on our refugee sites went up through the 100,000 a day mark and the story became the fact there were no more short-wave radios left to buy in Sarawak!
So, we have done our best to bring out the information in order that the people going to vote tomorrow understand the issues and the choices they have.  We hope they chose an honest leadership under PR’s Baru Bian and Wong Ho Leng, two lawyers who care about the justice for the people.
It remains to thank the tiny team of brave volunteers who came over to London and risked everything to help run Radio Free Sarawak.  They did it for you and the future of Sarawak.
We will get back to you after the election!

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