KUCHING: Save Sarawak Rivers Network (SAVE Rivers) has denied having received funding from the Open Society Foundations (OSF) – a grantmaking network said to have been established and backed by billionaire George Soros.
However, SAVE Rivers chairman Peter Kallang admitted that his organised had been getting financial support from the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF).
Having said this, he strove to dispel the misconception about overseas funding being ‘huge and easy to come by’.
Kallang disclosed that it was actually difficult to obtain foreign funding as the process involved detailed and elaborate paperwork – ‘full of red tapes’, he described – and even when the applications were accepted, the fund size would not be as ‘big as many would imagine’.
“Over the last five years, we have only managed to get RM30,000 from BMF. We apply (for funds) whenever we need to organise some conferences and training for capacity-building. Even to get RM30,000 means a lot of paperwork. So far this year, we have not received a single cent from BMF.
“Although the financial aid from BMF is not much, they do help by giving us a lot of publicity,” Kallang told The Borneo Post yesterday.
As for International Rivers, Kallang said much like SAVE Rivers, the international non-governmental organisation (NGO) did not have much income.
He disclosed that during a previous conference here where the activists from International Rivers were invited over to present talks, SAVE Rivers had to pay for their transportation and accommodation.
On OSF, Kallang stressed that he had neither direct contact with Soros nor with anyone from OSF, nor had he received any funding from the billionaire worth US$24.2 billion (over RM100 billion).
“We (SAVE Rivers) have been raising our funds with help from friends and relatives. We have also tried to do it (fundraising) in Peninsular Malaysia. The bulk of our funds are still (attained) from within Malaysia – not from international NGOs or foundations.
“I had just returned from the US. Yes, I did try to raise (money) there, but only from friends and not from international foundations.”
Kallang also doubted the possibility of Baram natives having connection with OSF or Soros.
“Even I don’t have such contact – I don’t think the local natives have any connection with him (Soros). Those involved in putting up previous blockades to stop logging and dam building were helped by fellow villagers – nobody was involved with overseas NGOs.”
Kallang, who was an engineer for an international oil company before retirement, said it had been hard for activist NGOs to survive.
For his own activist work in Baram, he had been relying much on his own resources supplemented with donations from friends and supporters.
“Our involvement with Baram natives is also not how it has been imagined by outsiders. We only do advocacy for them – meaning we provide them with legal advice, helping them to draft letters, lodging police report (on their behalf).
“We do not give them money. We don’t even have enough to go around, so how can we afford to give them money?” he stressed.
Kallang was responding to recent statement made by Soros who clarified that the purpose of his financial sponsorship via OSF amounting to US$700,000 a year to Malaysian NGOs was not to topple the government, adding that such funding was non-partisan in nature.
The statement said OSF supported justice accountability and democratic practice around the world and in Malaysia, OSF provided the grants with the intention to promote public health, foster fair migration policies and encourage the civic and political participation of all Malaysian citizens.
“Other activities not centred on elections and voting include its support for Sarawak natives who are battling against dam development in the state,” the statement said.
An email was sent yesterday to OSF requesting it to reveal the beneficiary who had been helping in anti-dam movement in Sarawak. The Borneo Post has yet to receive any reply.
Meanwhile, Telang Usan assemblyman Dennis Ngau when contacted said he suspected that international NGOs were backing up the Baram natives in their anti-logging and anti-dam activities over last few years.
“Baram has been a hotbed of anti-government activities; for example, the anti-logging protests and the ‘Penan Drive’.
“I suspect that there has been foreign funding; otherwise, how could they have sustained for so long during the blockades? Even if they had gone around collecting donations, I believe that was just a decoy – one to hide the fact that they were getting foreign funds,” said Dennis.
The assemblyman said after the anti-government activities, the development in Baram had come to a standstill.
“Perhaps now Soros can help build roads for us here in the interior of Baram, since all the government’s good initiatives have to come to a stop because of the anti-government activities,” he argued.
Citing the examples of Bintulu’s natural gas and Singapore’s strategic position, Dennis said every place had to have a catalyst – be it natural resources or strategic location – to kickstart the development.
“Now with timber industry becoming less vibrant in Baram and the dam-building having been completely stopped due to anti-government activities, what else do we have here to kickstart development?
“So I call on Soros to help build roads for us. Baram people really need the RM3 billion to build a proper bitumen road system, with bridges, to connect all villages across the interior,” said the assemblyman.