International Hydropower Association’s World Congress: Excluding Indigenous Peoples & Supporting Corruption

The Borneo Convention Center, owned by the corrupt Chief Minister's family, will host the 2013 IHA World CongressThe International Hydropower Association (IHA), an industry lobbying group composed of dam-builders and institutions that claim to promote the “sustainable” use of hydropower, will be hosting its upcoming World Congress in Sarawak, Malaysia – a decision that has provoked criticism from concerned NGOs and dam-affected communities. By hosting the congress in Sarawak, one of the Malaysian states on the island of Borneo, the IHA is cooperating with the infamously corrupt government and thereby supporting the disfranchisement of Sarawak’s indigenous peoples.

Hydropower is currently at the core of Sarawak’s rapid industrial development scheme (known as Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, SCORE) which involves plans to build 12 new dams in the coming years, displacing thousands of indigenous peoples and flooding thousands of acres of the Borneo rainforest.

The Borneo Project has collaborated with SAVE Rivers Network, a Sarawak-based group of dam-affected communities, along with NGOs from the US and Switzerland, to write a letter to IHA director Richard Taylor expressing concerns over the upcoming World Congress and the IHA’s general role supporting Sarawak’s dam-building initiative.

The letter criticizes the IHA for the prohibitive admission fees to the Congress, which costs US  $1,950, thereby excluding low-income indigenous communities affected by dams from participating. The letter demands broader inclusion in discussions that are of utmost importance to the future of Sarawak’s native communities and their traditional forest-based livelihoods.

“We, the affected communities and the undersigned supporting NGOs therefore demand that IHA give free access to the congress to at least 20 affected people and an opportunity to talk at the opening session as well as any session that promotes the Sarawak dams,” the letter states.

Several questions are raised in the letter, including inquires about the IHA’s dam-assessment tool which has been used on the Murum Dam to claim it as sustainable while hiding poor practice and corruption, the results of which have not been released to the public.

The Chief Minister of Sarawak, Taib Mahmud, is known for selling land concessions for timber and palm oil to members of his elite family. The politically corrupt Taib regime has its hands in all aspects of Sarawak’s industries, having amassed stakes in over 300 Malaysian companies. The public energy utility in charge of building the dams, Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB), is headed by Taib’s cousin. SEB is a partner of the IHA and is allowing the Taib family to profit from state contracts that will not benefit Sarawak’s indigenous communities.

The Borneo Project and the other signatories to the letter also call into question the location choice for the IHA World Congress: the Borneo Convention Centre, a building complex constructed and run by the Taib family – the main beneficiaries of Sarawak’s corruption-driven dam plans.

In its support of the Taib government and the Sarawak dams, the IHA is denying the voice of indigenous communities in an international platform of discussion between financial and governmental institutions. Over 500 hydropower experts from around the globe are expected to attend.

“If the congress is to enter into any balanced and meaningful discussion on the Sarawak dams initiative, then it must extend an invitation for affected communities to participate,” the NGOs write. “Only when the full risks have been made clear can they make an informed decision as to whether or not their companies should invest in Sarawak dams.”

The IHA World Congress is taking place May 21-24 2013 in Kuching, Malaysia. The Borneo Project is demanding a response from the IHA by May 10th.

Read more about Stopping Dam Corruption in Sarawak

View the NGO letter to IHA_April 2013

Written by Simone Adler, Communications and Events Intern