Only 3% of Sarawak’s forests remain but Chief Minister Taib Mahmud is still here – since 1981. He was slated to give the opening address at the Inaugural Oxford Global Islamic Branding and Marketing Forum. Instead, he was greeted by placards and protesters. Leong See-See reports from the U.K.
Taib Mahmud was set to get the ball rolling as the speaker to make the opening remarks at the Inaugural Oxford Global Islamic Branding and Marketing Forum. Instead, he was slapped around from one door to another – much like in a giant pinball machine – unable to get out of his car without walking into demonstrators.
Failing to make the glorious entrance he expected after footing out a huge sponsorship for the event, Taib was eventually decantered through a back door typically used for accepting kitchen deliveries or taking out the trash.
By the end of the day, his own flunkeys called it curtains for Taib when they pulled down the blinds at the Said Business School to shield him from disbelieving protestors peering in to gawk at the Chief Minister who had been in power since 1981 – two years after Margaret Thatcher became the UK’s first woman Prime Minister.
A leadership challenge ended Maggie’s tenancy at No.10. Her memoirs of the Downing Street years have long been available. So too is John Major’s while Tony Blair’s is in the works. All three can be purchased together from Amazon come September.
By 1990, the year that Thatcher stood aside, practically the whole forest area of Sarawak had been licensed for logging (ref: FERN). Demonstrators took part in protests around the UK to call for the protection of the Sarawak rainforests as chainsaws claimed the dues Taib had parcelled out to his family and cronies.
Today, besides Taib – only 3% of the forests remain. Oil palm plantations have taken over enough land to establish Malaysia as one of the largest producers of the commodity. Alerted to a billion dollar market for Halal products, Taib was persuaded to lead Sarawak’s first investment mission to the United Kingdom.
When it was learnt that Taib would appear at the Oxford conference, those with long-standing concerns about Sarawak’s social and environmental record did not hesitate to show up bearing placards. The most penetrating picket insisted Taib declare the source of his wealth.
As protestors gathered outside the conference, Taib’s entourage stood mouths agape. The flock of Taib’s pigeons, so used to eating out of his hands, were unsure of their function when there was no Malaysian Police or Armed Forces to supervise in crushing the protesters.
Minions whipped out their cameras to take photos. Sarawak Land Minister James Masing informed a Bernama reporter that the protesters were “influenced by Soya and Rapeseed Oil commodity producers.” He depicted the protest as “pathetic” claiming his government was always ready to talk to NGOs about the Penan issue.
Had James Masing been genuinely earnest, he could have called for a press conference and his fear of a full house would firmly be settled. Dictating to a Bernama reporter “on the sidelines” was as candorous as he got. This is the same Minister who concluded an interview about the Penan rape cases by explaining to the BBC that the Penans are “good story-tellers.” Such is the kind of talk that follow Ministers on tour that cheapens any proposition to draw investments to Malaysia.
A local basketmaker proudly passed around a rattan sling-bag she had learnt to make from a weaver in Sarawak. “It’s not the type made for tourist” she said. She had come to support Sarawakian craftswomen affected by the scarcity of rattan as jungle is cleared to make way for oil palm plantations. When a Malaysian delegate resorted to calling a young protestor a “child labourer,” he told her in no uncertain terms – he was there to represent the next generation. A Linguist and Anthropologist stood nearby.
Clearly, here were people who cared more about culture and quality of life than they do about accumulating wealth. No Soya or Rapeseed producer can pay them to demonstrate against Taib. Nor can the wealth of Taib and his cronies put together, reconstitute a Sarawak rainforest.
LB: See-See is a Malaysian currently living in London. Once a year, she and fellow organisers screen documentaries about Malaysian human rights and political issues under the banner of the Freedom Film Fest of Malaysia. She works as a software architect.
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