IT came as quite a surprise when the Malaysian Anti Corrruption Commission (MACC) announced that it had raided some four dozen firms involving the timber industry in Sarawak and seized accounts and documents as well as frozen more than RM500mil worth of financial assets.
The MACC issued the statement on the raids after 6pm on Tuesday. That caught everyone offguard, including reporters.
The statement said that raids were carried out simultaneously in Kuching, Sibu, Miri, Kapit and Bakun.
I must admit that the manner in which the MACC had carried out the raids was effective.
The raids in Miri on 13 timber firms were done after a thorough covert surveillance.
Even reporters were caught by surprise. So too were the local enforcement agencies.
The swoop was done very quietly and it was led by senior officers from Putrajaya, it is learned.
Members of the raiding parties were mostly from outstation and they stayed in budget hotels over the past few days, sources told Sarawak Metro.
They had been observing the timber firms located in various locations in the industrial estates and on Tuesday they raided the premises and seized documents and files as well as accounts.
However, as at press time, there are no arrests of any employees of these timber companies as yet.
Miri is the base of three of the six biggest timber consortiums in Sarawak.
The raids signalled a drastic turn of events in the battle against illegal loggings and corrupt practices in the timber industry in Sarawak.
For decades, the logging sector in the state has been tainted by corruption, nepotism and cronyism.
Sarawak had also been criticised for its blatant logging practices of cutting down huge traits of forests and also for the controversies surrounding native land disputes.
Since Tan Sri Adenan Satem took over as Chief Minister from Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud in March last year, he had surprised many by the dramatic changes he had initiated to have transparency and accountability in the state administration.
The battle against timber corruption and illegal loggings is one of these bold initiatives.
For so long, state senior leaders that included ministers and assistant ministers had denied that illegal logging was a problem in Sarawak.
They denied that the timber sector was tainted by corrupt practices or that nepotism and crynoism was a culture in the administration.
Adenan has been honest in admitting the flaws and weaknesses in the administration and he vowed to clean up the mess.
The latest raids by the MACC on timber firms show that Adenan is indeed serious in wanting to clean up the dirt left from the past.
The question now on everybody’s mind is – what will transpire next?
The MACC may have seized documents and frozen the accounts of many timber firms but the process of investigation is just starting.
The fact that the MACC sees it necessary to take such drastic measures indicates that there are irregularities in the lucrative timber sector in the state.
However, in order to prosecute and nail any culprits will be a gigantic task.
I have covered court cases involving corruption charges before and some of these cases took years of hearing before any decision could be reached.
Piles of documents and dozens of witnesses are required in the tedious process of trials.
While I will not be hopeful at this stage that the corruption and illegal loggings in Sarawak are coming to an end, I must say that there encouraging signs that sincere and drastic steps are being taken by the state government under the leadership of Adenan to clean up Sarawak.
The rakyat eagerly watches to see what will happen next.