By : STAFF CORRESPONDENT.
THE video has obviously been prepared with the intention of attacking Sarawak Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud. The video was filmed surreptitiously by luring participants to hotel rooms under the pretext of doing business deals but with the real intention of recording the discussions and trying to link Taib to corrupt practices.
The video was filmed by a foreign body which has made clear its intent to oppose Taib continuing as the Chief Minister of Sarawak.
The purpose of the video is clearly political as it was filmed in April 2012 but was released to coincide with the impending Malaysian General Election, some one year later.
As decent people, let us look at the contents of the video in proper perspective and with objectivity rather than accept blindly or unconditionally the inference the video wishes viewers to draw. From the outset of the video, the following facts can be derived:
(1) That the video is a setup. The “business discussions” were recorded by concealing and lying about the interviewer’s identity. The interviewer is unknown but from the way he spoke and asked questions, he was most likely a foreigner of European origin with journalistic capability to conduct interviews and elicit information.
(2) That the video was produced by or through the efforts of Global Witness. A further check on the background of Global Witness reveals it is NGO which receives funding from George Soros.
(3) That it cannot be ascertained whether the contents of the interviews have been modified to suit the intended purpose of the message. However, it is reasonably certain that the video has been edited to carry the message of Taib’s alleged corruption.
(4) That it is reasonably certain that the people who were interviewed are Norlia, the eldest daughter of the former chief minister of Sarawak who was bitterly attacking Taib in the 80’s and 90’s; Alvin Chong, a prominent lawyer in Kuching; Huang Lung Ong, a lawyer in Sibu who is the nephew of Datuk Hii Yii Peng – who owns Kingwood hotels. Datuk Hii Yii Peng’s only surviving son Hii King Chiong had recently been very active in politics but facing fierce rivalry from the incumbent in SUPP Miri. It is not clear why Global Witness chose Datuk Hii Yii Peng and used Huang to imply that Taib receives 10 per cent of the sale price as corruption money.
(5) That, as far as it can be ascertained, the two alleged sales were (1) one land of size 5000 .ha and (2) one land of size 32,000ha.
The whole video can be summarized as follows:
There are these two events depicting the essence of the message of the video which portrays to the viewer(s) that Taib is corrupt and has robbed the people of Sarawak during the 30 or so years of his chief ministership.
The two events
The first event as presented in the video:
A company called Ample Agro Sdn Bhd is the owner of a piece of land measuring 5,000 hectares in Sarawak. The owners of the shares in the company are cousins of Taib who are very close to him, so much so that the said land being a State Land was given by Taib to the cousins for a nominal amount paid to the State Government and which the cousins then would sell for USD16 million (RM48million or the equivalent of RM4000 per acre), thus enabling the cousins to reap a huge profit.
On top of that, the cousins were proposing to collect a big portion of the consideration offshore in Singapore with no official records in Malaysia to avoid paying substantial Real Property Gains Tax (RPGT).
Added to this, in another interview, a prominent Kuching lawyer named Alvin Chong was captured on video revealing how he would facilitate the transaction to avoid RPGT and also circumvent the prohibition of foreigners owning land in Sarawak.
It is, however, not clear from the video whether the two interviews are referring to the same parcel of land owned by Ample Agro Sdn Bhd.
The second event:
A Sibu lawyer named Huang Lung Ong from Huang & Co Advocates was recorded on video as saying that a land of area consisting of 32,000 hectares was for sale at the sum of RM270 million.
The land is owned by a company Billion Venture Sdn Bhd, and the majority shareholder of the company is Datuk Hii Yii Peng who is also the owner of Kingwood group of hotels. Huang said Hii and Taib were very close friends and approximately 10 per cent of the sale proceeds would be paid to Taib in return for Taib granting the land to Billion Venture. Huang also said Taib also owned 10 per cent of Kingwood hotel.
