Hornbill Unleashed

August 18, 2010

Bakun dam ready, but pledges to natives unfulfilled

NONEBy Aidila Razak

The construction of the Bakun Hydroelectric Dam may soon be over, with impoundment said to take place soon.

But the woes of the indigenous community forced to leave their ancestral home to make way for the multi-billion ringgit dam more than a decade ago have yet to be resolved.

Instead of the ‘development’ promised in 1998, said Kenyah lawyer Abun Sui Anyit, the 10,000-odd people have only experienced “reverse development” with living conditions continuing to slide.

“Nothing much has changed. When we lived in our original longhouses we had access to clinics and schools too. The difference is now we have gone ‘negative’ with so many bills to pay,” he said.

azlanBetween September 1998 and July 1999, about 10,000 Kayan, Kenyah, Lahahan, Ukit and Penan people were forced to uproot even though the project was halted the year before due to the Asian Financial Crisis.

Figures disclosed in Parliament showed that Ekran Sdn Bhd, directly awarded the project in 1994 six months before it produced an environmental assessment impact (EIA), was paid about RM1 billion as ‘compensation’ for the halt.

In 1996, the High Court ruled in favour of three members of the Bakun indigenous community who sued the federal and state government for not making the EIA available to them before approving it.

The appeal by the federal and Sarawak governments were, however, upheld by the Court of Appeal the following year.

Compensation yet unpaid

The federal government’s ‘generosity’ towards Ekran did not extend to the 1,640 families who were moved from their homes along the Hilir Balui to Sungai Asap, some 30km from the dam.

More than a decade since they were hurried to move, Kayan community member Hary Wing Miku said that none of the “verbal promises” of compensation made have been fulfilled.
In fact, Ekran, along with several other oil palm companies, continue to receive the better end of the deal, with the natives deprived of good cultivation land to make way for plantations.

Having been conceded three hectares per family despite their demands of 10 hectares, each family was finally allotted only 1.2 hectares of bad quality land each.

This led the natives to farm beyond their allotted land, leading to an eviction by the Land and Survey Department in 2007, despite calls for negotiations.

According to the Borneo Institute of Research, the idea was for the natives to work for the plantations, instead of growing their own food as per tradition.

Ironically, according to a report following a fact-finding mission by the Coalition of Concerned NGOs (Gabungan) in 1999, jobs were scarce, leaving the natives to survive on their compensation while struggling to adjust to a cash economy.

sam bakun catchment 210607 long singuIn fact, said Hary who was made to move as a teenager, whatever compensation they did receive was spent on fixing up the shoddy homes provided.

Shoddy homes

Gabungan found the longhouses, which were not awarded certificates of fitness, were shoddily made and that the wood used was rotting, barely a year after the move.

Hary added that many also had to spend large chunks of their compensation on buying four-wheel-drive vehicles to travel along the logging trails to the next town for provisions.

This is despite promises of roads, shops and other amenities and facilities like schools, clinics, electricity and water.

To date, Sungai Asap has a clinic, town centre and schools, although the dam contractor Malaysia China Hydro Joint Venture (MCHJV) noted that the secondary school was only built in 2008, 10 years after the move.

He added that many have opted to go without electricity and water after being slapped with a lump sum bill for usage between 1998 to 2008.

When they moved, it was promised that these amenities would be provided for free until they “can get used to cash transactions”.

Likewise, the natives were also shortchanged as poor survey work meant that large portions of land and crops were unaccounted for leading to inadequate compensation, which is slow to trickle in anyway.

The government has however shown more haste when it comes to collecting the RM52,000 as payment for the shoddy homes.

Not compenstated

But this is an amount the natives are refusing to pay since they did not get compensation for their homes which they had to leave, Hary said.

azlanTo their credit, MCHJV and other corporate stakeholders like Sime Darby, which have suffered losses of close to a billion ringgit on the project, have made efforts to alleviate the problems faced by the community.

Through crafts, the Internet and eco-tourism workshops, the companies, as well as the government, who recently announced more aide for Bakun smallholders, hope to create sustainable sources of income for the natives.

But for Abun Sui, it is a matter of too little too late, as the “cosmetic” efforts are not only distracting from the fact that compensation is still owed, but also fails to address the fundamental problems faced by the community.

“The government has been dealing with Bakun for 29 years and yet they had no plans on how to assist these communities in their transition to their new lives,” he said.

bakun dam resettlement sungai asap 051107There have been reports ofsocial ills growing among the “restless” youth in Sungai Asap, with teen pregnancy and heavy drinking on the rise, observed Bintulu-based Indigenous People Development Centre.

The steady stream of families leaving the settlement for their original homes, despite lack of amenities and risk ofeviction, is also evidence of failure to adjust, said Abun Sui.

“There have been cases in other dams around the world where the indigenous community are allowed to stay on the fringes of the dam, as the water is not going to be used for drinking. But here, they would rather give the land to plantation owners,” he said.

No guilt

The recent federal government announcement that it will allocate RM20 million for native and customary rights land surveys also came too late in the day for the Bakun community.

Their battle for NCR land was in April thwarted when the Court of Appeal sitting in Putrajaya upheld a Kuching High Court decision taken on April 28, 2008, removing all obstacles to impoundment.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the validity of the extinguishment of NCR under Section 5(3) and (4) of the Sarawak Land Code, whereby plaintiffs Bato Bagi and others cannot reclaim their former native customary land (NCL) for which the government has compensated them.

The government has also mostly stonewalled over their demands, with a memorandum sent to the then deputy prime minister Abdullah Badawi in 2001 coming to naught.

bn supreme council mt meeting sapp sabah issue 190608 taib mahmudAnother sent to the Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud (right) in 2008, demanding the fulfilment of promises made in 1998, was also not entertained.

The raising of these issues by Orang Ulu lawyer Baru Bian to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Integrity in 2006, headed by then Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Bernard Dompok, have appeared to have fallen on deaf ears.

This is perhaps not surprising considering Sarawak Land Development Minister and indigenous person James Masing’s stance, telling al-Jazeera that he has no guilt and that their approach to “development” of the indigenous is right.

Election hopes

Not to be cowed, however, Hary with the help of Abun Sui and other lawyers from the Sarawak Indigenous Lawyers’ Association (SILA) have drafted a 12-point document dubbed the Bakun Agreement outlining all the demands of the community.

The document, which is in its final stages of drafting, is a compilation of promises made by the government prior to the resettlement and is meant to be legally binding.

But abiding to this agreement will see the state and federal government forking out millions every year for as long as the dam is in use, or at least for 999 years, making it a very tall order.

But with the state election looming near, and the Belaga constituency where Bakun is located said to be a hot ticket, hope is still high.   –  MalaysiaKini

1 Comment »

  1. … hear from Kenyah on the failed promise of resettlement:

    You can’t eat the road (from Sarawak Gone)


    Comment by Bellamy — August 18, 2010 @ 8:47 AM | Reply

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