Yesterday’s appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People by no less than 19 civil society organisations, including WWF Malaysia, the Centre for International Environmental Law and South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership, is a damning document.
It demands intervention by the international peace organisation over the state’s bogus ‘Nature Conservation Agreement’ on the grounds that the secretly signed deal has been found to contain no fewer than 30 references to the UN and its sustainable development goals in an apparent attempt to misleadingly suggest the organisation is involved and setting the standards of the agreement.
“The NCA, which not once mentions the existence of Indigenous Peoples or Native Customary Rights, instead refers to the role of the United Nations 12 times and its SDGs no less than 18 times.” [Letter to UN Special Rapporteur]
Sarawak Report’s sister NGO has already pointed out the danger of such hijacking by ‘carbon cowboys’ in the absence of sufficient oversight and enforcement by the United Nations, which has presided over a structure for carbon trading known as REDD.
It is quite clear, as the complaint details in full, that Sabah’s hundred year proposal that was hustled through and signed off by the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister in secret, without notifying the state cabinet nor parliament, let alone any of the state’s indigenous and other stakeholders, complies with none of the UN rules and has not been drawn up under the auspices of international law.
Indeed, when the actual document was finally made public, thanks to legal action by the indigenous leader Adrian Lasimbang backed by numerous local civil rights groups, even the state Attorney General came out to disown its terms and to claim it was merely a provisional guideline rather than legally binding (she had notably refused to sign the document and the Conservator of Forests has complained he was forced to do so).
That the AG’s claim was unfortunately untrue is self evident in that the flawed and illegal document (described as “Incomplete”, “illegal”, “inequitable”, “absurd”, “unfair” in the AG’s own statement) has been termed as “binding” and contains absurdly generous penalty clauses for the private company, Hoch Standard Pty Ltd (set up to receive 30% of all profits from carbon sales) in the event of any cancellation.
Indeed, as the dossier to the UN makes clear, the politician behind the deal, deputy chief minister Jeffrey Kitingan, is already on the warpath threatening to bring down Sabah’s ruling coalition if the NCA is not fully endorsed and is likewise threatening to sue those media and campaigners who have exposed the situation.
“The Chief Conservator of Forests told Al Jazeera that he had been “pressured” to sign though present the Attorney General did not sign or witness the Nature Conservation Agreement [NCA]. Kitingan overrode these obstacles by threatening to pull his party out of the ruling coalition to bring down the State Government if the NCA was not signed” [Complaint to UN Special Rapporteur]
So, who is this deputy leader who is now holding his own state government hostage by virtue of the ‘kingmaker’ seats he won during a state election triggered partly by his own defection from the previous state government?
The complaint signed up to by this long list of prestigious organisations lays out a damning profile of Kitingan’s record, which would leave any reader in no doubt whatsoever that this man is the last person who ought to be deciding the future of Sabah’s forest management.
The last time he was in charge of Sabah’s forests, details the complaint, an estimated ONE BILLION DOLLARS WENT MISSING from the state coffers, owing to a web of dubious business deals authorised by him, likewise in the name of conservation and helping indigenous people. Meanwhile vast tracts of timber were plundered instead of protected.
This was during Kitingan’s tenure as CEO of the Sabah Foundation for a decade from the mid-1980s (his brother being the chief minister at the time). And the person he had appointed to manage those various loss-making enterprises was none other than Stan Lassa Golokin, who has emerged as the ‘authorised representative’ of the Singapore shell company, Hoch Standard.
“Stan Golokin and other NCA protagonists were documented in these reports as close business associates of Kitingan dating from the period (1986-1994) in which he ran Sabah Foundation (holders of one million hectares of the state’s forest estate), proposing schemes to earn outsized revenues to improve Sabah’s political standing in the Malaysian Federation. Ultimately, claim multiple contemporary media, legal and academic sources, a Price Waterhouse audit found $1 billion unaccounted for and a whole array of failed businesses, foreign shell companies, logged-out forests and elaborate pricing ruses diverting money from the public purse. Kitingan was detained under the notorious national security legislation, but avoided the many regular corruption charges through a series of technicalities in the Hong Kong and Malaysian courts and ultimately by defecting to the Federal Government. Golokin left the country at that time. Since this history is well-known, the prospect of similar financial opportunities under the NCA appeared to attract many in the business-political class to align themselves with Kitingan. In contrast, civil society despaired thatthe State Attorney General’s efforts to require the basic due diligence to verify any such relationships were obstructed since at least May 2021 by NCA protagonists, especially Kitingan.” [letter to UN Special Rapporteur]
Despite its recent incorporation, lack of staff and token S$1,000 capital Kitingan has touted Hoch Standard as a “global player, involved in private equity funding all over the world” claiming it has the requisite expertise to manage Sabah’s forest conservation thanks to plainly bogus claims about international expertise, resources and capacity.
Kitingan has gone on to boast publicly that huge sums of money will be accessible from global carbon markets through his plan, claiming it will earn $800 million (RM3.2 billion) a year in carbon funding to the state of Sabah. However, the NGO complaint says that the claim is hugely over estimated – they suggest by 80 times!
The situation has led many to conclude that the real goal of Kitingan and his colleagues is to activate the cancellation clauses in favour of Hoch Standard or to sell on its rights based on these inflated claims of worth.
In which case, the question that Kitingan refuses to answer remains glaring. Who owns Lionsgate BVI, the anonymous shareholder of Hoch Standard which stands to make vast profits out of bogus claims at the expense of the people of Sabah?
Opponents in Sabah have rightly called for a criminal investigation by the anti-corruption commission into the Carbon Cowboy deal. However, with a federal government dependent on the state government that is dependent on Kitingan there is little chance the rule of law will be applied.
Since the Sabah election was triggered by the coup government, thanks to defectors such as Kanga Kitingan in 2020, Malaysia has become victim once more to rampant plundering by a clique of grasping kleptocrats who have scrambled to make themselves rich thanks to their illegitimate seizures of power and overthrow of an elected government.
Najib’s posturing as UMNO’s mascot in the latest Johor election may be the emblem just how low the country’s leadership has sunk, but this outrageous attempt at grand theft through an illegal agreement under political duress is the most blatant example of a slide into anarchy in Malaysia under a government of thieves and rejects.
The UN must respond to this appeal and roundly condemn and prosecute Sabah’s disgraceful Carbon Cowboy scandal.
READ THE LETTER TO THE UN HERE