After reviewing the video, which included other commentaries, viewers are led at first blush to conclude that Taib is corrupt over the 30 years of his stewardship of Sarawak as its Chief Minister and these two interview events (which included the Alvin Chong interview) are examples and proof of such corruption. Some may also think Taib cronies are involved in evading tax knowingly, breaching serious Malaysian laws which are punishable with jail term.
(6) Truth witness investigation. The allegations contained in the Global Witness are, indeed, very serious in every aspect so much so that it warrants serious investigation. The matter is serious because of the impact it may exert on the following:
(1) The political outcome of the coming general election as to who will form the next government at the national level although it won’t affect the state political landscape for another three or so years.
(2) It is not difficult to question the timing of this video release to the public through e-media just on the eve of the Malaysian Federal general election. Given current political projections that BN and PR may be running neck to neck in West Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak, being hitherto “fixed deposit for BN ticket to continue governing the country,” will also be crucial for PR to make headway to wrestle seats from local BN strongholds in order to have a chance to win the next election. For BN, regaining lost ground in West Malaysia and holding onto existing seats in Sabah and Sarawak will be the main focus.
(3) It is, therefore ,not surprising to see that issues were raised from Sabah on the conversion of immigrants into voting Malaysians through the issuing of blue IC. The matter is under Royal Commission investigation which is expected to reveal explosive details in due course. Although the Royal Commission has yet to finish its role, one side is already saying the granting of citizenship to a horde of foreigners was carried out with endorsement of the then BN leader and Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad while the other side is saying the then DPM Anwar Ibrahim was the mastermind in the implementation. Photographs have also appeared showing Anwar and the Sulu Sultan together, thereby suggesting the intrusion into Sabah may also be politically motivated to portray Prime Minister Najib as a weak leader.
(4) It is equally not surprising to deduce that attacks have been made and will continue to be made against Taib before the general election is over.
On the other hand, while it is not surprising for the politicians from both sides to throw punches below the belt, it would be of great concern that a foreign body or organisation like Global Witness is involved in the political tussles for whatever its intentions may be. Whatever it is, it is clear that Global Witness is attempting to interfere with Malaysian politics. Any Malaysians, be they BN or PR, cooperating with these foreigners are not only treacherous but are also traitors and enemies of the people of Malaysia.
Ample Agro Sdn Bhd
The agricultural land given to Ample Agro Sdn Bhd, a company owned by the close relatives of Taib, is undeniable. But it also cannot be denied that the Sarawak Government had granted some 1.5 million ha of State Land to over 300 different companies to develop into oil palm plantations.
The effort, initiated by Taib, to establish oil palm industries in Sarawak has started to bear substantial fruit. As a result, the industry has invested no less than RM15 billion in oil palm plantations which produced over 14 million metric tonnes of FFB in 2012 generating a hefty revenue of over RM6 billion for the industry in the State.
Among these oil palm investors, the majority are Sarawakian corporations of different ethnic community background. It is sad that being bumiputras and close relatives of Taib, some are not able to develop the land given to them into oil palm estates and instead they sought to cash out by selling the land. But one cannot blame Taib for his cousin’s mistakes.
Taib’s foresight in being able to lure local businessmen into investing huge amounts of money into oil palm in Sarawak has brought immense benefits to the State. One also cannot simply brush aside or forget that initially there were not many investors who were interested in investing in oil palm in Sarawak because Sarawak land are generally inferior to those of West Malaysia and Sabah.
By the same token, it is wrong to accuse Taib of corruption during his 30 or so years as Chief Minister in the way Global Witness presented. If anything at all, by granting land to entrepreneurs, Taib is only guilty of luring Sarawakians into investing huge amounts of money into oil palm planting in land which are mostly inferior to Sabah and West Malaysia and which has become an important economic contributor to the people and the government of Sarawak as a result.
