For over 30 years, Taib Mahmud has been a political figure in Malaysia. During this time, he has been the recipient of numerous corruption, human rights abuse, and environmental abuse allegations. Despite several protests from people around the world, Taib was sworn in as Sarawak’s Governor earlier this week. Read more below to find out if there is hope that he will ever answer for these allegations.
Read more on Hornbill Unleashed.
There was a slight pause called by Najib between Taib Mahmud’s resignation as Chief Minister of Sarawak and his accession as the Governor (Yang di-Pertua Negeri) of Sarawak.
The delay gave us some hope. Would Najib take this opportunity to cut off the “untouchable” Taib Mahmud once and for all and take this benefiting political token, or will he concede (yet again)?
This was not much of a surprise. Najib never dared anyway.
“I’ve got things in proper sequence” – Taib
The seriousness from this accession is underestimated. We have allowed this to move so gradually out of hands that the disproportionate force that this accession effects is unthinkable.
For one, this accession might amount to an institutional destruction of the Conference of Rulers. Article 38 of the Constitution of Malaysia stated that the Yang di-Pertua Negeri Sarawak is a member of the Conference of Rulers, and the immunity that is afforded to “rulers” would imply that the Governor of Sarawak would be free from civil and criminal prosecution.
No matter the corruption evidence against Taib stack overwhelmingly, the chances of Taib being dragged to court now doubly harder than before, if not impossible.
Even if the interpretation of this part of the constitution is inaccurate, and “rulers” that are immune did not include the Governor of Sarawak, it is more unlikely now that people will take action against these allegations, because there is an added risk that a report lodged might be deemed “seditious” or “insulting to the rulers”.
Even though we technically live with a constitutional monarchy (where the monarch is bound by or is subordinate to the constitution), we have seen countless incidents where the anarchic and arbitrary Sedition Act being invoked for these purposes. These made the rulers seemingly “un-criticisable” in the eyes of Malaysians.
Taib’s story is not new. It is one of those extremely awkward situations where every Malaysian seemed to be satiated that he took large amount of moneys away from the state coffers, numerous reports have been filed against him, a deflective attitude of Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and Taib himself, but still, no action has been taken against this man.
If there was ever a safe bet every Malaysian would take, it would be that Taib was definitely a corrupt state administrator. Even Taib would agree that he was.
This impression that all Malaysians share against this man is likely to taint the Conference of Rulers. It is because the Conference of Rulers’ role is merely a symbolic one, this makes the legitimacy it derived from dependent on the appeal and impression it has to the people.
Our impression on the rulers will forever change and surely be diminished if Taib is among the ranks of this institution. This amounts to an immense risk that the rulers might not enjoy legitimacy from the people from now on.
On one hand, you have a rulebook saying that rulers should not be engaged actively with any commercial activities, and on the other hand, you have a list that is so long and rolling to the floor stating the companies Taib and/or his family has a stake in. Even a kid would assume that this is of contradictory in nature.
“Naughty” – Taib
Even if we assume that all criticisms and prosecutions will cease because of the fear that we overstep the line of criticizing the rulers inappropriately, Malaysia does not exist in a vacuum. If one thing is for sure, it is for the fact that Taib is also a person that the international interest groups and NGOs actively want to see taken action against.
Groups such as Global Witness, Bruno Manser Fund, Transparency International, Japan and Hong Kong’s anti-corruption agencies, and many others have published stark reports and taken immense interest in what was to them one of the most shocking corruption scandals ever so blatantly carried out.
The tripling abuses of power from the roles of Chief Minister and other 2 ministerial positions have allowed Taib and his 20 family members to be involved in over 400 companies worldwide, and have accumulated at least over RM70 billion over these periods.
The most recognised companies of Taib are Cahaya Mata Sarawak, Sakti Corporation (US), Stiehost Pty (Australia), Ridgeford (UK), and a wide array of other businesses.
Contracts were directly awarded to these companies affiliated with himself or his family members, and he has since taken total autonomy on forest resources and the state land of Sarawak.
The counts on the dark and heavy-handed human rights abuses on indigenous people that are heartbreaking and under-reported, are also one of the many “evil” badges this man has accumulated across his heartless chest.
One way or another, our impression of the rulers as being corrupt, inhumane, arrogant, and abusive, might just as well be the dominant impression that will ensue.
But we have all heard of these. The question was never whether Taib has been involved in some corruption, but whether the wealth accumulated by Taib was more than other corrupt giants, like Mahathir, Ananda Krishnan, or Syed Mokhtar.
Because this is where we have gotten to – we have become immune and normalised to the corruption that is taking place. The most that we do is that we vote for the political parties that promise to do away with such practices, and we do nothing more.
We continue to condone such corruption by our now-destructive Malaysian mentality of “it’s okay lah”.
Corruption does not just mean bribery or direct tender of projects – the benchmark is much lower than that. Corruption also means a collapse of the values that we as citizens attribute to how certain institutions should function.
It is easily corruption if the trust that I attribute to the state government is compromised, when the state government does not operate to serve my best interest as a rakyat, instead it to be a tool for personal gain.
“Honesty has always been my leadership principle.” – Taib
This accession is like a finish line for Taib in his long race from people who intend to prosecute him. What we can reflect on from this closing chapter is where we fit the interest of people of Sarawak (and Sabah) in our daily political compass.
The geographical separation between West and East Malaysia does not give us good enough reasons to ignore the interests of the people in Sabah and Sarawak.
Hardly does any of their specific interests are taken to the fore of political manifestos or become a substantial political agenda that makes the news consistently enough, let alone any effort by any political leaders to attempt to bridge the gap of cultural understandings between people of West Malaysia with the people of Sabah and Sarawak, which arguably have a richer and more unique cultural existence than the comparatively more singular and mundane West Malaysia jive.
We occasionally only make slight gestures like building streetlights or bridges in the rural areas or look over and send delayed military support for our brothers at Lahad Datu when an invasion breaks out.
All these, even, are done with the consequential thought that they would yield political brownie points, instead of any sincerity in bringing actual improvement from our moral caring and understanding to the “forgotten Malaysians”.
There is no sense of empowerment ever given or any initiative of inclusion of the state authorities and the citizens of Sabah and Sarawak, and our daily political headlines hardly ever acknowledged the countless NGO reports on such continuing and unyielding massive corruption of this man’s empire.
Our half-hearted effort of keeping the Taib’s narrative alive is despicable, and we should not act like we care, when there are not enough being done to make a prosecution real. Of course, the MACC is the worst (wholly ineffectual) anti-corruption agency that has ever existed in the history of earth, but I believe that faults are also on parties on both divides for not keeping this story alive, and substantiate enough pressure for something to at least be carried out.
And then there is us – how happy are we to be to show once again, our “it’s okay lah” has allowed evil to take its day and be something much more than what we could have saviour.
We would most likely shrug off the news of Taib’s accession over a week or so (that is how long we keep our news fires ignited anyway) and after that a new political farce will take place and we will act like that is more important. Entertainment over all else, of course, in Malaysian politics.
But on this day, evil has reigned. Imagine what those billions could do.