‘blackmail Mahathir is the ‘s bread and butter’, who licked the jam? Mahathir guilty of destructive

by Terence Netto@http://www.malaysiakini.com

Aside from imprisoning Anwar on trumped up charges , enriching himself and his family ( examples – the reported billions invested in Argentina and the Philippines , the takeover of Esso , etc., ), giving out citizenships to foreigners for votes and in that way compromising the rights of the natives in Sabah and spiking up the population of Sabah , the Independent Power Producers and how the cost of electricity keeps going up becaUSE of some fat cats in UMNO and some cronies , the toll rates and how it keeps going up again because of some fat cats in Umno and his cronies and so many other issues which together reflect gross abuse of power – CAN YOU DIN MERICAN TELL US WHAT IS IT THAT THIS MAN HAS DONE FOR THE COUNTRY, ASIDE FROM SETTING IT ON THE PATH OF SELF DESTRUCTION

“It’s hard to see how he could emerge from the inquiry, which would lose all credibility if it does not summon him to testify,…”
Well, the old goat might testify but he will lie through his teeth. When he can deny his Indian roots and transform into a Malay, what is there to stop him from doing a Houdini or David Copperfield or a Rip van Winkle on the stand.
According to Sakmongkol AK47, this man can walk on water!!

COMMENT: Observers of historical ironies would find plenty to relish in the one that seems to be coming up on the back of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s decision to empower a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) on the issue of illegal migrants given citizenship in Sabah.

This irony has to do with hypothetical developments, which if they eventuate, may well prove Tunku Abdul Rahman, founding Prime Minister of Malaysia and, more importantly, resuscitator of UMNO in 1951 after the shock of party founder Onn Jaafar’s resignation, as a seer on the issue of UMNO’s entry into Sabah.

By the same token, the same developments could prove Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Tunku’s nemesis and incubator of a mutant UMNO (‘UMNO Baru’ was its assumed name) as guilty of destructive myopia.

The Tunku had before he died in December 1990 warned UMNO not to spread its wings to Sabah.  He said that from what he had seen and heard from his friend from USNO, Mustapha Harun, the latter always had problems controlling political factions in Sabah.

Parliament rocks as Arun ‘n’ Sushma belt out a sizzling ‘Koylaveri di’

The frontman – and woman – of the BJP band have been creating a meltdown sound, hoping to bring the House and the government down. Some say that the next top-of-the-polls hit number will be ‘Chuley ke peechey kya hai?’ as they drag the prime minister himself over the coal blocks. Ever since CAG, and the TOI, exposed what has come to be called Coalgate, the bad breath has been Total. No one is willing to hold out the (Palm)olive branch.

After chunks of the CAG report were revealed last March, the opposition has kept the fire burning over the alleged loss of Rs 1,86,000 crore to the exchequer caused by UPA-II’s selling of 142 coal blocks in an “irregular and arbitrary” manner instead of by the transparent auction route. This figure has sometimes been fanned to Rs 1,060,000 crore.

The BJP flaunts Coalgate as its ‘Bofors moment’. This may be because once again the current PM has been forced to sing, “Smoke gets in my eyes”, but the party has undervalued its gloat quotient. Bofors, which gunned for Rajiv Gandhi, was worth a pathetic Rs 64 crore, whereas this cream-off makes even 2G’s estimated Rs 1,76,000 crore corruption look downright upright.

Maternal allusions have been dragged into the verbal fire. While the opposition has tom-tommed it as the mother of all scams, P Chidambaram recently sought to rubbish the CAG’s (mis)calculations with sophistry: “If coal is not mined, if coal remains buried in Mother Earth, where is the loss?” Whether or not this amounted to him saying it was “zero loss” as he was (mis)quoted, it’s clear that this stand-off has become a zero-sum game.

Actually, ‘shout down’ is a more correct description than ‘stand-off’. And apter too. The coal-block issue has turned into a House-block. But by preventing the debate, BJP leaders have denied themselves – and, more importantly, us – the opportunity to get the clarifications they’ve been rightly demanding. No surprise here. By now we all know that the party slogan is ‘Swaraj is my shoutright – and she shall bring proceedings to a screeching standstill’. Jaitley’s subtle sabre kills better. And it does have a point.

Since, unlike in Parliament and on news channels, a newspaper allows you to have your say without interruption, i have been able to express all this without fear of shoutdown. Rebuttal can follow in its own time slot. So let me continue in the same coal vein, and raise some questions without having to raise my voice to hazardous decibel levels.

