KUALA LUMPUR (March 20): Civil society has called on Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud to step down following allegations of corruption.
Six non-governmental organisations (NGOs), who made the call today at a press conference, said Taib should resign from his post until the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) clears him of corruption in its investigations.
In June 2011, the MACC confirmed that it has started investigations on Taib over claims of corruption in the timber trade but was tight-lipped about the probe. No details were released about the progress or outcome of the probe.
Transparency International Malaysia secretary-general Josie Fernandez said the MACC investigations are taking too long and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak should call upon Taib to resign to ensure the investigations are free from any political influence or interference.
She also said Malaysian authorities – the Inland Revenue Board (IRB) and Sarawak Forestry Department - as well as Singaporean authorities to initiate investigations over the allegations raised by Global Witness in its film Inside Malaysia's Shadow State.
The organisation that champions environmental and human rights released the video yesterday to news organisations Malaysiakini and Al Jazeera, alleging financial misconduct and corruption by parties closely linked to Taib over the sale of land to be converted to oil palm plantations in Sarawak.
"We also ask for the Sarawak Bar to respond to allegations and explain to Malaysians whether any disciplinary action will be taken against the lawyer," said Josie, adding that constitutional reforms over the governance of natural resources, especially virgin forests, were more important now than ever.
Aliran executive member Sarajun Hoda said a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) should be set up into the claims raised by Global Witness.
However, several representatives of NGOs were critical of the government's will to take decisive action against Taib, saying "it will not come".
Asalkan Bukan Umno (ABU) representative Haris Ibrahim said dependency on MACC investigations and BN government for action is futile and a change in government was the only way to see real progress in the country.
Tenaganita executive director Irene Fernandez said the erosion of indigenous rights at the hands of the political and business elite needs to be addressed by the federal government and Parliament, but questioned the political will of the current administration to do so.
"The Global Witness report needs urgent and serious actions by the federal government and Parliament to address the problem with the goals of protecting native customary land (NCR) rights and putting together government mechanisms for accountability," she said.
"How far we can achieve that with the current administration is up for question, and I agree with ABU's statement that the people of Malaysia needs to stand up," she added.
Suaram executive director Cynthia Gabriel said it is up to Najib to answer to the serious corruption allegations.
"If he wants a fresh mandate from the people, he has to answer for all the corruption crimes being exposed at this moment," she said.
Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia representative A Jayanath said education was the key to ensure change comes to the nation.
He said the lack of accountability among governmental agencies is crippling even to civil society, which has been unsuccessful to bring them to book.
Oriental Hearts and Minds Institute board of directors K J John said he supports the call for an RCI in order for more information following the Global Witness exposé.
MACC commissioner Datuk Seri Abu Kassim Mohamed had reportedly said in September last year the commission was still investigating claims of corruption levelled against Abdul Taib over timber trade.
However, he said the issue had been “blown out of proportion" and was over-politicised.
Last year, Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund alleged the 76-year-old chief minister had been investigated since 1981.
A report, which was released in Brussels, had said the collective wealth of the 20 members of Taib’s family was about US$21 billion (RM64 billion), after the organisation reviewed financial and corporate records in Malaysia, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries.
The organisation has put the wealth of Taib alone at US$15 billion (RM46 billion), making him Malaysia’s richest man, way ahead of tycoon Robert Kuok, who has US$12.5 billion.
It said the family’s flagship company, Cahya Mata Sarawak (CMS), had net assets totalling RM2.4 billion in 2010.