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Charles Santiago

Posted by : Admin Direktori Blog | Khamis, 8 Disember 2011 | Published in

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Charles Santiago


Regional Consultation on Democratisation and People’s Participation in Asia In conjunction with the 4th Bali Democracy Forum

Posted: 08 Dec 2011 02:58 AM PST

6‐7 December 2011, Bali, Indonesia

STATEMENT

Preamble

We, the representatives from civil society organisations of 16 Asian countries, gather here on 6 and
7 December 2011 in conjunction with the 4th Bali Democracy Forum to critically assess the situation
and highlight challenges to democratization and human rights in Asia.

The year 2011 has seen both the Arab Spring sweeping away long‐reigning despots and the Occupy
Movement protesting against the marginalisation of the majority of the world's people. Democracy
and democratization must therefore focus not only on civil and political rights but also the
enhancement of economic, social and cultural rights, recognising the urgency to address the
structural causes of extreme poverty, deteriorating inequality and rampant corruption. Democracy is
not only threatened by authoritarian regimes but also by corporate interests that erode national
sovereignty and suppress people's participation. In that sense, democracy must be protected not
only from unelected political institutions such as the military and monarchy, but also from unelected
corporate conglomerates.

In Asia, while the reforms in Burma seem promising after two decades of suppression, we must not
forget that war against ethnic minorities like the Kachins is on‐going and as many as 1,700 political
prisoners remain imprisoned. Until armed conflicts and persecution of political dissidents end, the
reforms remain window dressing.

Against this background, the regional consultation themed "Democratisation and People's
Participation" urges the 4th Bali Democracy Forum to urgently act on following four specific areas:

1. Defending an Enabling Environment for Asian Peoples and Civil Society

Participatory democracy is not complete if civil society lacks an enabling environment to function
effectively and independently. The increased challenge for Asian civil society organisations is the
violation of civil liberties including freedom of expression, right to information, freedom of peaceful
assembly, freedom of association and freedom of religion. This is mainly caused by draconian laws,
lack of judicial independence, arbitrary arrests, pervasive use of torture, extrajudicial killings of
human rights defenders and other use of violence by state and non‐state actors. Ironically, while the
theme for the 4th Bali Democracy Forum is "Enhancing Democratic Participation in A Changing World:
Responding to Democratic Voices", some Asian governments are doing the exact opposite.
Cambodia is currently enacting a law to restrict freedom of association while Malaysia's Lower
House recently passed a bill on freedom of assembly that is more restrictive than Burma.

In many Asian countries, repressive laws against civil liberties have created a climate of fear and
compounded the people's ability to participate political processes. The shrinking of public space by
governments and political parties through violence, control of funding and intimidation stifles civic
participation and genuine public discourse. Some countries like Burma are still plagued with armed
conflicts and ethno‐religious persecution.

Asia lacks a functional human rights court and in many countries, national human rights institutions
do not always work independently and effectively, especially in post‐war and transitional countries.
Ordinary people's political participation is also curbed by two other factors: firstly, the
ineffectiveness of legislatures in representing the peoples' needs and aspirations; and secondly, the
controlled media environment which prevents pluralistic political expressions.

2. Independence of Judiciary and Judicial Watch


Independence of the judiciary is fundamental to democracy as it ensures the rule of law in society. In
many Asian countries, there are serious issues regarding the capacity and integrity of the judiciary
and legal professionals. Appointment processes for judges, prosecutors and other legal officials are
often influenced by politics, nepotism and patronage which threaten judicial independence. In many
countries, the office of public prosecutor is not independent from the executive branch.
Government control of regulating bodies (such as bar associations and judicial commissions) also
undermines the independence of the judiciary.

We note with concern that judgments and information about judicial system are often not publicly
available. This increases risk of corruption, hampers ability of civil society to monitor the judiciary
and prevents the general public from understanding the judicial system and access to justice. In
some countries, such as Cambodia, criticizing judgments can constitute contempt of court, severely
restricting the ability of monitoring programs to analyze decisions. Justice is also denied when
citizens cannot access or afford legal representation.

3. Corruption, Right to Information and Democratisation

Corruption is one of the major concerns undermining democracy in Asia. Those with resources can
have undue influence on public policies and this transaction of power for money denies the right of
ordinary citizens to have their interests represented through legitimate political participation.

Democratisation must therefore entails a vigorous campaign against corruption and a strong legal
framework including anti‐corruption laws, right to information laws and other laws with
independent enforcement bodies to enhance transparency and accountability.

