Sarawak: KEADILAN has so much to do & is not doing enough

Langkah pertama adalah dengan mengakui kekurangan dan mengambil langkah-langkah segera untuk memperbaikinya.
Sebaiknya ia dilihat sebagai peluang yang akan melonjakkan kerjasama antara aktivis di serata Sarawak dengan menghasilkan cetusan sokongan rakyat yang meningkat pula.
Tidak ada apa yang tidak boleh dilaksanakan dengan baik sekiranya wujudnya kebersamaan dan menjauhi sebarang bentuk politik durjana (gutter politics) yang tidak menguntungkan sama sekali parti dan usaha untuk mencapai cita-cita politik baru.
Di antara ciri yang menjadikan rakyat mendekati KEADILAN adalah kerana sifatnya yang anjal (flexible) dalam menggarap dan memahami keperluan rakyat jelata. KEADILAN tidak terikat dengan mana-mana peraturan lama dan lapuk yang membawa mudharat dan yang meneruskan politik feudalistik yang sentiasa berhasrat mendominasi orang lain atau puak lain atau bangsa lain.

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The Malay Dilemma in Sarawak
Keruah Usit | May 20, 09 7:17am Malaysiakini.com
“When I came home on nomination day, three young men came to beat me up to teach me a lesson,” tua kampung (village head) Ahmad Sahari said. “They came into my garden on two motorcycles and attacked me when I greeted them. They punched me and struck me with their helmets.

MCPX

the antidote sarawak article 190509 05“I was 68 years old at the time, but I used to teach ‘silat’ (Malay self-defence) and I was still strong,” Ahmad said, “so I fought them off. The young thugs didn’t expect me to be able to put up a fight. They climbed back onto their motorcycles and tried to escape.

“I picked up a branch lying by the road and swung it at one rider as he sped past. He fell off, clambered back on in a hurry, and then all three rode away up there,” he gestured, pointing at the narrow gravel lane beside his wooden house.

“I was left with a few cuts and a bruise on my head,” he said, pointing at his left temple. “But I think they were worse off than I was,” he laughed. “They were stupid young men. I knew who they were – they came from a kampung up the road. I know they were paid by the politicians to beat me up.

“Those politicians were unhappy because I’d gone to the polling centre in Lundu to support young See Chee How, an opposition candidate, to stand for election,” he explained. “I seconded his nomination that morning. When the election officials called for a seconder, I raised my hand, and I signed the nomination papers. I never thought twice. Chee How is like a son to me.”

The battle against Sanyan

the antidote sarawak article 190509 02Ahmad has always lived in Kampung Pandan, a small and neat fishing village. Almost 20 years later, now 86, he has long retired as headman, yet continues to command immense respect from the locals.

Kampung Pandan lies by the South China Sea, at the foot of the majestic Gunung Gading, or Ivory Mountain, at the westernmost tip of Sarawak.

The verandah of Ahmad’s old wooden house marks the edge of a broad, pristine beach. He looks out over his coffee every morning, at a view literally plucked off from a postcard – the beauty of the scene is a constant, serene joy, even to his old eyes.

kampung pandan sarawak 190509He was a fisherman until he was 75, pushing his own boat out to sea and mending his own nets. His smiling eyes remain clear and bright.

He wheezes a little when he walks and is hard of hearing – but his memory for the historic events of his life, has never been blunted.

Ahmad’s courage and generosity have made him many friends in Lundu. In 1990, he led 17 villages around Gunung Gading in a lopsided battle against a powerful logging company, Sanyan Timber – and won against the odds.

‘Milo’ water from Gunung Gading

Sanyan Timber had been awarded a logging concession on Gunung Gading, and contracted out the concession to Interhill Logging. In their eagerness for huge profits, loggers felled trees around the water catchment on the slopes of the mountain. The logging tracks stripped the soil of its fragile cover, and the water reservoir on the mountain silted up.

The water coming out from the taps at the foot of Gunung Gading turned brown, “like Milo”, as Ahmad described it. “Children were suffering from stomach aches. We had skin rashes and diarrhoea even after we filtered and boiled the water.”

The loggers also levelled large tracts of forest to reach timber they valued the most. Bulldozers destroyed ‘bystander’ trees in their wake, including ‘engkabang’ or ‘illipenut’ trees, prized by generations of villagers for their rich, oily nuts.

the antidote sarawak article 190509 04The communities at the foot of Gunung Gading – Malay, Selakau Bidayuh, Iban and Chinese – protested to the Forestry Department and District Office, but were ignored.

They appealed to their local elected representatives, and even wrote to Abdul Taib Mahmud, the longest-serving chief minister in Malaysia’s history. But the villagers were never honoured with a reply.

