Columnists

Along The Watchtower

Published: Wednesday November 19, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday November 19, 2014 MYT 10:28:00 AM

Adenan shows the way

Sarawak CM is proving to be serious in weeding out corruption in the state, especially in its timber industry.

TALK is cheap. Practise what you preach. Actions speak louder than words. These idioms are often associated with politicians paying mere lip service.

There is an apt Malay saying covering all of the above: Cakap tak serupa bikin (Talking is not the same as doing).

There are exceptions, though. In terms of good governance, one politician has walked the talk since assuming office on Feb 28 – Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem.

Although detractors had derided the handpicked successor of the longest serving former chief minister and current Yang DiPertua Negeri Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud as a “puppet”, 70-year-old Adenan has proved to be a man of his own, and one who dares to grasp the nettle.

Among the first things he did, after being sworn in as Sarawak’s fifth chief minister, was to declare that members of his family would not be allowed to apply for state land or logging concessions.

From the start, Adenan has been focused on wiping out the state’s biggest bane – widespread illegal logging.

Two months ago, he stopped the issuance of new timber concessions after calls to stop the extensive illegal clearing of forests fell on deaf ears.

Before the freeze, the state Forestry Department seized RM2.95mil worth of illegally felled logs – a 400% increase over the amount recorded the same period last year.

But that was just the tip of the illegal timber iceberg.

A special task force comprising senior Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) investigating officers, top officials of the Sarawak state government and the Forestry Department found that illegal loggers had stolen RM45mil worth of timber, just between May and August this year.

Annually the losses are estimated at about RM100mil.

Adenan, who has personally witnessed illegal felling of trees from the air, boosted the strength of the enforcement unit by arming officers with guns.

Timber concession firms were told to report illegal activities within or outside their areas and that the renewal of licences would depend on how they carried out this responsibility.

Over the past few months, he has spoken to more than 2,000 enforcement officers, police personnel and district council staff throughout the state on his mission to clean up the industry.

On Monday, he made his intent of fighting corruption, not only in the timber industry but in all aspects of the state administration, known clearly and loudly during an event for the state’s major logging companies to sign a “Corporate Integrity Pledge”.

“I want to put the fear of God into people who are dishonest,” he said.

Describing the level of corruption in the timber industry as “very bad”, he said: “We cannot tolerate it anymore. We must put a stop to it, not only because we lose money in the millions, but because we have gained a bad reputation internationally.

“This robbery of our forests in broad daylight has given us a bad name.”

In an unexpected move, he also bluntly told representatives of the state’s top six timber companies – KTS Group of Companies, Rimbunan Hijau, Samling, Shin Yang, Ta Ann and WTK Holdings – to be careful.

“I say to the big six, watch out. Lecture your camp managers, sub-contractors, suppliers. Insist they pledge honesty. That is the only way we can save the forests.”

Adenan also pledged to eradicate the scourge of cyber gambling in the state.

He attributed all these problems to enforcement officers who did not do their jobs.

Without mincing his words, he said they pretended not to know for three simple reasons – being stupid, being cowards or being corrupt.

“Some are with eyes but blind, with ears but deaf, with mouths but dumb,” he said.

To the illegal loggers and their collaborators, he warned: “Don’t mess with me.”

As he put it, being rough was the only way to do it, because some people could not be persuaded.

Outraged that the crooks were even felling trees in national parks, Adenan pledged to declare more hectares in Sarawak as reserves, more than the United Nations requirement of 10% of a state’s land mass.

The Sarawak government has certainly been working closely with MACC to weed out corruption in the timber industry.

Last month, 10 people, including a senior police officer, were nabbed under a joint operation involving the MACC, police, the Marine Department, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, Forest Depart-ment and the General Operations Force.

The nine others arrested under Ops Tukul (Operation Hammer) included owners of timber firms and logging camp managers. MACC also froze 30 accounts of 10 logging companies involving a total of RM18mil.

Adenan has indicated that there would be more investigations and arrests soon.

“I mean what I say. I am not interested in platitudes: It’s not cakap sahaja (talk only) and no action. I am serious; it will be done,” he said.

Whether it is a case of a new broom sweeping things clean or not, it has been a long time since Malaysians have heard a politician in power say such things openly.

Many qualities are needed for an effective leader, but none are more valuable than the moral pluck to do what is right.

Real leadership involves ethical clarity and courage and this is what Malaysians should demand from our politicians.

> Associate Editor M. Veera Pandi-yan likes this quote by Mark Twain: It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.

>The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: M Veera Pandiyan, columnist

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