Sarawak state government actions do not match recent statements made by Adenan Satem, Taib Mahmud’s successor as Chief Minister of Sarawak since March 2014. In May 2015, Satem reiterated his commitment (FW199) to take on corruption in the timber industry while completing his first official visit overseas. During a special session hosted by the High Commission of Malaysia in London, Satem told representatives from UK-based environmental NGOs and indigenous groups from Sarawak that, under the new Forest Bill (2015), no more concessions will be granted for timber and no new plantations permitted.
However, it remains to be seen whether Satem will help resolve outstanding issues in the ongoing VPA negotiations between the EU and Malaysia. Sarawak’s refusal to open up its logging trade to Timber Legality Assurance System (TLAS) scrutiny – an integral part of VPAs – has been a major barrier to the conclusion of the partnership. Yet during the questions session at the High Commission event, Satem provided no clear information about Sarawak’s position vis-à-vis the VPA process.
Moreover, a few days later, the Sarawak state government approved the controversial 1,200 megawatt Baram Dam, financed by China, which will flood a rainforest area half the size of Singapore, displace 20,000 indigenous people and destroy wildlife. The announcement is a major disappointment for the Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia (JOAS) and the indigenous groups that have been blockading the access points for the project construction for more than 600 days.