Coalgate may be manna from heaven for the opposition, but doesn’t their ire and brimstone amount to telling parliamentary democracy to go to hell?

The object of the red-hot Coalaveri rage has been looking more ashen than usual, but on Monday, Manmohan-ji made a virtue of the very silence for which he has been scorned. Did his stock go up with his shairi: “Hazaron jawabon sey achchi hai meri khamoshi. Na jaaney kitney sawalon ki abru rakhi”? Was he being ever the gentleman in sparing opposition CMs their red faces if he had revealed their resistance to auctions? Or will he still deserve a coal-miner’s blackened face?

Since Kapil Sibal so suavely told our Arnab that the gain from the controversial coal blocks can accrue only to the three core sector industries, should we steel ourselves to the fact that the hullabaloo is all about seizing power, and not about cementing accountability?

And, finally, which really is the jackpot question? ‘Coal, Radha, Coal, koi meeting-point hoga ke nahi?’ Or the persistently thunderous, ‘Kaun Bana Hai Coalpati?’

tunku abdul rahman 290809Therefore, the Tunku (right) advised UMNO, not to tread into waters that were inherently difficult to fathom.

Of course, the Tunku did not help his argument by citing the troubles of Mustapha governing Sabah as a basis for his advice.

Mustapha behaved like an oriental potentate, with whims and fancies to match. Mahathir lambasted his ways during one election campaign in Sabah when USNO was in competition with Haris Salleh’s BERJAYA for the right to rule the state.

Stumping for Haris, Mahathir, who was then Deputy Prime Minister, observed that whenever he visited Sabah as Education Minister (August 1974-April 1976), he found the top leaders of the state to be absent – away in exotic locales like Lebanon.

Mahathir did not mention Mustapha by name but it was obvious he was referring to the USNO leader’s weakness for the sybarite’s lifestyle which was as likely to take him to the fleshpots of Beirut as to Spartan destinations like Tripoli where he once repaired to ask for help from Muammar Gaddafi over a perceived threat to Sabah’s security by the communists who had just overrun Indochina.

Though Tunku Abdul Rahman was something of a bon vivant, he was no sybarite, but this did not prevent him from being indulgent towards Mustapha who, like the Tunku, was of aristocratic descent. (A sense of class solidarity is hard to dispel among the high born.)

Despite the earnestness of the Tunku’s advice against UMNO’s entry into Sabah, there was little hope it would be heeded.

Flashing a cape before a bull

Mahathir has precious little time for the counsel of people whom he thinks weak and ineffective.

joseph pairin kitingan 010706 youngWhen Joseph Pairin Kitingan (left), the PBS Chief Minister of Sabah, took his party out of the federal BN coalition and joined Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s Gagasan Rakyat (People’s Might) coalition days before the October 1990 general election, his move was like the flash of a matador’s muleta (cape) before a bull.

Then-BN chief and Prime Minister Mahathir wasted no time after the election – which he won sensationally, thanks in no small part to cynical employment of the bogey of Christian plotting against Muslims (a prevision of Hasan Ali’s tactics more than two decades after) – setting in train the moves, including UMNO’s entry into Sabah, seat gerrymandering, and electoral roll padding – that pegged  Pairin’s PBS to a narrow win in the Sabah state election of 1994, a win that vanished in the face of crossovers to Sabah BN.

Now, 18 years on, crossovers from Sabah BN to the independent bench by essentially the same invertebrates that ditched PBS for Sabah BN in 1994 have forced PM Najib into a forestalling manoeuvre in which the formation of a royal commission of inquiry to dig into how tens of thousands of illegal migrants in the state had been given citizenship and voting rights is in train.

The RCI would have to summon Mahathir to query him as to what his role in the entire episode had been. The man is going to discover that the whole imbroglio stemmed from a decision of his taken in contravention of the Tunku’s advice.

It’s hard to see how he could emerge from the inquiry, which would lose all credibility if it does not summon him to testify, with his bona fides as a law-abiding former Prime Minister intact.

In a capitalist, market-driven economy, all prices and transactions ought to be governed by the natural forces of supply and demand. Coal should be no different. However, in the current Indian situation, coal mines have been nationalized and the right to their use is granted through administrative fiat. As per point 12 of the Prime Minister’s statement, the allocation is done ‘by inviting applications through open advertisements after providing details of the coal blocks on offer along with the guidelines and the conditions of allotment. These applications were examined and evaluated by a broad based Steering Committee with representatives from state governments, related ministries of the central government and the coal companies. The applications were assessed on parameters such as the techno economic feasibility of the end use project, status of preparedness to set up the end use project, past track record in execution of projects, financial and technical capabilities of the applicant companies, recommendations of the state governments and the administrative ministry concerned‘.

