Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A pittance for your rights, please

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:50
Source here

PETALING JAYA: How would you like RM250 in exchange for the inheritance that has been the source of your livelihood? That is how much the Sarawak state government is offering Iban villagers in rural Sebangan so that timber companies can have free rein of the rainforest.

Sebangan is a small range of rainforest in which there are 16 Iban villages. The Ibans have lived there for generations and depend on the forest for their livelihood.

Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Abdul Mahmud now has his eye on the area, according to Sarawak Report, a website dedicated to exposing alleged corrupt practices by Taib and his family.

It quoted Nicholas Mujah, secretary-general of the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association, as saying that loggers can reap 700 tons of wood from every hectare of the Sebangan jungle.

Taib's sister, Raziah Mahmud, is said to be a shareholder and director in Quality Concrete Holdings Berhad (QCHB), the company that wants the timber there.

“Taib traditionally demands a rate of RM100 per ton of timber,” says Sarawak Report, quoting timber industry insiders. “However, in this latest case the sum is likely to be substantially larger, given the value of the hardwoods at the Sebangan reserve.”

With 3,305 hectares of forest at his disposal, Taib would stand to gain at least RM250 million, it said.

Because of the land's Native Customary Rights (NCR) status, QCHB has been given a conditional occupation certificate valid for only a year. One of the conditions is that the company needs the permission of the NCR landowners to start logging.

However, QCHB appears to have taken wood from the forest without asking.

”Nobody warned or consulted us about anything,” said Sadun Ason, Kampong Ensika's headman, adding that he found out about the poaching when a villager spoke of logging equipment being shipped upriver on July 11.

Ason then contacted the local penghulu, who not only admitted to having knowledge of the poaching but also told the headman and his people that any form of protest was futile.

"We were told the whole matter was perfectly legal, and we had no rights," Ason told Sarawak Report.

Villagers bribed and tricked

According to the article, Taib elects his own headmen and penghulus for villages in the interior.

In the case of Kampong Ensika, he appointed an outsider and a member of his Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu, as the penghulu a few weeks before QHCB's logging licence was issued.

The article also said that Forestry Department and Land Survey officials were friendlier with QCHB's representatives than with the villagers.

Despite records from the Land Registry stating that the land in question was gazetted as NCR land in 1956, the government agents claimed there was no evidence that the area had such a status.

Sarawak Report said QCHB had offered to pay each villager RM250 and each headman RM800 if they would sign away their rights to the forest.

It also alleged that in one instance QHCB bribed and tricked 11 villagers and three headmen into giving up their rights.

It said the victims, who were illiterate, were taken to Sibu in QHCB's vehicles for a dinner and were then asked to sign documents waiving their rights to their land without any lawyer being present. They did not get copies of the documents, it added.

“We have been threatened that if we oppose this, we are going against the government and opposing development,” a villager told Sarawak Report.

“But why does the government act like a common thief in this case and how much development can we achieve for RM250?”

The article also said Sebangan's villagers were expecting gangsters allegedly employed by QCHB to intimidate the indigenous population.

Sarawak Report said it would forward the information it had to a legal team headed by activist lawyer Baru Bian.

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