650 signatures collected against proposed dam project

The petition against the proposed Tutoh/Apoh cascading dam demanding for community engagement and consultation, has successfully collected 650 signatures in less than 2 months since it was organized. Currently, the signatories to this on-going petition come from 19 communities within the affected area who are made up of Kayan, Penan, Tering, Berawan and other ethnic groups.

“We ran this petition after repeated discussions with the communities affected in the Tutoh/Apoh Baram area, and it was important that we show what the majority consensus is on this issue from the ground-up,” says Celine Lim, the Managing Director of SAVE Rivers. “We have in all our direct communication with the Sarawak Premier office via our emails and letters since last October highlighted our deep concern on the lack of transparency and consultation and repeatedly demanded that our Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as Indigenous People be respected. Until today, we have not received any acknowledgement or response to all our letters and inquiries. In fact, their only response is them ‘debunking’ our claims in the press.”

Willie Kajan from Long Terawan says, “When the Sarawak government says they have received approval letters from the affected communities for this project, we wonder who the signatories of these letters are? So far, we have only seen photos of interactions between government representatives and our government appointed community leaders (ie. Temenggung, Penghulu, Ketua Kampung, and other pro-government groups, etc). But no one else outside this group is aware of the content of these interactions and there is no active effort to inform the majority as well.”

YB Senator Abun Sui, who hails from Belaga, one of the other areas that will be affected by the proposed cascading dam explains, ”It is better for the government themselves to organise a general public event for consultation and consent purposes directly because many of these government-appointed community leaders and even the representatives have failed to organise these sessions themselves. The government cannot bulldoze their plan without the open dialogue with all affected parties, and this is not reserved just for community leaders and representatives. Consulting them alone is not majority consent.”

“Until today, we still hear the Premier claiming in the news how this cascading dam will be beneficial for us, with minimal environmental impact and with approval from the communities affected. But we are so confused because no feasibility studies have even been carried out yet, and no direct consultations have been carried out with us. We are the communities that are living in this very area, yet we are still in the dark about the impact of this project,” Kajang Kalo from Long Nen shares his concerns.

The petition with the signatures has been submitted to the Premier office, with copies distributed to all relevant parties as well. Celine Lim continues to explain, “This petition is still ongoing and we are confident that from all our on-the-ground interactions with the communities, we will be collecting more signatures in the next few months. There are plans to highlight these concerns during the up-coming Sarawak Legislative Assembly in May as well. We, as the Civil Society Organisation (CSO), continue to advocate for the rights of the affected communities and to demand that all related stakeholders including government agencies, corporate investors, the finance system and policymakers to respect the concerns of the majority and not downplay them as premature or resistance to development. Any clean energy transition must prioritise the needs and concerns of vulnerable and marginalised groups. Decarbonised infrastructure needs to be fair and equitable for all members of society, and communities should not be sidelined in the name of climate action.”