Malaysia: Australian University Removing Sarawak Governor’s Name from Plaza

Dennis Wong
Kuching
2016-07-14
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160714-my-sarawakgoverner-620.jpg University of Adelaide students protest in September 2015 over a plaza on-campus named in honor of Sarawak Gov. Abdul Taib Mahmud.
Courtesy of the No to Taib Mahmud Court at Adelaide University campaign

An Australian university has decided to rename a campus plaza honoring alumnus and Sarawak Gov. Abdul Taib Mahmud, amid pressure from environmental activist groups who have alleged that he has profited immensely from illegal logging in the eastern Malaysian state.

A spokesman for the University of Adelaide said its council had decided in April to rename the Taib Mahmud Court to the Colombo Plan Alumni Court, and that new signs were being posted to reflect the change.

“The university’s council is free to name facilities as it wishes, it had no obligation in relation to this court,” university spokesman Lachlan Parker said in an emailed response to questions from BenarNews.

“The University wished to honor all of its Colombo Plan graduates, who include two presidents of Singapore, the governor of Sarawak and many prominent Asian government and business leaders,” he said, referring to alumni who were admitted as students through Colombo Plan scholarships.

The decision to make the change came after a two-year campaign by the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) and the Bob Brown Foundation (BBF) to pressure the university to stop honoring Taib, a former long-time chief minister of Sarawak who has been accused of benefiting from the illegal cutting of timber and clearing of tropical rainforests in the states, BMF said in a statement on Wednesday.

BMF is a Swiss-based NGO that campaigns for forest conservation in Sarawak and BBF is an Australian environmentalist group.

In November 2015, indigenous Penan community leaders from Sarawak sent a letter to University of Adelaide Vice Chancellor Warren Bebbington requesting that it pay back all financial gifts received from Taib because the money was needed for Sarawak’s rural development and conservation of its rainforest.

BMF and BBF also called on the university to pay back AU $400,000 (U.S. $305,000) received from Taib, who is better known as Pak Uban (white-haired uncle).

Parker said that the university had had no contact with Taib for more than a decade.

Taib, who received a law degree in 1960 and honorary doctorate in 1994 from the university in South Australia, has been a major benefactor to the university, its website indicated. The chief minister of Sarawak for 33 years, Taib became governor in 2014 despite allegations of corruption that have mainly come from abroad.

In May, Malaysian media reported that an Australian senate committee had opened an investigation into money-laundering allegations against Taib’s family over multi-million dollar real estate deals and assets in Australia, including AU$55 million given to the Adelaide Hilton hotel, which Taib’s family owns.

Sarawak social activist Peter John Jaban said it was about time that the university removed Taib’s name from the plaza.

Save Rivers Network secretary Mark Bujang called the university’s original decision to name the plaza for Taib inappropriate in light of the complaints against him.

Taib’s office did not respond to BenarNews requests for comment.

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