It all began with the despair of a few young girls who had been raped by workers in the timber industry of Sarawak's interior. The girls were Penan. The loggers had the protection of one man, the
chief minister of the state.
Nevertheless, one woman in West Malaysia had the power to intervene and bring justice to the raped women. She didn't.
As minister in charge of the affairs of the women of Malaysia, she failed. Not because she could not have done something about it. Her ministry presented a report eight months after the rapes were highlighted, but that was the end of her involvement.
The system may have been stacked against her but in the end, money talks. Greed, power and position all play a part. Money helps silence people and oil the wheels of dishonesty and immorality.
Malaysians elect their MPs to represent their interests and concerns in the Dewan Rakyat, but as events have shown in 2011, our Parliament lacks leadership. Perhaps, in GE-13, Malaysians can resolve to do better and elect people who are responsible, committed and dedicated to serving the public.
East and West Malaysia have found two politicians Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and Women, Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, whose lives were inextricably linked by the Penan.
The Penan, a nomadic community whose culture, livelihood and land are threatened, have opposed the large scale destruction of the rainforest from logging, oil palm plantations and the construction of mega-dams.
In 2011, events focused on the alleged corrupt activities of Taib and Shahrizat. The latter's involvement is a tiny pittance, totalling around RM300 million (that we know of) when compared with the multi-billions of ringgit, Taib has squandered.
If only Shahrizat showed the resolve...
For the Penan, RM15 a day, to feed, clothe and nurse his family, is a godsend.
If only Shahrizat showed the same amount of resolve and determination in saving the Penan women and girls as she did in saving her own skin.
If only Taib used his wealth to help his people, especially those who have been marginalised, rather than justifying the multi-billions of ringgit in the wealth of his children, extended family and close friends.
If only Prime minister Najib Abdul Razak respected his own soundbites of ‘1Malaysia' and ‘People First, Performance Now', which he used to seduce the public into seeking a clear mandate to govern.
To be fair, of the three ministers above, Najib was not elected PM and Shahrizat became a member of the cabinet through the backdoor, for she had lost in the 2008 election and was ‘rescued' by Badawi and later promoted to the rank of minister by Najib.
Only Taib can claim to have been legitimately elected, even if the election was rigged.
Investigations by the MACC and the police into Taib's and Shahrizat's activities are just token efforts, conducted to appease the public. Najib has failed to show any leadership qualities. His handling of the corruption scandals has eroded public confidence in his administration.
Taib exploited Sarawak and over four decades, stripped it of its wealth and in the process stripped the people of their rights. Radio Free Sarawak, Sarawak Report and Bruno Manser Fund have exposed details of Taib's alleged large-scale corruption and of his money-laundering activities abroad.
Born into an impoverished family, he has amassed a multi-billion ringgit fortune, built from Sarawak's natural resources, and today, he and his family's wealth is held in eight countries, 80 companies worldwide, 300 Sarawak companies and totals US$1.46 billion.
As a further insult, Taib defended his offspring's wealth by saying that "my children are clever".
'Penan are primitive and promiscuous liars'
To defend the source of his wealth, Taib hindered investigations into the Penan rapes. Logging has been promoted as ‘development' and the Penan people have been painted as primitive and promiscuous liars.
The state deputy chief minister, Alfred Jabu allegedly claimed that the Penans were ‘good storytellers'.
When James Masing, Sarawak Land Development minister, was interviewed about the Penan by the BBC's Today programme in 2009, he said, ".... the Penan are a most interesting group of people and they operate on different social etiquette as us... a lot this sex by consensual sex." (sic)
The BBC correspondent Angus Stickler related how Mary, a young Penan teenager, had been dragged, beaten unconscious, then raped after she had hitched a ride to school on a logging truck. She and other girls had become pregnant. A federal government task force had confirmed that girls as young as 10 had been raped by loggers.
James Masing's response to the BBC was: "They change their stories, and when they feel like it. That's why I say Penan are very good storytellers."
Sadly, MPs are increasing isolating themselves from the rest of the electorate whom they claim to represent. As public figures, they have forgotten that their lives, both public and private, will be heavily scrutinised.
The Malaysian Parliament appears to be a place for money-making schemes, an institution for self-aggrandisement and for furthering politicians' personal interests. As events have shown in 2011, Parliament has failed to promote the needs and interests of Malaysians.
In the recent National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) scandal, Shahrizat's performance in protecting her position in Wanita Umno and as a minister has been impressive.
Many ministers and politicians have openly supported her. Perhaps, they too have skeletons in the closet and are fearful that these may be exposed. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
The latest ‘datuk', to take the rap, is another distraction and a small compromise by Najib and his spin-doctors to appease the public. Perhaps, Najib hopes we will forget.
At the Umno general assembly, Shahrizat was incensed with the opposition's PKR Wanita chief Zuraida Kamaruddin for implicating her family in the NFC project.
Shahrizat said, "Their political agenda is very clear. They are shaky, just like that PKR Wanita chief. I'm ashamed that a Malaysian woman can be like that."
It is a shame Shahrizat did not use the same resolve to defend the Penan women who were raped three years ago. If Shahrizat does not know it, Malaysian women are ashamed of her.
MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In ‘real-speak', this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.