Australia's Green Party has put Ta Ann Tasmania 'on notice' over its logging activities and six years of losses despite being awrded 'numerous perks and subsidies' by the state.
A normal practice of Taib‚Äôs crony timber tycoons, such as the Yaw family (Samling Group) and Tiong Hiew King (Rimbinan Hijau) is to expand their foreign timber operations to countries that are politically weak with a slender democratic base.
But this has not been the case with Taib’s cousin Hamed Sepawi.
Hamed, who is the driving force behind Ta Ann and the beneficiary of numerous preferential concessions in Sarawak, has ventured into Tasmania with an eye on the growing market for ‚Äúeco-friendly‚ÄĚ timber.
No certification process in the world would touch the wood ripped out by Taib from Sarawak.
Indeed, Taib‚Äôs orgy of destruction in the Borneo rainforest is the major block in negotiations between Malaysia and the European Union over timber exports.
However, despite a none-too-healthy timber record in Tasmania, Australia has managed to get the relatively weak Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) accreditation.
The PEFC accreditation is far less rigorous than FSC labeling, but can be used to reassure those less informed consumers who are looking for sustainable products. It is this that has attracted Ta Ann.
They have done a deal with the local state run Forestry Tasmania to supply their mills with huge quantities of eucalyptus wood in a deal that lasts until 2027 and which Ta Ann are lobbying to extend till 2047.
The wood being supplied to Ta Ann is double the amount being taken by all the other logging operations in Tasmania combined.
Intrigue over Ta Ann
Tasmania‚Äôs lumber industry has been struggling for some time, partly because logging is not economical anymore and partly because of the growing determination of environmentally aware campaigners to protect what remains of one of the most valuable temperate forest areas in the world.
For these reason there has been a level of intrigue ever since 2005 as to how it was that Tasmania‚Äôs state government was persuaded to welcome in this foreign company at what have been clearly give-away rates.
Ta Ann was awarded numerous perks and subsidies to set up its mills, amounting to a tasty A$30 million all in, with the view of sustaining around 100 local jobs in Tasmania.
They are also being sold wood at such cheap rates that Hamed is on record as boasting that he is getting the wood cheaper than in Malaysia!
Six years since and the operation is losing the state of Tasmania’s money.
Yet a strong lobby of local politicians are fiercely defending the policy of continuing to treat Ta Ann as if it was some wonderful form of inward investment benefiting jobs and the economy.
To the contrary, as bewildered Greens and other critics are pointing out, Tasmania is losing its valuable hardwood to Ta Ann and losing money in the process!
Sarawakians can of course well identify with this problem of a state losing all its natural assets with very little to show for it publicly.
The Taib family have been the driving force behind such plunder for many years.
And in fact Ta Ann Tasmania has also so far failed to register any profit for taxation either, raising further questions as to why on earth such a strong political lobby is rushing to defend the company.
There have been calls for more transparency over the negotiations, which brought Ta Ann to Tasmania, an issue that is of course an equally familiar problem in Sarawak.
Ta Ann’a history revealed
It was against this background that I, as Editor of Sarawak Report, was invited by the Green Party to Hobart last week to provide some background on what had been regarded as a somewhat mysterious Malaysian company.
I was able to enlighten listeners at various events as to the corrupt nature of Sarawak‚Äôs politics and economic management and also to inform them of the status of Hamed as the executive chairman and largest shareholder of Ta Ann.
Hamed is also one of Taib‚Äôs key cronies and nominees in Sarawak.
I advised listeners of the letter recently sent to key members of the Australian government expressing concern that investments by the Taib family in Australia are effectively money-laundering the illegal profits gained from corruption and abuse of political power in Sarawak.
Such revelations caused great anger among Ta Ann supporters, provoking complaints in the Tasmanian parliament.
However, I can report that Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd immediately responded by forwarding the concerns in the letter to the Attorney General‚Äôs office in Australia, which is charged with investigating money laundering.
I have been informed that learning about the nature of Ta Ann and Hamed‚Äôs business dealings in Sarawak has changed the nature of the debate over the company‚Äôs operations in Tasmania.
Ta Ann ‘on notice’
Senator Bob Brown, the leader of the Green Party in Australia announced to the press on Thursday that Ta Ann Tasmania must henceforth consider itself ‚Äúon notice‚ÄĚ that the company and its activities are ‚Äúunder surveillance‚ÄĚ now that they had chosen to set up business in an open and democratic country.
He made clear that the Hamed company could not expect to get away with the sort of impunity with which it and other logging companies operate back home in Sarawak.
Further imminent revelations should put increased pressure on Hamed’s Australian operations, with regard to the ‚Äúeco-friendly‚ÄĚ claims that this Sarawak-based company is making about its products from Tasmania.
Clare Rewcastle Brown is the editor/founder of Sarawak Report. She is also a FMT columnist.