4. Transformative Social Protection in Defending and Claiming Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Asia is home to two thirds of the world's poor and hungry, with more than nine hundred million
living in extreme poverty. At the same time, 78% of Asia's work force is pushed to the informal
sector where they suffer from extremely low wage and precarious working conditions while often
facing risk of human trafficking. More fundamentally, the neo‐liberal development model of liberalisation,
deregulation and privatisation aggressively pursued by corporations undermines the sovereignty of state to
provide social services, displaces millions of people from their land and natural resources, enlarges the gap
between the rich and the poor, accelerates environmental degradation and eventually engulfed the world in
financial crisis from Asia to the United States and now in Europe. Austerity measures meted out as response to
these crisis further undercut the social protection for the people with regards to education, healthcare,
housing, food, water etc.

Transformative social protection is therefore an urgent demand by the people to address continuing
crises and chronic poverty resulting in massive deprivation and social exclusion of millions in Asia –
denied of their basic economic, social and cultural rights that are essential to their life. Even in countries where they have poverty eradication programs including minimal social protection, these
programs often exclude the most vulnerable including the stateless, undocumented, internally
displaced people and refugees.

Recommendations

In this regard, we, the representatives from civil society organisations of 16 Asian countries, strongly
recommend Asian governments:

On Enabling Environment for Asian Peoples and Civil Society,
• To ratify and implement core international human rights instruments;
• To establish and strengthen regional and national human rights institutions and mechanisms
to protect and promote the rights of peoples and human rights defenders in accordance
with the Paris Principles;
• To implement recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders;
• To review all laws that restrict space of civil society and people's participation, including the
proposed law on non‐governmental organisation in Cambodia and the Malaysian bill on
public assembly;
• To empower their legislatures and make consultation with all stakeholders a pre‐requisite in
law and policy making processes; and,
• To free media from censorship and concentration of ownership so that the media can
effectively represent different voices of the people.

On Independence of Judiciary and Judicial Watch,
• To provide professional trainings to judicial officials and practitioners;
• To ensure that judicial appointments are made on transparent, objective and impartial
criteria;
• To guarantee independence of the office of public prosecutor, especially from the executive;
• To ensure transparency of judicial process, in particularly all judgments should be made
publicly available except to protect privacy of minors and victims of sexual violence and
other exceptional circumstances in line with human rights; and,
• To work with civil society to ensure independent and accessible legal aid services for all.

On Corruption, Right to Information and Democratization,
• To enact strong legislations that guarantee the right to information and make declaration of
assets by senior public officials and their family mandatory;
• To involve civil society in monitoring and facilitating the enforcement of such laws; and.
• To end impunity in corruption by state officials through strengthening the judicial and
prosecution systems and removing immunity of public officials from criminal charges.

On Transformative Social Protection and Fulfilment of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
• To implement social policies that include universal social protection towards the fulfilment of
the economic, social and cultural rights while giving priority to employment, essential services,
food, social assistance to vulnerable groups such as the elderly and disabled;
• To institutionalize transformative social protection programs and integrate these into national
development strategies that bring about the redistribution of income, wealth and opportunities, and promote ecological stability as well as democratic control over people's
lives and the economy; and,
• To involve the people, especially the marginalized, in the planning and implementation of
such social protection programs.

We call on all Asian Governments to implement these recommendations in their regional and
national programmes.

We welcome the on‐going initiative of the Indonesian government to foster dialogue between Asian
states on democracy through the Bali Democracy Forum. However, we are disappointed that the
Forum has consecutively excluded for four years the participation of civil society organisations who
are one of the main stakeholders of democracy.

We call on the future Bali Democracy Forums to include civil society organizations in their
deliberation and follow‐up actions. To begin with, the Bali Democracy Forum should make publicly
documents related to the proceedings and decisions of the Forum. The Institute for Peace and
Democracy as the implementing agency of the Forum should step up its engagement of civil society
to ensure meaningful participation of Asian peoples in realising genuine and functioning democracy.


Taib family fortune ‘RM4.6bil in Malaysia alone’

Posted: 08 Dec 2011 02:52 AM PST

Sarawak’s Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud famously boasted that he has more money than he can ever spend.

A Swiss NGO campaigning against corruption in Sarawak, the Bruno Manser Fund, has now fleshed out this assertion. The BMF reports that Taib’s family owns US$1.46 billion (RM4.6 billion) in corporate assets in 14 wealthy companies – in Malaysia alone.

azlanAccording to the BMF, Taib himself, his four children, eight siblings and his first cousin, Abdul Hamed Sepawi, have a stake in 332 Malaysian companies. In the three largest of these companies, the BMF contends, the Taib family owns substantial shares inCahya Mata Sarawak or CMS (84 percent of net assets of RM2.4 billion), Custodev Sdn Bhd (25 percent of RM1.6 billion) and Ta Ann Holdings Bhd (at least 35 percent of RM1.4 billion).