This sort of makes sense, but as the meager output from allotted mines indicates, the process does not work in practice. Besides any process which involves subjective and discretionary decision-making is prone to corruption, rent-seeking, and inefficiency. So how can things be improved?

Auctions are one obvious option – the CAG advocates competitive bidding since it could bring about a greater degree of transparency, and raise a significant amount of revenue for a cash-strapped government. However, this would likely boost coal prices, leading to more expensive steel, electricity, and cement. In turn, this would suppress demand for said goods and perhaps lead to lower investment in industry and infrastructure since certain projects may be rendered unviable. The government may then be tempted to dole out new subsidy schemes for steel, electricity etc. Past experience indicates that such schemes tend to be poorly designed and executed, and as a result are wasteful.

So then is there a way to ensure that coal prices remain low, yet the allocation of mines is done in a measurably fair and transparent manner? One possible way could perhaps be reverse auctions – say the government is looking for 1000MW of additional power generation and invites companies to submit bids for the same. Say Company X agrees to do it for Rs 4 per unit, which is the lowest bid received. The government could then grant Company X captive use of a coal mine. If it then fails to live up to contractual promises, it can be penalized or even lose the rights over said mine.

However, setting up such a system through legislative means requires political consensus. Even though CAG’s report has succeeded in bringing an important issue to public attention, it has ironically led to further political division. In coming up with a large figure for revenue loss, the CAG has given this the appearance of a ‘scam’. But maximizing government’s revenue collections wasn’t (and probably shouldn’t be) the objective. If the CAG’s alleged loss of 1.86 lac crore had in fact been collected by the Government, who would have paid for it? You and me. In cash. Moreover, the coal issue does not feature the sort of bribery allegations, or instances of companies accruing windfall profits as a result of passing on allotted resources to third parties, as was true of the 2G scam. So far, it seems, this is still largely a policy issue.

However the opposition’s response to the report has been predictably hypocritical and opportunistic – didn’t the NDA government follow largely the same policies earlier? In blocking parliamentary proceedings, they are stifling debate on an important issue. Wouldn’t it be better if the BJP agreed to support the government’s proposal for a new bidding-based system, and in exchange secured a guarantee of impartial investigation into the coal block allocations that have been carried out by the UPA in the past?

The Marikana mine massacre last week may be the ANC’s Sharpeville moment, but the struggle we are witnessing – workers and local communities against corporate giants and in some cases their own governments – is not just unfolding in South Africa. There is a new corporate scramble for Africa’s natural resources. You’d think it should play differently this time. After all, it’s a half century since political independence and decades since the first waves of resource nationalism resulted in the nationalisation of extractive industries across the continent. Since then, both sides have come to realise they need the other, and there’s this new buzzword of sustainable development.

In fact, the stage is set for Resource Conflict 2.0. The World Bank and others continue to flag the mining industry in particular as the engine of Africa’s future economic growth – the auditor Ernst & Young issued a report last year entitled “Africa: A Golden Opportunity”. Pundits predict that foreign investment in mining across the continent is set to increase by an astonishing 40 per cent this year and the top 40 mining companies in the world achieved record profits last year of $133 billion between them.

Some 17 African countries already register high dependence on extractives for hard currency and export earnings and meanwhile up to a dozen countries – Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, Liberia, Mauritania, perhaps even Somalia – are about to start producing oil or gas.

 Investors deny Africa land grab claims

Conflict exists at two levels. Across the continent governments are stirring, feeling that now is the time to increase their take. Ghana has said it will renegotiate mining contracts, as has Nigeria with its offshore oil contracts. Zambia just doubled its royalty take from copper, and other countries are beginning to insert state-owned companies as sleeping partners in ventures. Despite Eurogloom, the global economy stepped back from the precipice of 2009 – for the moment – and Africa’s leaders and functionaries are getting assertive. So far so classic.

But it’s the community level where the conflict is more explosive. Two decades of unchallenged neo-liberal consensus have morphed old nationalisms into Animal Farm-like hierarchies where some are more equal than others. Cyril Ramaphosa built South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers under apartheid and became secretary-general of the ANC during the vital transition period. Then he turned into a businessman with a string of companies and took a seat on the board of Lonmin, the company running the Marikana mine. The workers’ demands for higher wages thus bring them into conflict with their own elites. The Chinese too – in Zambia, where China Inc has invested over a billion dollars in the copper mining industry, workers killed a Chinese mine manager earlier in the month while protesting for the right to the minimum wage the government just announced nationwide.

