Sunday, December 3, 2006

Where Darkness Still Rules

[Original email dated Sun, 16 Jan 2000]

I read a report in the Star (14 Jan 2000) on the media briefing convened by SPLASH - the company formed to build the Selangor Dam - in which their executive chairman, Tan Sri Wan Azmi Wan Hamzah, sneeringly dismissed dam-resisting nature lovers as "tree huggers".

Wan Azmi himself prefers chainsaws to hugs. His floundering company, Land & General, effectively logged half of Papua New Guinea before running into serious debt with a failed housing project called Lembah Beringin. As 40% shareholder in the RM2.1 billion Selangor Dam project, TSWA (Tan Sri Wan Azmi masquerading as The Sweet Water Alliance) stands to gain mightily in the dam scam (which ultimately includes 3 new dams in Pahang and 8 in Johore).

In April 1999 Tan Sri Wan Azmi paid a visit to Kg Orang Asli Pertak and we had a rare opportunity to converse for nearly two hours, seated on a rock overlooking the sun-splashed Sungai Luit. We were watched intently by the local Secret Police, but the dialogue flowed civilly and smoothly. Wan Azmi is definitely the most sophisticated entrepreneur I've encountered in a long time. He can make anyone feel rather naïve, so polished is his cynicism, so crisp his sense of paradox and irony, so weighty his affable worldliness.

Tan Sri Wan Azmi (right) impressed me as a highly cultivated urbane intelligence, articulate and aristocratic. After listening to me very attentively, he remarked that very few people on earth would understand what I had revealed to him - implying thereby that he was among the few. I do not doubt that he did indeed understand the full import of my friendly warning, and the fact that he has announced the commencement of the Selangor Dam project indicates that my estimation of his character was essentially correct.

Without wanting to condemn or judge a fellow human, I would describe Tan Sri Wan Azmi as someone to avoid sitting at the same table with at a Chinese dinner. Unless you are on a diet, of course. Nor would I entrust him with the future of our precious natural heritage. We shook hands as we parted, and I felt that he could so easily have turned out to be a true nobleman and patron of the arts - if it weren't for his beady eyes and pudgy fingers which gave me cause to suspect that he was, alas, another greedy little crony piggy fallen on lean times. They say our fate is written in our palms, but eternal optimist that I am, I say it's never too late to step out into the Light and redeem our destinies.

At the media briefing, Tan Sri Wan Azmi and Gamuda chairman Datuk Lin Yun Ling (left) were reportedly squirming in their seats when hit with pointed questions from members of the press. "I don't know why you guys are so suspicious," Wan Azmi was quoted as saying.

Shall we tell them the plain truth? At the risk of deflating their well-fed egos and foiling their best-laid schemes to replenish their private coffers at the public's and posterity's expense? Can we afford NOT to when so much natural beauty is at stake?