The problem with our government..

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The Sarawak government politician unconscionably blames God or the victims of environmental crises for whatever predicament they are afflicted with.

The problem with our government is that it continues to collect our taxes but remains contemptuous of serving the public interest. Despite all its mainstream media rhetoric, our government politicians are arrogant in their ignorance and prefer serving their own interests and that of the powerful and the wealthy.

Take the Sarawak government as the prime example.

Thick poisonous haze returned to Sarawak with a vengeance over three weeks ago. But what did the Sarawak State government do to pre-empt the problem let alone adequately address it during this current dry season? Well, apart from announcing to the press that the ‘El Nino phenomenon’ had returned, the Sarawak government did nothing.

As of last week, there were over 900 open fires burning throughout the state. Even more shockingly, the media recently reported (8 Aug 2009) that the Sarawak Natural Resources Environment Board (NREB) had ‘revoked three open-burning permits’ and ‘suspended 26 applications’ for open-burning permits from plantations. In other words, instead of curbing this perennial environmental disaster as they have promised us over and over again since 1997, the Sarawak government happily promotes the annual environmental crisis by issuing burning permits to plantations! And why are permits issued to these plantations? Well, it’s because all these plantations are owned by fellow politicians, their families and their wealthy corporate cronies.

So, what’s the use of a government ban on open-burning if it is not being enforced? It also nails the long-standing lie that the Federal and State governments have been working hard over the years to stamp out open-burning which is the cause of the annually recurrent poisonous haze.

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Of course, the Sarawak State government largely blames native smallholders for this problem since they also burn their native customary rights (NCR) lands before the annual rice planting season begins. But what has the State government done in terms of educating and supporting these native smallholders in promoting alternative methods of agriculture? Well, nothing!

To make matters worse, the current dry spell has also brought a serious drought to numerous divisions in the state with over 18,000 persons presently suffering severe water shortages. And this is in a state with the most number of rivers in the whole country! Again, the perennial culprit, i.e. God in the presence of the ‘El Nino phenomenon’ has been blamed. No mention, of course, about the fact that the state government-issued logging concession licences over the last four decades to political and corporate cronies have all but stripped Sarawak of its rainforests cover – and thus its watersheds.

Is this lack of sufficient rainforests cover not central to this problem of an annual drought? After all, there is no more forest cover left to make clouds and hold residual rainwater which is released gradually over the dry season. Is this not a more likely cause of the severe drought than the El Nino drivel that the Sarawak government politicians regularly speak about? No mention either that nearly every previous and current politician in Sarawak is a beneficiary of a lucrative logging concession or an oil palm plantation lease that has all but decimated the ecological and watershed functions of Sarawak’s tropical rainforests.

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And then there is the tragedy of the Penans. According to Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu, these Penans only have themselves to blame for allegedly suffering food shortages (i.e. starving) this dry season since they obstinately refuse to settle down and take up sedentary farming methods. Thus, because of their incorrigible behaviour, the Sarawak government cannot really assist them.

Again, no mention of the fact that their NCR lands have all but been logged over and destroyed by oil palm plantations. As well, no mention of the fact that these Penans are the most marginalised peoples in Malaysia, who have little or no access to a regular food supply given the shortage of forest lands for them to forage and hunt. Is it any surprise then that many Penan children died of mere measles a few years ago? What next?

Frustratingly, nearly five decades since Malaysia Day on 16 September 1963, thousands of Penan also still have no identity cards since the National Registration Department remains inflexible in its approach to registering a community located deep in the state’s interior and who have no history of paper identification let alone a sedentary lifestyle.

Quite a few Sarawak government politicians were reportedly even ‘amused’ to learn that the Penans were allegedly starving. Some mused that Penans cannot really starve since they are great at foraging and hunting. But where does the most marginalised community in Malaysia forage and hunt? In what forests? And how does one depend on depleted forests that hold little food and water and thus little food in the dry season and which are choked with toxic fumes from the hundreds of open fires of plantations and NCR lands?

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In other words, the Sarawak government politician unconscionably blames God or the victims of environmental crises for whatever predicament they are afflicted with. And herein lies the rub. Not only are most of these government politicians ignorant and self-serving but their arrogance and greed also blinds them towards serving the public interest.

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