Isnin, 28 Mac 2011

Am I interested in Sarawak?

Am I interested in Sarawak? I consider my home to be Kuala Lumpur, in West Malaysia. Today, someone asked me whether I am interested in Sarawak, a state in East Malaysia. I thought it a strange question. Malaysia has thirteen states and three Federal Territories; I was born in one of them, have lived in three of them and now live in a Federal Territory. Why ask me about one of the thirteen states? Why should I have any special interest in Sarawak?
Well, her reasons were many. Not least amongst them is that in under three weeks there will be a state election in Sarawak, and there are signs the natives are restless.
The natives appear restless for many reasons, not least of which are (1) the alleged rapes of native women and girls by employees of timber companies, (2) allegations of immense wealth accumulated by the Chief Minister, Taib Mahmud, over a reign of 30 years, (3) numerous reports of destruction of the jungles of Sarawak which are amongst the last remaining equatorial forests in the world, (4) construction and proposed construction of large numbers of dams and hydro electric power stations, (5) denial of land rights to the native people, (6) allegations of police siding the rich against the poor, and (7) widespread knowledge that if the ruling coalition – Barisan Nasional (BN) – loses Sarawak, they are likely to lose all of Malaysia: and risk exposure of their misdeeds.
Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, is about a two hour flight from Kuala Lumpur, across the South China Sea. The two East Malaysian states, Sabah and Sarawak, are very different from the states in West Malaysia, also known as the peninsula (semenanjung).

On the peninsula, race and religion are big factors in the formation of political parties, and in electioneering. Political arithmetic in the peninsula includes terms for four "racial groups” and three “religions.”
On the peninsula, the four racial groups are Malays, Chinese, Indians and “others.” The three religions are Islam, Christianity, and “others.” Muslims are represented by two political parties: BN and PAS. Christians are represented by the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) and the “others” are represented by The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism. (MCCBCHST).
The land area of East Malaysia, at 198,847 sq km, is 50 % more than the land area of the peninsula (132,090 sq km). The coastline of East Malaysia (2,607 km) is 26 % longer than the coastline of the peninsula (2,068).
The land area of Sarawak alone is just 5 % less than the land area of the eleven states in the Peninsula. Sarawak, with 2.5 million people, is the thirteenth most populous state/territory in Malaysia. [The smallest is Putrajaya with 65,000 people; the largest is Selangor, with 5 million people.] Sarawak alone is the size of West Malaysia!
Eighty percent of the natural forests of Sarawak have been destroyed – the timber has been “harvested.” Most of the cleared land is used for hydro electric schemes and oil palm plantations; the remainder is being replanted with non-native tree plantations to be pulped into paper. Sarawak also has/had huge petroleum reserves, which have been “harvested.” Sarawak gets 5 % royalty on the petroleum. This royalty is used for infrastructure development in the state, but suffers leakages due to siphoning by corrupt politicians.
I heard a strange story of dams and power generation in Sarawak. There is hardly any industry in Sarawak, yet the state government wants to keep on building dams – purportedly to export to other countries, though to-date no customers have been located. According to current plans, Sarawak will have twelve enormous dams by 2020! Sites have even been identified to build more dams, to bring the eventual total to 52 dams.
Natives are being denied ownership of their native customary rights (NCR) land. Some estimate that over three hundred land-grab cases are pending in the courts. Apparently the government claims 1.5 million square kilometres of land is “Native Customary Land,” but is unable to provide a rational explanation for why only twelve percent of the overall land area is considered native land. Rich timber and oil plantation tycoons obviously have a vested interest in the answer.
27 ethnicities are represented in Sarawak. There are probably an equal number of cultures, lifestyles, religions, economic structures and governance models – for much of the native population lives in longhouses with headmen. Some generalize and say the population comprises Iban (34 %), Chinese (26 %), Melayu/Melanau (27 %), Bidayuh (10 %), Orang Ulu (6 %).
Many of the voters in Sarawak are difficult to reach, because of limited means of communication and transportation. The road network is very limited. Travel between cities and longhouses is generally in four wheel drive vehicles, on lumber tracks. Arduous ten hour journeys are not uncommon. Mobile phones do not work in many rural parts of Sarawak. Access to the internet is limited; in any case, most poorer, rural voters are not internet-savvy. Disseminating information is thus difficult and must be achieved through means which are very different from the norms in the peninsula.
Fuel for vehicles is not only more expensive, but also more inaccessible, as fuel has to be transported upstream, often on boats, and the consumer has to pay the price.
“Fair competition” in elections is thus difficult to assure when there is an entrenched ruling party which has handed out favours and can withdraw support at any time. [Favours typically include land grants, timber grants, concessions, loans.]
There have been reports that in the past, during campaigning, entrenched politicians have told owners of remote petrol stations NOT to sell petrol or diesel to opposition politicians. Also, the ruling coalition can buy up the seats on flights. Both these actions severely limit the ability of opposition politicians to meet their constituents. Add to this the access to helicopters which are available to politicians who are in office!
The Chief Minister of Sarawak has been in office for thirty years. He is enormously and ostentatiously wealthy – lately there have been numerous news reports about this. While he and his family shop in New York, Hong Kong, London and Melbourne for the latest luxuries, much of the rural population cannot even buy a five kilogram bag of rice at one go. Academics have estimated the unofficial poverty rate in Sarawak to be about thirty percent.
One Sarawakian joked with me that Sarawak has a 'Thief' Minister, not a Chief Minister. Some have estimated that Taib and his family own over one hundred and fifty companies in Malaysia alone (foreign companies not included) and has wealth amounting to several billions of ringgit.
Am I interested in Sarawak? I am now. Are you?

Tiada ulasan:

Catat Ulasan