Dirty Tricks By Samling’s PR Department?

When it comes to ripping out forests, dodging environmental restrictions and employing heavy handed tactics towards indigenous protests, the global timber giant, Samling, leads the field.

However, when it gets to the subtler arts of communication, specifically disinformation known as ‘Black PR’, the Sarawak loggers appear out of their depth, like many of their ilk.

On March 16th this year a PR operative Tai Chee Kien, based in KL, registered a new domain, Advokasi Pribumi (Sarawak) Sdn Bhd, translating as ‘Indigenous Advocacy Sarawak’. A company was set up of that name the same day.

It states its business in the companies register under the baffling description of  ‘Activities of Business and Employers Membership Organisations’.

Yet the readers of several media outlets in Sarawak will by now have seen statements describing the organisation as an “NGO advocacy group for sustainable forest management” that purports to support the interests of the said indigenous people as part of that agenda.

Likewise, a Facebook site that was also launched on the same day, 16th March, makes the same claims to be an NGO, although there is so far no evidence given of any examples of environmental advocacy over the past two short months of its existence – there are no posts and just two friends.

Indeed, Mr Tai Chee Kien’s wider background gives little hint of concerns for the environment or indigenous folk of Sarawak. Far from being an NGO he exists for profit, running numerous publicity campaigns and events for major players.

The website advertising this PR venture, named Maliquest, describes it as “a one-stop communications solutions provider” that differentiates itself “through our strong network within the Government, policy-making and regulatory communities in Malaysia” which has been “meticulously cultivated over time”.

Hmmmm……right in there with the power brokers, like the Yaw family who own Samling?

Other organisations set up by this ‘communications solutions provider’ include the similarly titled outfit “Advocates of Vape” managed for the Malaysian Vape Industry. Notably, the company secretaries who incorporated the Vape promotion vehicle also incorporated the self-styled NGO, Advokasi Pribumi Sarawak (APS as it likes to be termed).

The director and shareholder of this brand new ‘APS eco-campaign’ sounds a little more authentic, on the other hand. They are named as one Kelly Anak Lawie who gives an address not in Sarawak, however, but in Puchong, Selangor.

The trouble is that the community of environmental and indigenous rights campaigners appear to have never heard of Kelly or of any of her exploits in this field. In fact, a brisk internet search produces no record of even the existence of this Iban sounding name.

Never mind, there is another character who has been aggressively promoted as the face of the alleged NGO. This is one Nigel Raymond, described this week in the Dayak Daily as the ‘APS Executive Director’.

Nigel’s photograph has beamed out of several articles, including those of the Dayak Daily, citing his sudden intervention in the present dispute between Samling and the longstanding and well known eco-campaign group from Sarawak, Save Rivers.

There have been two news bursts of this nature, where a statement made by Nigel has appeared in Dayak Daily and also several other Sarawak news outlets.

The first was the day after Advokasi Pribumi Sarawak came into existence when, on March 17th, Nigel issued a statement ‘on behalf of the NGO’ attacking Save Rivers’ Director, Peter Kallang, for criticising Denis Ngau, the Telang Usan GPS Assemblyman for one of the contentious areas Samling is logging on native lands.

APS executive director Nigel Raymond argued that the criticism levelled on Dennis has been unfair when the logging industry has in fact brought development to the indigenous communities, especially in improving their standard of living significantly. [Dayak Daily]

Nigel is reported as saying by the GPS connected newspaper. He goes on to be quoted:

“APS is deeply concerned about the comments made to discredit the Telang Usan assemblyman as well as to make light of the initiative carried out by the licences logging companies in our area to repair key infrastructures.”

There is much more in this vein in the extensive statement which, as anyone who knows about the debates around logging in Sarawak will know, is a highly unusual line for an environmental or indigenous rights NGO to take, given how little the indigenous people have generally benefitted from the rape and destruction of their native lands from greedy crony timber outfits, of which Samling is one of the most egregious (according to several international and independent reports).

Indeed, Nigel Raymond’s remarks look much more like something that might have been expected to have been produced by Samling’s own PR department …. or perhaps a PR company working for Samling, like Malaquest, which boasts that it “will continue to go the extra mile for our clients”?

Save Rivers is being sued by Samling for ‘defamation’ in a case that is attracting increasing global outrage in that it is such a clear example of bully boy legal tactics used by wealthy litigants to silence the rights of protest and complaint by people whose lives they are affecting.

These so-called SLAPP suits (this one is a classic) are designed to cost a poor protestor so much money that they agree to stop their activism in return for keeping silent about their issues. Thus, Samling is suing Save Rivers for punitive sums of money for alleging the company failed to follow due process when seeking to log elsewhere in Baram – when did Samling ever follow due process in Sarawak?

However, as the suit backfires against the logging company in the court of public opinion, where sensitive western markets are highly focused, Samling has fought to keep the actual suit at bay. On Wednesday the case was once again postponed for the forth time by the Miri court as Save Rivers tried to contest the action.

At which point, Nigel and his APS ‘NGO’ sprang to life again, issuing more statements on 18th May to various outlets in Sarawak in which he lectured Save Rivers that it should mediate and settle with Samling, for the good of the environment and indigenous people that Nigel purports to represent.

The Dayak Daily headlines with the news “Timber co vs Save Rivers lawsuit: Advocacy group urges collaboration for sustainable future, setting aside past grievances” as part of a wide coverage for the story.

Once again, Nigel seems to be promoting Samling’s interests and arguing for a settlement which the timber giant is now plainly desperate to achieve, it’s bully boy libel tactic having so dangerously backfired.

Licensed timber operators and environmental groups must be committed towards resolving differences amicably and work together to safeguard the environment as well as the interests of local and indigenous communities, urged an advocacy group for sustainable forest management today.

The statement from Advokasi Pribumi Sarawak Sdn Bhd (APS) came following news reports of the court case between a Sarawak timber company [Samling] and Save Rivers wherein the former is suing the environmental NGP for defamation…

Expressing concern over the involvement of the courts, APS executive director Nigel Raymond said they were made to understand that the timber company had made several attempts to amicably resolve the issue by reaching out to Save Rivers to clarify matters.

‘Nigel’ goes on to blame Save Rivers for allegedly rejecting what was doubtless a self-serving settlement offer by Samling and then untruthfully denies the court case has been delayed four times, claiming this was the first postponement.

So, was it this champion of the people who really issued these remarks around the Malaysian media?  If so, where and when was his press conference and why have none of these statements yet to appear on the NGO’s own ‘activist website” which has yet to receive single post?

Indeed, why has no other NGO campaign group any knowledge of who this Nigel is?

It seems there is little dedication to developing the NGO or engaging in genuine advocacy for real people. Instead all the energy has gone into creating an appearance of indigenous support for Samling as it seeks to undermine one of the most effective indigenous rights campaign groups in Sarawak which has been targeted by the logging company.

Likewise, APS’s only argument for ‘sustainable practices’ seems to be focused on promoting highly dubious eco-claims on behalf of the notorious Samling whose disgraceful practices of the past decades have become a textbook in un-sustainability.

The clear conclusion is that APS is merely what it seems to be, which is yet another misplaced, clunking attempt at Black PR disinformation, of the type that has been attempted by Malaysia’s ruthless extractive industries time and again and which get seen through every time for what they are.

Step forward Nigel Raymond, show what work you have been up to, who funds your projects and why your NGO is managed by a PR agent. Otherwise, another Samling own goal has been exposed.

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