OPEN LETTER: Those of you, who know us, know that we don’t wantonly flaunt our honorific “Datukship”. However, recent news in the local media has prompted us to do so. We would like to highlight the need for open and objective discussions on a “hot topic”.
The assemblyman for Sukau (Saddi Abdul Rahman) was quoted recently in the State Assembly questioning the integrity of personalities in civil society as part his argumentation to push for the development of a controversial bridge in Sukau, Kinabatangan.
Below is a response from Datuk Darrel Webber, Datuk John Brian Payne, and Datuk Glen Reynolds.
We refer to allegations made on 21 November at the Sabah State Assembly by YB Datuk Saddi Abdul Rahman, and published in the media (both online and mainstream), whereby the Assemblyman for Sukau claimed that NGOs were using wildlife conservation as a means to garner foreign funding for their own personal benefit.
It is our firmly held opinion that any discussion concerning the development of a project on the scale of the proposed river crossing at Sukau, involving a public road bridge and a subsequent new public road between the Kinabatangan and Segama rivers, must be predicated on the principle of being entirely objective and draw upon the most robust available evidence, including scientific research.
We have every confidence that the representatives of the NGOs referred to by the Sukau Assemblyman are motivated by this very principle, i.e. to inform the discussion regarding the possible environmental impacts of the construction of the bridge, drawing on best relevant research.
The scientists involved, and the organisations they represent, have a long history of generating highly regarded, independent science, as well as policy development and extensive local engagement – particularly with the Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah Forestry Department.
To denigrate these organisations and their respective directors publicly, is scurrilous and misrepresents both their motives and the quality and veracity of the scientific evidence which they seek to contribute to this debate.
Sabahans might say “Kita tackle bola, jangan tackle pemain” to express fair play. We urge that the Sukau Assemblyman heed such sound advice.
The Sukau Assemblyman’s allegation that personal financial gain is the motivating factor behind the positions adopted by NGOs on the Sukau bridge is egregious and must not go unchallenged.
The directors of NGOs operating in Malaysia tend to be paid at modest levels by international standards and if personal enrichment were the goal, one could earn significantly more by taking positions with any number of international NGOs, academic institutions or in the corporate sector – or possibly even as an Assemblyman.
We choose not to do so through a commitment to Sabah, its people and the world-leading conservation, research and sustainability programmes that Sabah supports.
We also note that in the Bahasa Malaysia media, the Sukau Assemblyman emphasises the lack of road access to Mukim Litang. For the record, this area has been served by the public Jalan Jeroco since the 1980s and all that is required to serve the Litang communities is for this road to be upgraded and properly maintained.
We strongly urge the Government of Sabah to weigh ALL the evidence that is available to inform this decision and balance, with complete objectivity, the potential long-term environmental and nature tourism impacts against the purported local livelihood benefits.
To reduce this important debate, with consequences for a sensitive ecosystem, to a series of completely unsupported, and indeed libellous, allegations of financial impropriety and self-enrichment, is beneath the dignity of a holder of public office and should be withdrawn forthwith.
We – in our individual and not institutional roles – urge the Sukau Assemblyman to engage, objectively and directly, with the available evidence base and expertise – and we suggest this take the form of a public debate and forum, which we would be happy to moderate.
Datuk Darrel Webber
Datuk Dr Junaidi Payne
Datuk Dr Glen Reynolds
- This letter was first posted in the Facebook account of Darrel Webber with a note to pass it on. This letter has since appeared in a number of other Facebook holders. BorneoToday made attempts to contact Webber to seek clarification, but he did not reply.