“No-one’s unaware of the huge upsurge of Sarawak voices, saying, ‘Hey - what about us? Is this revolution going to reach our shores and change our concerns?” - Clare Rewcastle-Brown of The Sarawak Report spoke on The Breakfast Grille.
Sarawakians made their dissatisfaction known in GE14 - losing Sarawak Barisan Nasional nine extra seats. But despite the extension of their 44-year reign, the sudden shift was duly noted by a former member of the coalition as a ‘catastrophe that ended BN’s decades of governing Malaysia’. Many analysts noted the exodus to the 1MDB and Felda scandals, but politicians and the general public were keen to remind them of a seemingly ‘invincible’ figure who is accused of corruption similar in scale to 1MDB.
Taib Mahmud, the Governor of Sarawak and former Chief Minister, is alleged to have amassed billions of dollars at the expense of Sarawak’s natural resources. 95% of the Sarawak rainforests have been affected by subsequent land sales with inflated costs and reported kickbacks, leading to accelerated logging and the exploitation of villagers. Further allegations by the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), a Swiss environmental NGO, suggested that his family has also built their wealth around his - calling them The Taib Timber Mafia. The latter also finds that Taib and his 20-member family clan are collectively worth $21 billion, while the former Chief Minister himself is worth $15 billion.
Clare Rewcastle-Brown, famed for her reports on 1MDB, was an instrumental figure in exposing Taib Mahmud’s alleged corruption. In 2010, the Sarawak Report had investigated the accelerated deforestation in Sarawak - exposing Taib Mahmud’s tight grip on the logging industry and land concessions in Malaysia's largest state. And with the help of the global media, news of Taib’s wealth spread, but little was done to investigate it. The MACC, according to Clare, had swept their 2015 investigations under the carpet, while the Bruno Manser Fund claims that the Canadian government is shielding Taib Mahmud.
But in spite the growing confidence in Malaysia’s independent institutions, questions have been asked about Dr. Mahathir’s relationship with Taib Mahmud. It is widely believed that the two have previously conspired in keeping Barisan Nasional afloat during Dr. Mahathir’s “authoritarian years”. And as details were spared of their meeting three days after the elections, these questions have gone unanswered. His party, however, have reciprocated the calls by the rakyat to investigate Taib Mahmud of his alleged corruption.
“From what we can see, this new federal government is holding Taib Mahmud at arms length and [they] should allow due process of the law to proceed in this matters. There has already been substantive investigations by the MACC with regards to corruption in Sabah and Sarawak - which the previous administration sought to leave on a dusty shelf. Maybe they’ll be taking down the reports and dusting them off.” - Clare Rewcastle-Brown, on the Breakfast Grille.
The focus on Taib Mahmud’s wealth and corruption cases isn’t likely to fade. For Malaysians, its successful reinvestigation would rid the nation of known high-scale corruption cases - leading to the reinvestigation of more - most notably, a similair case of abuse of power on the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia.