The saintly Sibu logging companies have made clear that their ‘development’ activities, stripping out billions of dollars worth of timber from Sarawak, Papua and other Southeast Asian jewels of natural heritage has been done for decades at a loss.
Yet miraculously it appears their overall efforts have resulted in massive property and business investments throughout the region.
New Zealand observers were left more than astonished yesterday when news reports revealed that the Tiong family, owners of Rimbunan Hijau, now diversified into a massive conglomerate, have emerged as the second biggest landowner in that country with a massive 77,686 hectares in their name.
Significantly, the other three also of the four largest landowners in the country are also foreign loggers – indicating the lucrative nature of the business after all.
Tiong family (77,686 hectares): The Malaysia-based, family-owned Tiong Group own forestry, media and property assets around the world. Their land holdings in New Zealand include the Ernslaw One forests, New Zealand King Salmon, and land owned by their property and land development company, The Neil Group. [The Stuff Business, NZ]
The Tiong family now control the largest Chinese newspaper conglomerate globally (Media Chinese International Limited (MCIL) along with numerous other businesses, including plantations oil and gas. However, the family business has its roots in the Sibu timber business after founder Tiong Hiew King found his first job with his uncle, the owner of Sarawak’s first logging giant WTK.
These two inter-twined family enterprises have stressed the voluntary nature of their activity in razing Sarawak’s forests to be largely replaced with oil palm, given that for decades they continued the ‘progressive’ activity on behalf of the state and its people whilst declaring the most miserable profits.
They repeated the process in Papua New Guinea, where the company has achieved almost total state capture of the local economy.
Such philanthropic bent has naturally endeared the company to leading politicians in both countries, particularly their key benefactor in Sarawak when it comes to behind the scenes timber, plantation and oil concessions, namely the long term Chief Minister and present Governor, Abdul Taib Mahmud.
Rimbunan Hijau is one of the top six timber companies receiving the lions share of concessions – and also buying up concessions that had previously been placed in the hands of Taib family members. Likewise, having expanded into oil and gas Tiong has been picking up Sarawak offshore concessions too.
Taib is famous for his own massive unexplained wealth and assets and the fact that his children and family members have now gained dominant ownership of most of the Sarawak economy. Members of the Tiong family have taken key political positions in Sarawak’s SUPP party.
Both the Taib and Tiongs have been spotted together in business ventures, as with other logging cronies with whom the Governor has had close social relationships for decades. Notably, early last year as Sarawak moved to take control of oil concessions from Petronas, the joint venture company selected to work with the state concern Petros, Southsea Energy, boasted Tiong’s brother as the managing director. There is evidence the secretive owners of Southsea Energy are none other than the Taib family.
The Rimbunan Hijau group’s record of environmental destruction, careless logging and plantations practices and the violation of indigenous and workers rights has filled many pages of condemnation relating to both Sarawak and Papua New Guinea. So, it is perhaps little surprise that having been invited in there New Zealand has also suffered from the same sort of disastrous consequences caused by logging by this company:
Rimbunan Hijau owns Oregon Group in New Zealand of which a subsidiary Ernslaw One recently came under fire for causing serious environmental damage in Tolaga Bay together with Hikurangi Forest Products, owned by another of the Sarawak big six, Samling. What a turn up for the books.
See the New Zealand article here.