Corruption in Malaysia: Taib Family is Destroying Borneo Rainforest in Oil Palm Land Grab

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Corruption in Malaysia Borneo Rainforest Cleared

Leaked land registry records show the corruption of Malaysian politician and his family are taking government land and destroying the Borneo rainforest as they build palm oil plantations. The growing demand for palm oil and palm kernel oil add to the amount of rainforest land all over the world being cleared at an unprecedented rate.

Exclusive from World-Wire.com:

Leaked records from the Malaysian state of Sarawak’s Land and Survey Department show that 31 companies linked to Malaysian top politician Abdul Taib Mahmud (“Taib”) have been given land for oil palm plantations amounting to almost 200,000 hectares – equivalent to three times the size of Singapore. The land leases were issued by the Taib-led Sarawak state government, which is being accused of massive corruption and the systematic destruction of the Borneo rainforest.

According to the Swiss Bruno Manser Fund, the Taib family companies have been given long-term leases for 198,882 hectares of secondary rainforests and native lands at a price of only 95.6 million Malaysian Ringgit (USD 30.4 million). While the land given to the Taib family by the Sarawak government has been grossly underpriced, it is particularly shocking to see that more than half of the land leases – over 45,000 hectares – have been given out for free or for “payment in kind”.

A Bornean Orangutan with a young Orangutan on her back.

The Borneo Rainforests

Located in Southeast Asia, the Borneo rainforests are disappearing rapidly as oil palm plantations continue to take over the land. Large areas of rainforest around the world are being cleared in the world’s oldest rainforest, over 130 million years old.

Rich in biodiversity, the number of plant and animal species in the Borneo rainforests is huge. The World Wildlife Fund has commented that “361 animal and plant species have been discovered in Borneo since 1996.”

The Borneo rainforest is one of the last remaining natural habitats for the Bornean Orangutan, an endangered species, as well as the Sumatran Rhinoceros, Asian Elephant, and Bornean Clouded Leopard.

From The Rain Forests of Borneo:

Borneo, in Southeast Asia, is a beautiful country with unique wildlife. It is home to the illusive orangutan, proboscis monkey, Bornean clouded leopard and many other endangered species. It is a wonderful destination for more adventurous travelers, but also accessible from modern luxurious beach resorts at Kota Kinabalu for people who prefer to be pampered.

Unfortunately this beautiful place is being rapidly destroyed as the rain forests are plundered for their valuable wood and replaced with palm oils plantations.

African Oil Palm plant.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

What is an oil palm?

A tropical plant originated in Africa, the oil palm grows in tropical climates and produces the growing popular palm oil and palm kernel oil.

Palm oil is extracted from the palm fruit, while palm kernel oil is extracted from the kernel of the plant. These trees produce a high oil yield making it a profitable crop. It produces ten times more oil when compared to sunflowers,soyabeans or rapeseed.

Uses for Palm Oil and Palm Kernel Oil

At present, the oil produced from the oil palm is the second most highly consumed oil. Used for it’s stability properties, palm oil doesn’t need to be hydrogenated. It can resist oxidation and withstand extreme deep-frying heat as it’s extremely high in saturated fats.

Environmental Concerns of Palm Oil Plantations

Primarily used as a cooking oil in Central America, Central and West Africa, and South East Asia, the oil is extracted from the oil palm. As demand increases for this highly desired oil, the Borneo rainforests are being cleared to make room for plantations in South East Asia.

Although the social impact can be great as these plantations create jobs for locals, the environmental impacts of palm oil plantations is very controversial.

From Wikipedia:

According to UNEP, at the current rate of intrusion into Indonesian national parks, it is likely that many protected rain forests will be severely degraded by 2012 through illegal hunting and trade, logging, and forest fires, including those associated with the rapid spread of palm oil plantations. There is growing concern that this will be harmful to the environment in several ways:

  • Significant greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation, mainly in tropical areas, accounts for up to one-third of total anthropogenic CO2 emissions, and is a driver toward dangerous climate change.
  • Habitat destruction, leading to the demise of critically endangered species (e.g. the Sumatran tiger, the Asian rhinoceros,[8] and the Sumatran Orangutan.)
  • Reduced biodiversity, including damage to biodiversity hotspots.
  • Destruction of cash crops, such as fruit and rubber trees in Sarawak, Sabah and Kalimantan and Borneo, that belong to indigenous peoples (the Dayak), despite their frequent objections.

The primary concern is the necessity to clear down massive amounts of the Borneo rainforests. In addition to destroying this already endangered rainforest, these plantations are monoculture fields. That means several species of plants are being removed and the biodiversity is being lost. This can have drastic effects on the natural rainforest ecosystem.

Another concern as palm oil plantations are growing in popularity is the impact of the plantation itself. It’s not uncommon for plantation waste to be burned releasing palm mill pollutants into the environment. Palm oil mill effluent (POME) can be treated anaerobically, with oxygen, and used for electricity and biofuel. And even though Malaysia is practicing some POME treatment, there is little environmental protection.

Conclusion: Will the UN intervene?

Malayasia is one of the world’s top producers for palm oil, producing around 50% of the total world’s volume. As palm oil rises in demand the need for more plantations will be necessary to keep up. However, with the corrupt land leases issued by the Taib-led Sarawak state government the Borneo rainforests are being destroyed quickly and systematically.

The Bruno Master Fund has challenged the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission to take definitive action against the blatant corruption by the Taib family. The Commission has until the end of January 2012 to do so before the NGO coalition will get the United Nations involved. Malaysia is a party to the UN Convention against Corruption, a legally binding international treaty.

Hopefully Malaysia’s Attorney-General will have the Taib family arrested and prosecuted for their corruption with the United Nations needing to be involved. But maybe the UN needs to start taking a more proactive part in protecting our world’s natural ecosystems and rainforests.

UPDATE: Malaysian authorities are protecting corrupt politician Taib and 21 NGOs from 9 countries have asked for the United Nations to become involved by bringing sanctions against Malaysia. 

What do you think? Should the UN intervene with country’s policies to ensure environmental protection to these important ecosystems or not? Let us know in the comments.

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