The 17 communities turned to opposition MP Sim Kwang Yang and community organiser, See Chee How, for help. MP Sim and See told the villagers that Sanyan Timber was owned in equal parts by three shareholders: a rich Chinese tycoon from distant Sibu and two brothers of the state minister in charge of land and forests – Taib Mahmud.

The villagers were shocked to discover that part of the timber concession had been carved out of the existing Gunung Gading National Park. A quarter of the national park had been quietly awarded to Sanyan. The concession area was around 1,000 hectares, a tenth of the area of Petaling Jaya.

The concession, approved in law by the land minister, and listed in the Sarawak Gazette, had allowed the company into protected forest. Logging had then encroached on the villages’ water catchment. This was no backyard “illegal logging” operation.

Logging giant laid low

One newspaper reporter called up Leo Chai, the state forestry director, and asked him how a huge chunk of the national park had been lost to a timber concessionaire. “Something went wrong,” Chai replied vaguely. He said instructions to award the concession had “come from higher up”, but declined to mention names.

rain forest rainforest jungle 010708 01Gunung Gading became frontpage news in the Asian Wall Street Journal (AWSJ), thanks to Ahmad, Sim, and See. Articles by AWSJ writer Steve Duthie and Reuters journalist Leslie Lopez, threw a spotlight on the misshapen face of Sarawak’s political economy.

Malaysia’s niche in the international timber market was at stake. Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced in Parliament that Sanyan’s licence had been suspended.

The villagers of Gunung Gading had won an improbable respite. The timber company rolled up its mats, removed its heavy machinery, and left the Ivory Mountain.

Today, two decades later, Ahmad’s village continues to use gravity-feed water. The water from the taps runs clear now, and the mountain remains forested. The largest flower in the world, Rafflesia tuan-mudae, blooms in Gunung Gading National Park, attracting throngs of tourists.

Unwelcome visitors from Kuching

Ahmad smiled and said, “Those politicians tried to punish me for supporting YB Sim and Chee How. They tried to break me when they came to attack me in 1991. But I wasn’t afraid. We were working for all the people in Gunung Gading. Those young thugs never came back to threaten me again.”

Ahmad is proud to have been the village head. He likes to show visitors his official paraphernalia, including a diary from the 1980s, showing a photo of himself at a conference in Kuching. He points out pictures on the walls, depicting protected animal and plant species he helped to keep alive. The wiry old man is a civil servant, in the truest sense.

Ahmad is cared for by his large family. He receives visits often from his younger brother, still fit at 80, and from his children and grandchildren.

the antidote sarawak article 190509 03But he is less pleased by the loud weekend visitors from Kuching. The visitors drive their cars and motorcycles right up to the beach, parking in front of his verandah. A few of the visitors even ask Ahmad to leave when they walk through his garden, or use the tap beside his out-house to wash sand off their feet.

Ahmad expects public decorum among unmarried visitors, and is unhappy when young couples clinch on the beach. But he wears his deep religious beliefs lightly. He holds them without anger, without venom.

Like other Malays in Sarawak, Ahmad is courteous, and respectful of other Sarawakians, while he remains true to his religious upbringing. He enjoys an easy, open-handed friendship with people from other races: a relationship almost unimaginable in the toxic, bigoted atmosphere prevailing in Peninsular Malaysia.

What options do Sarawak Malays have?

The Malay dilemma in Sarawak is not the tawdry, cynical polemic of Mahathir’s minorpiece. Sarawak Malays’ dilemma is a real one. Sarawak’s Malays are a 20 percent minority in a society where every ethnic group is a minority. Many Sarawak Malays remain impoverished and neglected.

sarawak diverse population percentage breakdown of race 160106Should Malays in Sarawak continue to vote for race, and for the promises of their current political masters? These rich political masters – Melanau, Malay or Chinese – may look different, but they are virtually indistinguishable from one another in their values.

They promise development, but instead seize land from rural communities, pollute the water and poison race relations by their tactics of ‘divide and rule’.

Should Malays in Sarawak vote for an alternative? What other options do they have? The DAP maintains a resolute image of being a champion of the urban Chinese and not of poor rural Malays or Dayaks.

PKR has gained members in Sarawak, but does not enjoy the same grassroots support among Malays as in the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia – PKR efforts at community organising have been weak and fragmented..

Until some political movement can unite the rural poor, Sarawak continues to endure the paradox of beatings, pollution, land grabs – and a ‘fixed deposit’ of 30 seats in Parliament for Barisan Nasional.

For tua kampung Ahmad Sahari, the choice has been clear. He sees no dilemma.


KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist – anak Sarawak, bangsa Malaysia. His ‘The Antidote’ column, which appears in Malaysiakini every Wednesday, is an attempt to allow the voices of marginalised people to be heard all over Malaysia. The writer can be contacted at keruah_usit@yahoo.com.

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