Billion Venture Sdn Bhd
Global Witness claimed in the video that Billion Venture Sdn Bhd owned a piece of 32,000 ha agriculture land (through an interview with a lawyer named Huang Lung Ong) and it wished to sell the land to a foreign investor for a sum of RM275million from which Taib will be paid approximately 10 per cent or RM27 million.
Huang is said to be the nephew of Datuk Hii Yii Peng and a lawyer practising in Sibu. Huang later denied that Datuk Hii Yii Peng had anything to do with the proposed deal. Further investigations must be carried out as Huang’s statements recorded in the video cannot be relied upon.
In any case, the land referred to in the video is not an agriculture land. Rather, it is an area licensed under LPF for establishing tree plantation.
Tree plantation is another Taib initiative to boost the timber resources in Sarawak. The LPF licence conditions are very specifically described in laws.
The land area granted under LPF are not transferrable and are not lease land. Currently, all LPF licensed areas are owned by Sarawakian companies which are pioneers and the back-bone of the timber industries here.
In 1996, the State Government of Sarawak was looking at the productivity and economic returns of idle lands which were affected by shifting cultivation or logging. The State Government then identified a total area of 2.8 million hectares with a plantable area of 1.3 million hectares for the development of planted forests in the State (target to plant 1 million hectares) with an aim to provide high-quality wood fibre and other forest products for industry and national development.
While some planted trees will be developed to support a pulp industry, the main product is to be logs (for veneer and solid-wood products) to replace the amounts of timber harvested from natural forests which are steadily being reduced in line with sustainable yield and conservation requirements.
Challenges faced by the industry include the following which have caused great delay in the planting schedule as well as increased the cost of planting significantly:
(1) Lands made available for planted forests in the State are characterised by very steep terrain, relatively infertile soils and a hot and extremely wet climate.
(2) Insufficient availability of high quality seedlings for planting.
(3) Lack of information on soil characteristic resulting in mismatch tree species.
(4) Lack of knowledge for proper site preparation for planting.
(5) NCR land claim due to unclear customary ownership or other complex forms of tenure over land which the industry is expected to address the matters by themselves.
(6) Labor shortage High recruitment cost of foreign workers.
The cost of establishment of 1 million hectares of planted forests is estimated at RM10 billion (base on RM10,000.00 per hectare). As of today, the industry has planted roughly 300,000 hectares with capital investment of RM3 billion.
Risks faced by the industry during the long gestation period of planting include:
(1) Pests, insects and diseases attack.
(2) Forest fires.
(3) Social issues (include land claims) with local communities which have gained great support from the international NGOs.
Planted forests project requires a huge sum of initiate capital investment during the site pre-paration and planting period with no returns until harvesting which will normally take at least 7-8 years for fasting growing species and 15-20 years for indigenous species.
In the absence of relevant financial and incentive support from government and taking into consideration of the challenges and risks as mentioned above with no investment returns during the long ges-tation period, the small and medium companies will not be able to undertake such project.
It would be wrong to jump to conclusions based on a person like Huang who said the large land, owned by Billion Venture, was granted by Taib and put up for sale from which Taib had a 10 per cent interest in the proceeds of sale and therefore Taib is corrupt and had skimmed billions of dollars. The video can only be considered as having no credibility whatsoever. The secret recording unfairly deceived the interviewees but also acted in the name of trans-parency with the intent to cheat the viewers as well.
Accountability of Acts
If it is the intention of Global Witness to expose wrongful acts, including corruption, law breaking, and bring wrong-doers to justice, the act would be commendable, including hiding the camera to bring out the truth.
However, Global Witness got their facts wrong, and based on the wrong facts, sought to deduce that an important person like Taib is corrupt. The timing and obvious intention of the video is to have an influence on the coming general election of a nation and this undermines the credibility of the video.
Unfortunately, damage has been caused and justice may never be done because Global Witness is a foreign entity. It is ironical that the avowed intention of the Global Witness video to seek justice has been used to perpetrate an injustice which is incapable of remedy.