“Absolute Power” Over The Environment?

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Sarawak will have absolute power in managing its environment following another success in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) negotiations with the federal government, said Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg.

He said the federal government is giving back environmental autonomy to Sarawak.

“In our MA63 negotiation with the federal government, we are going to have absolute control on environment as far as Sarawak is concerned – meaning, we manage our own environment,” he said when witnessing the exchange of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Malaysia LNG Sdn Bhd, Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB), Bintulu Development Authority (BDA) and officiating the Sungai Plan restoration programme in Bintulu today.

Earlier, he mentioned that in Sarawak, several laws had been amended with the aim of preserving the environment, including those related to gas, carbon trading and preservation of natural resources.

“I hope what the state government has done will help cool down the climate we are facing today,” he said.

He pointed out Sarawak had taken bold steps to find solutions to the challenges posed by climate change.

“That is why under the Post Covid-19 Development Strategy (PCDS), we came up with a strategy of taking into consideration Sarawak’s ecosystem when developing the state,” he said.

‘Absolute Power’ has become a popular term amongst Sarawak leaders seeking to maximise terms with a weak federal government.

However, it is a dangerous concept in the absence of full transparency and disclosure.

Where do the rule of law, native and civil rights and preservation of the eco-system fit into a declaration of ‘Absolute Power’?

Abang Jo expresses worthy sentiments about combating climate change and preserving natural resources as part of this vision for Sarawak.

Yet generating carbon credits also means taking care of biodiversity, not wreaking more rivers and forests to create ‘green energy’ for distant urban populations which has been the theme of so many recent announcements.

Indeed, none of Sarawak’s proclaimed ‘green’ initiatives deserve that label without full transparency throughout and an open disclosure on the environmental impacts.

Therefore, not only should the exact terms of this latest transfer of federal power be made wholly public, the state should also open up its own registers which have been kept disgracefully hidden for years from the very stakeholders who are most affected and whose NCR lands are being absorbed.

All applications, all licences, all concessions and all assessments underway should be notified to those who are likely to be affected, and moreover accessibly gazetted and made available online for all to see. For decades these have been kept secret which is a total disempowerment of the majority in favour of the few.

Indeed, the reality of Absolute Power in its worst form is nothing new in Sarawak, it is the present situation. For decades the recently departed Taib Mahmud exercised and abused untrammelled authority over the state’s resources, which he used to wreck the environment and native lives on an unparalleled scale.

Paltry industrialisation and lamentable levels of infrastructure were achieved during all that time (despite the slavish praise by hangers on) at an unimaginable cost to Sarawak’s most valuable and unique resources which were its forest base.

Taib’s system pertains till this day in Sarawak, whereby the first most communities hear of major plans and developments for their lands (invariably carried out by wealthy cronies in league with local YBs) is after the deals have been done behind closed doors.

Absolute Power over the environment should not belong to the handful of businessmen politicians, working together with Chinese mega-corporations to grab the state’s resources and turn rivers into personal income streams, it should belong to all Sarawakians.

Likewise all Sarawakians have a right to know the details of this latest arrangement with the federal government and of every proposal currently being considered on their lands.

Otherwise, these new claims of Absolute Power remain just a blatant expression of tin pot dictatorship: a phenomenon that Sarawakians now want to see in the rear mirror only for their state not as a prospect for their future.

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