Something has changed in the equation. Local communities are more assertive and more connected – mobile phone penetration is expected to top 70 per cent across the continent by the end of the year, and even casual visitors cannot but be struck by their ubiquity. The companies have noticed this too. Surveys consistently show resource nationalism is their biggest concern, and their literature now makes much of obtaining a “social license to operate” and the need to get the message of all their community activities out there. But the typical big extractive company’s view of corporate citizenship is about as evolved as a Victorian gentlewoman’s programme of good works. For many, corporate social responsibility departments are window dressing and, deeper in the bowels of the company, closer to its real power centres, the view persists that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and the more they can fly under the radar the better.

But that just won’t work any more, any more than the photo-op at the whitewashed health care clinic that closes a few months later because nobody thought to figure out how it was going to be staffed.

Three things are needed: levelling up the playing field when African governments negotiate with Big Oil or Big Mining so that agreements are fairer; commitment by the companies to radical growth of the local skills base; and by governments to radical transparency, of a kind not seen before.

All over Africa the negotiation process is still largely random. I know a bloke who ended up writing the entire regulatory regime for Somalia’s oil sector pretty much by accident – he’d originally gone there for a week to do something else. Companies employ legions of world class lawyers and know every trick in the trade. Governments are often reduced to asking for pro bono advice, sometimes even from their adversary across the table. If you’re in this game, the more stories you hear the more frightening it is. Contracts which determine billions of dollars and millions of jobs determined by things as trivial as a phone call never returned, or one key term left unexplained by advisors.

Lack of negotiating capacity is part of the reason for the next problem – the failure of all these capital-rich industries to reach into the rest of the economy and create inclusive growth and jobs. Half a million South Africans work in the mining industry but there are massive skills shortages. In theory contracts should address this issue through “local content” clauses which oblige companies to train, hire and procure locally. In practice, companies succeed in watering down these clauses until they are meaningless. Without positive discrimination to build local skills and participation, extractives will remain a largely neo-colonial activity in Africa. Brazil has built its own skills base, some of the Middle Eastern states have done it. Why not Africa?

Finally, transparency. It’s a nice buzzword and companies now have well groomed representatives ready to tell all kind of “multistakeholder initiatives” and TV channels how committed they are to sustainability. But there’s precious little for anyone to get hold of, a few impenetrable 80-page reports publishing figures so selective they always make you wonder where the rest are. How about radical transparency? Massive screens in every Nigerian city clocking in real-time how much oil is leaving the export terminals for Europe and the United States? And how many petrodollars the Central Bank has received so far this year. Why doesn’t the South African government publish the terms of the contract it signed with Lonmin?

If it is business as usual, there will be more Marikanas.

In fact, with the blogosphere, expectations raised by the Arab Spring, and the promise of mobile phone ubiquity, business as usual no longer exists.

An indigenous group with a millenarian bond to their land are sitting on large reserves of a precious metal. A massive multinational corporation coming from a foreign land with the intention of getting access to the said metal at whatever cost. A conflict that has left people dead and that has the potential to take even more lives – indigenous lives, of course – destroying the environment in the process.

If the story rings any bells, it is because it does. But you would be forgiven for thinking we are talking about Pandora, and the RDA Corporation’s relentless search for unobtanium under the sacred soil of the Na’vi, in the 2009 film Avatar, directed by James Cameron.

As a matter of fact, we are talking about the Minas Conga project in the region of Yanacocha in Peru, and about the Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corporation’s persistent attempts at removing the local indigenous communities, and changing and contaminating their ancestral landscape in the process, all to expand their gold extraction operations in the area. Sadly enough, the entire world knows about Pandora, but not very many know about Yanacocha.

The new gold rush

With the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008 gold suddenly became one of the most precious commodities in the international markets. Not surprisingly, this led directly to an increase in gold mining worldwide, and to an expansion of the operations – both legal and illegal – of multinational corporations, often with questionable human rights and environmental records.

 Violent protests continue against Peru’s Conga project

In neighbouring Colombia, an estimated 5,000 children are now daily engaged in illegal gold mining works often under the most treacherous conditions. Also in Colombia, former paramilitary groups have now eagerly taken on the extraction of this precious metal as a form of supplementing their drug-related incomes. The situation is not much better in Ecuador, where it is only through the fundraising efforts of international NGOs and individuals that the national park of Yasuni and the indigenous communities that inhabit it, have been spared the destruction that open air mining brings.

