The RM1.25 TRILLION Incentive Behind GPS’s Obsession With ‘Environmental Autonomy’

The dash for cash has always been the clear motive behind the constant demands by GPS for greater freedom from federal oversight, in return for their deal to support a government that is at least pledged to tackle corruption and implement open tendering.

The restoration of the SCORE dam building programme backed by China is now fully in the open at last, as are a whole slate of other plans to extract the wealth of Sarawak as rapidly as possible in collaboration with companies across the world.

Now it’s mining. We learn that the state government has been surveying the state looking for what riches lie below the surface, which ministers such as Awang Tengah are desperate to extract as fast as possible.

A third of the state has already been surveyed for minerals by this government and the rest will be turned to next:

Sarawak seeks to further explore and advance the region’s mining industry, apart from oil and gas, to benefit the local economy and population.
[Awang Tengah] highlighted that based on the records from the Department of Minerals and Geosciences, Sarawak is estimated to possess high value mineral resources worth more than RM1.25 trillion.
These precious mineral resources, including gold, limestone, non-radioactive rare earth elements (NR-REE), high quality silica sand and bauxite, are deposited across an area of approximately 39,824 square kilometres or 3,982,400 hectares, accounting for 32 per cent of the 12.4 million hectares of total land mass in Sarawak, mainly in the southern part. [Dayak Daily]

The problem is that the continuous rape of Sarawak’s resources for the past 50 years has so far achieved none of this ‘benefit to the local economy and population’ that is constantly spoken of but never achieved.

Sarawak is a technically high income state (thanks to its oil and resources) yet some of the world’s poorest indigenous people scrape a subsistence living on lands which have been widely destroyed by all this extraction.

It is utterly shameful and stands in contrast to other far less supposedly democratic states, where autocratic ruling families at least look after their people by providing a better share of the national wealth to enhance lives e.g. the Gulf states and Brunei.

So, before this relentless hunt for more extraction moves to its next phase, destroying more native rivers and digging up more native territories, this state government should be brought to account over how the huge profits that have already accrued are being distributed in Sarawak.

While not a week goes by without the announcement of some planned new mega-project involving foreign companies (with plenty of spin offs for the locally well connected) we never hear of the sorts of micro-projects, grants, training, subsidies, minimum income and welfare programmes that are desperately needed to elevate the impoverished lives of indigenous peoples who have lost their lands to these grand ventures.

Promised future spin offs and benefits of just this nature have provided the constant excuse for the grabbing and so-called development of native and state lands for decades and yet thousands of people still live without basic utilities, communications, decent housing or even adequate food and water, let alone proper access to health and education.

Despite the billions that have already been raised from Sarawak’s rich landscape, virtually none has gone towards enhancing the lives of the indigenous people, despite the endless and continuing  promises – still deployed in all those announcements we have seen over the past weeks and months.

Instead, we see only the palaces belonging to the politicians in Kuching and also the tycoons who own the logging, plantation and construction companies.

It is therefore time for Awang Tengah and his fellow buccaneers to start focussing on delivery to local communities before they harass and hassle for more opportunities to suck out the wealth of Sarawak.

Moreover, the entire decision making process over Sarawak’s natural wealth ought change in a country that purports to be a democracy and which has signed up to recognise the UNDRIP rights of its still desperately poor indigenous peoples.

Where is the transparency about all these mineral finds, planned dams and now carbon projects?

Where is the Indigenous Council of native representatives that should have the right to scrutinise what is being contemplated by ministers and green eyed global opportunists on their lands, in order to decide how such plans can benefit them besides the ministers, the YBs, the contractors and foreigners all licking their chops?

For reference, the state government should turn to the provisions of UNDRIP and in particular Clauses such as Article 32:

Article 32

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.

2. States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.

3. States shall provide effective mechanisms for just and fair redress for any such activities, and appropriate measures shall be taken to mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.

In fact, there is barely a single Article of this UN Declaration designed to protect the Orang Ulu that is being observed by the state government of Sarawak. Instead, there is just a welter of tickbox verbiage from corporate linguists who pour out right sounding phrases that are rendered meaningless owing to the lack of any practical application or intent.

Amidst all the talk of ‘green sustainability’, for example, where are the detailed consultation documents and scientific evaluations to show that the most sustainable and least destructive methods are being chosen in this crashing hurry to open up trillion ringgit extraction projects?

Nowhere, because there is no transparency.

A trip by Awang Tengah, courtesy of an anonymous Canadian mining company, for the minister to view alleged good practice in that country should hardly inspire confidence, given that the damage done in Canada by mining is an ongoing scandal high on the public and political agenda at this very moment!

Sarawak PLC?

Sarawak and its peoples are not the possession of GPS politicians to play with as they fancy. Neither is it a company asset owned by shareholders designed for profit.

However, if you are to read the sorts of announcements publicised by the likes of Tengah or the ‘InvestSarawak’ chief executive officer Timothy Ong (also in the news today) this is exactly the impression received.

“We have had interest from investors from quite a balanced pipeline of countries including the United States, China, Singapore, South Korea and members of the European Union,” Ong said during the Sarawak Corporate Day here yesterday…..

He noted that high-quality foreign and domestic investments must be nurtured correctly into a climate where both the private and public sector can flourish.

“Our mission is to transform and position Sarawak into the preferred location for sustainable investments while remaining reliable to investors providing sustained growth, anchored on strong economic and investment policies,”  [The Star]

Of course there is plenty of the usual future projections about higher Sarawak incomes in the wake of these many projects.  However, what about today?  What about delivery from all those projects and extractions that went before?

Sarawak is an oil state with bursting coffers and few inhabitants (a fact gloatingly promoted by the said MINTRED agency) so every Sarawak family by now ought to need for nothing with a basic income already provided for in return.

Instead, thanks to the same lack of transparency, lack of consultation, lack of scrutiny and behind doors corrupted cronyism all the previous money went somewhere else.

It will go somewhere else again unless proper governance – not governance via press announcement  – is introduced. Local Sarawakians should resist all future ventures in their lands until the ground rules change.

Meanwhile, all the concessions on ‘environmental autonomy’ that the federal government has seen fit to bargain away in return for federal support does not absolve the government of Malaysia from its duties towards indigenous peoples and their rights in any state.

The present government must put pressure on Sarawak to fulfil its legal obligations under international law written into Malaysia’s own laws by treaty to respect and listen to the wishes of its people and compensate them properly from all this looting.

Otherwise it is shame all round and it should stop.


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