Recent claims of local support for the Baram Dam coupled with promises of compensation and resettlement from problem-ridden Batang Ai and Bakun Dams have bolstered the opposition to Taib, Chief Minister of Sarawak. Protests have escalated as the affected Baram people voice concerns that Taib and his supporters are falsifying their position and making empty promises.
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Miri 6th April 2013 – Save Rivers is indeed astonished by the recent statement on the Baram Dam made by Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hassan, the Second Minister of Resource Planning and Environment Sarawak; It was reported in the Borneo Post, “People Warming up to proposed Baram HEP-Awg Tengah”, dated 4th April 2013. In his press conference, the minister claimed that response to the proposed dam from the people in Baram is now good due to “the explanation given to them”. In saying this, the minister seems to be completely oblivious to the persistently opposing voices from the people of Baram against the proposed dam.
Instead, the minister is using just the idea of a new township to invite support for a decision on the dam. The decision to build the dam seem to have already been finalised by the politicians even before all necessary studies are carried out or the Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) is obtained through meaningful engagement. The fact is that the majority of the people are still against the proposed dam. For the government to make decision in building the dam without meaningful consultation and studies is with complete disregard to recognised international standards like the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to which Malaysia is a party.
Ever since the Baram people heard about the proposal for construction of the dam, there have been numerous and various types of protest against the project. Even at the public gathering in Long Lama on 23rd February, referred by Awg Tengah, where the Sarawak Chief Minister made the announcement about the proposal for the new township[i], there was a demonstration by the people held next to the gathering where the politicians were delivering their speeches. The protest was both with boats on the river and protestors on the streets of Long Lama.
The demo that day managed to draw the attention and support from the people at the political speech by Taib where Awg Tengah was present. A lot of those present at the speech got out to join in the protest outside. When questioned later, those in Long Lama that day said that they were in town because they were told that the government was going to use the occasion to distribute money for them.[ii] The people were not given any chance to voice out their opinion or raise any questions at the political gathering with the Chief Minister. The podium was monopolised by politicians and community leaders who were in agreement with the proposal.
We in Save Rivers are people from Baram and not outsiders as stated by Awg. Tengah. So as people of Baram, the members of Save Rivers are puzzled by Awg Tengah when he said “the people are excited with the prospect and some even wanted the township and the construction of the dam to commence earlier”. This is yet another example of the highhanded ways of the local politicians, who are interested only in exploiting the natural resources and in the process they totally disregard the opinion and welfare of the people affected.
On the 8th of March after the event in Long Lama, another session which was touted as a dialogue with the Chief Minister about the proposed new township was held at Mega Hotel, Miri for the Baram people living in Miri. At that session, like the one held in Long Lama, there was a protest in front of the hotel by the Baram people. Meanwhile, at the event itself, there were only five persons from the floor who were given the chance to ask questions or give comments. Out of the five who stood up, only one person could be directly affected by the proposed Baram dam if it is built. Most of the people who attended the session were not those affected by the proposed dam, in fact a lot of them were government servants from Miri or members of ethnic associations who were not from the Baram area. The session could hardly be labelled as a meaningful and with full engagement of the people.
To convince the public and the people affected to support the dam projects, the politicians have been claiming that the resettlement terms and condition would be done to the satisfaction of those affected. Promises are made for better compensation and various opportunities to improve the standard of living for those affected. They claim that mistakes made at earlier dams would not be repeated.
So, when they built Bakun dam they promised that they would not repeat the mistake done in Batang Ai. However, today while many problems in Batang Ai are still not resolved, those affected by Bakun are in an even worst problematic situation than those in Batang Ai.
As for Murum dam, the first of the twelve dams proposed to be built after Bakun, it is not spared from problems regarding compensation and resettlement either. The problems faced by those affected by the Murum dam led to a blockade by the villagers last year. These problems at Murum for the people affected are still not resolved to this day. The government is not honest and prudent in these matters. It is not too late to find solutions so as to alleviate the problems faced by those affected by the three dams but the government is not doing anything.
At various occasions, Sarawak Energy Berhad and the Sarawak state government claimed that the dam projects in Sarawak are implemented based on world standard. However what is proven by the dams already built and those planned to be built are anything but the best practice based on world standard. The focus of the proponents of the dams in Sarawak seems to be just building dams. They want to build as many dams in as little a time as possible. It seems that the viability of the dams, the preservation of the environment or the welfare of those affected are not paramount in the implementation of these projects.
The people of Baram and all those who could be affected by the proposed dams must be wary of the promises made by the proponents of the dam projects especially for the much promoted new township. [iii] The people affected by the Bakun dam were also lured with the promise of a new township in Sungai Asap. In those days the government said that Sungai Asap was the place where they would have better standard of living. They were promised with more opportunities, good infrastructures and modern day amenities.
But today, about 70 % of those resettled to Sungai Asap have abandoned the “township” in search for living elsewhere since they do not find it in the resettlement area as promised. Now, for the victims of the Bakun dam it is too late because their lands are all drowned and their past endeavours inundated. In their old homes, they always had the land to ensure that they would never go hungry or to be in total deprivation. Let us remember the saying which goes, “Once beaten twice shy”. Let us learn from other people’s mistake and avoid committing them ourselves. To all those who could be affected by the proposed Baram dam, never believe in the sweet talks by someone who is known to be insincere. The past practices by the government are proofs of their insincerities. We in SAVE Rivers want all plans for the Baram dam and the other proposed mega dams to be totally scraped immediately.
For queries please contact:
Peter Kallang, Chairman SAVE Rivers
H/Phn: 013 833 1104
[iii] Some claim that the project is on hold while others say that it will be constructed in 2014 and some others said it will be constructed in 2015.