The case of Newmont is not unique. Other gold mining companies, mostly with headquarters in the US and Canada, have been repeatedly accused of manipulating local politics, of ignoring the interests of local communities standing in their way, and of destroying and polluting the environment across Latin America and other parts of the world.

Barrick Gold, for example, has been accused of dumping toxic substances directly into the riverine system in Porgera, Indonesia. Although the Canadian-based company has been successful in rebutting local demonstrations, the magnitude of the damage caused to the environment has been so noticeable that the Norwegian Pension Fund felt necessary to exclude the company from their investment plans as a penalty. Another Canadian-based company, Gold Corp, has been at the end of similar accusations in relation to Marlin Gold Mine in Guatemala.

Although Newmont is then hardly an exception, what makes it special is their talent in manipulating public opinion. Over the years, they have dodged public demonstrations and have taken on local politicians and community leaders who have questioned their actions in the area.

Newmont also has dubious records in other parts of the world. In the US, they were accused of taking years of questionable tax deductions from the state of Nevada. In Ghana, their invasive Akyem project, for which they were given the 2009 Public Eye “Hall of Shame” award, led to accusations of the destruction of unique natural habitats, the pollution of soils and rivers, and the displacement and resettlement of people. All facts that Newmont, naturally, dispute.

Minas Conga project

Newmont’s involvement in Yanacocha is not new. One of the two largest and more productive gold mines in the world, with a number of open pits across approximately 25,000 hectares of this Peruvian region, the potential of extracting yet more gold in Yanacocha is not to be overlooked.

For almost two decades, Newmont has linked up with Peruvian companies, including Minas Buenaventura, to extract gold from the soil of Cajamarca region, where Yanacocha is located. Daily dynamite blasts loosen the rock, which is then sprayed with a solution of cyanide. The process, predictably, is far from being environmentally friendly, producing a number of contaminant agents, including mercury, cadmium and arsenic.

Although Newmont’s own environmental impact assessment states that their projects are not causing irreparable damage to the local ecosystems, their opinion is questionable, especially in light of their previous record in the area.

Back in June 2000, one of Newmont’s trucks spilled between 80 and 151kgs of mercury just outside the village of Choropampa. The locals, completely unaware of the danger and thinking they had found some valuable metal, gathered the mercury and took it to their homes. Only a few days later, between 50 and 70 residents, including several children, showed symptoms of mercury poisoning and had to be hospitalised. Newmont, predictably, denied failing to inform the locals about the accident and the danger they had been exposed to.

 Illegal mining in Peru destroying Amazon rainforest

Newmont also failed, at least initially, to recognise the local population as indigenous in their 1999 environmental impact study. By doing so, they probably hoped to get around Peru’s strict legislation protecting indigenous communities from enterprises such as theirs.

These early signs caused the locals to distrust the Newmont and helped to create a state of awareness that was recently revived when the Minas Conga project was approved.

The escalation of the conflict in the past year is a result of a plan to open a new pit with disastrous consequences for the indigenous communities and for the local ecosystem. Particularly problematic has been the idea of drying out four lagoons and replacing them with four water reservoirs, a move that would certainly lead to increasing problems with drinking water supplies and to the extermination of the flora and fauna in the lagoons. There are well founded fears that the soils in the region may never be fertile again and that the contamination may even reach the Maranon river, an important affluent of the Amazon.

Given that, according to Newmont’s own assessment, the mining industry has hardly brought any improvement to the locals in the area before, the new project has understandably been received with fierce resistance.

Rather than engaging openly with the indigenous communities, who have lived in the region for millennia, Newmont has lobbied the government, accused local politicians of opposing Newmont’s interests, and has even gone so far as to dismiss opposition to the project as emanating mostly from the most uneducated portion of the communities.

The future

The series of demonstrations that began last year against Newmont’s Minas Conga project has, for now, ushered encouraging results for the locals. The Peruvian government has recently come to the realisation that the conflict associated with the project is having an adverse effect on local businesses in the area, and has agreed to call it off, at least for now.

A recent poll conducted in the Cajamarca region showed that 78 per cent of the people opposed it. Only a few days ago, Diario Correo, one of the main newspapers of Peru referred to the project as “dead” and “collapsed”. It seems that the communities, as in Avatar, have won the first round.

Nevertheless, as in Avatar, sequels are likely to happen. All that gold won’t be sitting there for long without greedy multinationals attempting to extract it, even against the will of the local populations. By all the means available to them, they must remain alert for the time when the big machines show up again.

Manuel Barcia is Deputy Director at the Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Leeds.

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