Who is King of Sarawak's Rainforest? An Insight to Sarawak's Land Corruption Led by its Chief Minister and His Family

By Tisha Raj
Earth Common Journal
2013, Vol. 3 No. 1 | pg. 3/4 |

Princess Jamilah – the Canadian Connection

Jamilah Hamidah Taib-Murray is the eldest of Taib's four children. The Bruno Manser Fund (2012, p. 26) said she studied business management at Carlton University in Ottawa, Canada and met her husband Sean Murray there. Sarawak Report (as cited by Harakah Daily, 2013, para. 1) reported that Jamilah, was dubbed "Princess Jamilah" by her fellow students whilst still at Carlton because of her immense wealth. It was further revealed by Sarawak Reporter that Jamilah had started a huge property company called Sakto Development Corporation in Canada when only a student in 1983 (as cited by Harakah Daily, 2013, para. 4).

Bruno Manser Fund (2012, p. 26) reported with an estimated net worth of USD $1 billion, Jamilah is a director of four companies and shareholder of at least another 86 companies. As Industry Canada stated (as cited by Bruno Manser Fund, 2012, p. 26) several companies from the Sakto group are still being directed by Jamilah and her husband. Meanwhile Companies House (as cited by Bruno Manser Fund, 2012, p. 26) reported that Sakto's British sister company, Ridgeford Properties, in London is being managed by Sean and her in-laws. The Taib family in a legal statement by one of Britain's top lawyers they hired, Reya (as cited by Bruno Manser Fund, 2012, p. 26) declared that Sakto and Ridgeford along with another company Sakti (managed by her sister) are not funded by Taib Mahmud. However, Taib contradicted that very statement in an infamous video posted online as Sarawak Reporter posted (as cited by Harakah Daily, 2013, para. 7) that he started Jamilah up in business during the 80s with a small "nest egg" he'd received as retirement payment from his term as a Federal Minister.

Jamilah and Sean are well known elite socialites, often invited as guests at Ottawa's high society parties. The Bruno Manser Fund reported (2012, p. 26) Jamilah and Sean reside in a mansion in Rockcliffe Park, Ottawa, which was named the city's second most expensive hosue in 2009, estimated at 9.6 million Canadian dollars. Prentice acknowledged (as cited by Bruno Manser Fund, 2013, p. 26) the house is reputed to be lavishly clad in marble, with chandeliers and cathedral-like ceilings. Sarawak Reporter noted (as cited by Harakah Daily, 2013, para. 17) that Jamilah is rarely seen sporting the same over-sized jewels or couture twice and he children tweet about ponies, sailing and holidays in the well-known off shore tax haven of the British Virgin Islands.

In December 2011, Canada's Global News ran an investigative piece entitled "Family Trees" in their prime time 16x9 show. The investigation was about the alleged money trail between Sarawak's Chief Minister and his family in Canada. It also featured Jamilah and Sean's property portfolio in Canada, USA and London and as Global News reported (as cited Bruno Manser Fund, 2012, p. 27) despite being approached by the show, the couple refused to be interviewed.

Global News also featured Clare Rewcastle Brown, a native of Sarawak who now resides in London and is an investigative reporter. "She writes about the environment in Sarawak and what she sees as political connections to the destruction of the land on her blog, The Sarawak Report" (Global News, 2011, para. 2) and Radio Free Sarawak, an independent radio station.

The Sarawak Report and Clare Rewcastle-Brown

The campaign against Chief Minsiter Taib and his family has been led by Clare Rewcastle Brown, the sister in law of British former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who run the Sarawak Report and Radio Free Sarawak as stated by Butler (2011, para. 7). "Through internet postings and shortwave radio transmission from London, Rewcastle Brown has given voice to growing concerns among Malaysians about environmental degradation" (Mullany, 2013, para. 2).

Rewcastle Brown, 54, was the daughter of a police officer in Sarawak during colonial days and has vivid memories of the vast canopy of the rainforest in Borneo she tells Mullany of The New York Times (2013, para. 5-6). A former journalist at BBC World Service, ITV News and Sky Television in London, she was appalled at the destruction of forests when she returned to Kuching in the 2000s for an environmental conference (Mullany, 2013, para. 7).

As posted on Sarawak Report, the website "…exists to provide that platform and to offer an alternative vision of justice, transparency and a fairer future in Sarawak" (Sarawak Report, 2013, para. 5). In her interview with Mullany, she explained that with the aid from the Bruno Manser Fund – named after a Swiss environmental activist who disappeared in Malaysia in 2000 and is presumed dead- Rewcastle Brown started the Sarawak Report in 2010 (2013, para. 11). With a collaboration of other writers, Sarawak Report started out publishing investigative reports in English for a Malaysian audience. Her next project was Radio Free Sarawak, "…helped along by a drive that put 10,000 shortwave radios in the hands of Malaysians to hear the broadcasts, an effort aided by local churches and opposition groups" (Mullany, 2013, para. 8). She further shared with Mullany that families would sit together in verandas to listen to these broadcasts and to increase their audience reach, Sarawak Radio moved their broadcasts later in the day to accommodate workers coming home from rice paddies (2013, para. 9).

Both these media outlets not only highlights the deforestation and the corruption taking place in Sarawak, but in addition champions human rights and social economic issues that plague indigenous tribes in Sarawak. World famous anthropologist, Wade Davis told 16x9 that one of the last nomadic tribes the Penan are in danger of having their homes wiped out. He said, "Within a single generation a way of life, morally inspired and inherently right, was being crushed just as the forest in which they were born was being crushed…There was something incredibly unjust about that" (Global News, 2011, para. 4).

Kaur (2011, para. 10) also noted for over a decade, the women and girls from the Penan community have been trying to seek help from the federal government and the police from being continuously raped by the timber loggers. "These timber loggers have never been hauled up as corruption and nepotism run deep among the "powers that be" in Sarawak, with Taib leading the entourage of Sarawak's politician-cum-marauders" (Kaur, 2011, para. 11).

Rewcastle Brown acknowledges the fact that Malaysians themselves are not as free to do such reporting despite being in a country that exercises democratic rights however exerts strong controls on news media, "They'd be arrested immediately and their livelihoods would be destroyed" (Mullany, 2013, para. 4). Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at Singapore Management University and an expert on Malaysian affairs, told Mullany (2013, para. 19-20) the two news outlets have greatly impacted Taib's leadership in the urban areas, especially among the Chinese, the more educated and internet connected. However, Welsh believes that the deforestation will continue, as "the elite in Malaysia are concerned with making money" (Mullany, 2013, para. 20).

Rewcastle Brown inspired by the work of Manser when she began her investigative work looking into the deforestation of Sarawak, does not regret her move into opposition journalism, "I must try to do something…I'll never forgive myself if I don't try" (Mullany, 2013, para. 22-23).

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