CMS, popularly known by its nickname 'Chief Minister’s Sons’, is a listed conglomerate with construction, cement, steel, property, private education and stockbroking interests. Custodev is a property development company. Ta Ann is a logging and oil palm giant. The BMF also says Taib’s family are sole owners of Achi Jaya Holdings, a monopoly holder over log exports, with assets of RM550 million.

These findings contradict Taib’s claim that his relatives have grown rich only outside Sarawak, using their entrepreneurship talent.
Taib denied using his family members as his proxies, claiming instead that his relatives are rich because they are “good” and “clever”.
“We consider these corporate interests of the Taib family to be illicit assets. There are many clear indications that Taib has abused his public office to build a corruption and fraud-based billion-dollar empire,” BMF director Lukas Straumann alleged in a press statement released internationally last weekend.
azlan“We are shocked to see that the Taib family has so shamelessly enriched itself while the people of Sarawak have to struggle with widespread poverty and an appalling lack of infrastructure and government services,” he said.
As a yardstick, Taib’s recently announced budget estimated a total state revenue of RM4.04 billion in 2012.

The BMF readily admits that the RM4.6 billion figure is an underestimate, saying there are likely to be hidden Malaysian assets, as well as enormous capital flight.

Tracing the paper trail overseas
The NGO says its research shows Taib’s inner family circle has a stake in 85 companies in 24 countries and offshore jurisdictions worldwide, including Australia, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Fiji, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Jersey, Saudi Arabia, Labuan, New Zealand, China, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Vietnam, and holds “illicit assets worth several billion US dollars”.
The BMF has been a constant gadfly in the side of Taib’s family, one of Malaysia’s richest. It has collaborated with investigative journalists in the anti-graft website Sarawak Report to trace the financial trail of Taib’s self-proclaimed fortune. These human rights campaigners have unearthed astonishing statistics from publicly available corporate and stock exchange documents.
NONESarawak Reportfounder Clare Rewcastle Brown, during an interviewon Family Trees, a Canadian prime-time television programme screened last Friday on Global News, pointed out that investigating Taib’s financial network is highly workable, because Taib family members openly own so many companies and such a huge chunk of international real estate.

Despite the wealth of accumulated information available, numerous reports by local human rights actvists to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the Malaysian police have been futile. However, the governments of Switzerland and Germany have begun graft investigations into Taib’s family, and Canada and theUnited Kingdomhave expressed concern.

Rewcastle Brown alleges that Taib, as state minister in charge of land and forestry for some four decades, dealt out vast land parcels and logging licences to family members and cronies. Ta Ann, for instance, has been awarded over 675,000 hectares of logging and plantation concessions, an area the size of Negri Sembilan, in three decades.

“I’ve seen that most of the companies that have received the lands have been companies owned by his siblings and his children and political allies that he needs to keep sweet… mainly, his own family. I’ve painstakingly researched what I can of many of these contracts,” she said.
NONE“It’s been possible for me, sitting in London, to go through the company records online and to trace how this money has gone from Sarawak in the early 1980s to Canada.”
Taib has admitted giving 'seed money’ to his daughter Jamilah to finance her Canadian property business, Sakto, said to be worth more than US$100 million (RM310 million).
Jamilah’s Canadian husband and business partner, Sean Murray (left in photo), wrote a letter to the Global News programme, complaining that “Jamilah and I find these statements about ourselves and our business false, highly defamatory and very damaging.”
Curiously, though, Taib and his family have all resisted taking the BMF or Sarawak Report to court. Tactics appear to have changed since the lawsuit brought by Taib against Malaysiakini in 2007, after Malaysiakini reported a scandal in alleged kickbacks during timber exports.

Flurry of global news

The recent flurry of global news items on his family’s ostentatious wealth seems to have overwhelmed Taib’s lawyers.
Locally, Sarawakian lawmakers attempting to ask questions in Parliament have been stonewalled. Worse still, opposition representatives in the state legislative assembly have had their microphones silenced, and have seen parts of their speeches deleted from the Hansard.
Even so, Taib’s family must not place much hope on being able to silence all their growing critics, throughout the world. They may speak softly and carry a big stick, but they may already have drawn too much attention to their wealth.
The BMF concluded its press statement by calling on anti-corruption and anti-money laundering authorities to investigate Taib’s family, and urging international companies to shun doing business with the family, for “legal reasons” as well as to protect their reputations.

KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist - 'anak Sarawak, bangsa Malaysia’. This weekly column is an effort to provide a voice for marginalised Malaysians. Keruah Usit can be contacted atkeruah_usit@yahoo.com

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