Hornbill Unleashed

November 15, 2013

Who To Believe? Torstein Sjotveit and SEB’s Propagada Or The Penan Pengulu?

Removed from his post - no wonder the Pengulu lost his job, yet in their media propaganda SEB still pretend he is their supporter!Sarawak Report

The quite shocking duplicity of Sarawak Energy (SEB)’s full-force propaganda drive has been exposed once again by a simple film.

In this latest documentary from Tegulang, the resettled Penan from Murum have been allowed to speak for themselves, instead of having SEB and Bernama speak for them to tame journalists.

And the very Penan leader, Pengulu Pao Tului, whom SEB portrayed for months as the man who willingly negotiated with them, has gone on camera to slam the way his community has been treated.

Far from being delighted at a “better future” and “massive and immediate improvements in standard of living”, the former Pengulu describes how the energy company and state government consistently refused to negotiate or meet his people’s demands as they were driven from their sacred forest lands.

Speaking in the dusty and insanitary building site, into which the people of Long Wat have been forcibly ‘resettled’, the Pengulu explains how Penan were so desperate, after years of attempted negotiation with SEB, that they finally dropped their compensation demand from RM500,000 (US$150,000) to merely RM100,000 (US$31,000) per family, because they thought maybe the government didn’t have enough money!

Shocking lack of support for this traditional community

But, even then SEB has refused this compensation.

So, desperately they dropped again to RM3,000 per month per family as a living allowance.

But, in the end the state-owned company has offered only a below minimum living allowance of RM850 per month per family and merely for 4 years, despite having moved the hunter-gatherer community to an area in which they have no practical likelihood of being able to make a living in such a short time period.

Shocking new conditions by SEB

Even more shocking is the Pegulu’s new revelation that the community have just learned the bulk of this pathetic payment will be handed to them “in kind” and that they are only to expect a penurious RM250 in cash each month to cover all their expenses, including transport in this isolated area miles from the river!

So, now we know the meaning of SEB’s often repeated claim that they are offering the Penan “items worth more than RM600,000″ in compensation for the loss of their lands and livelihood.  Clearly, this is merely a subjective figure arrived at by the company, in a one-sided calculation of the costs incurred, owing to the inconvenience of having to relocate these tiresome human beings.

The actual financial compensation offered is RM250 a month per family for 4 years.  Live on that yourself Torstein Sjotveit!

Bewildered Penan were left wondering if Taib was short of money!

The only possible explanation for this conduct is vicious meanness on the part of those very decision makers, who are going to the UN and to journalists and weeping crocodile tears about their mission to improve the lives of the indigenous people of Sarawak.

That this pathetic community  were left wondering if the wealthy State of Sarawak and the company which has borrowed RM30billion for its dam building programme could afford to provide them with even a minimum wage is sadly laughable.

Torstein Sjotveit, meanwhile, has made sure the money is flowing at over a million dollars a year into his own salary package and hundreds of millions are being diverted into the family companies of his boss, the Chief Minister Taib Mahmud.

Propaganda that just doesn’t stand scrutiny

The testimony of Pengulu Pao Tului quite simply means that the all self-congratulating nonsense put out by the likes of the Sarawak Energy Chief,Torstein Sjotveit, is completely untrue.

Classic propaganda pose as Torstein Sjotveit promotes his 'humanitarian mission' to make the lives of the Penan 'better'.

Torstein has displayed a gallery of photos of himself with the Pengulu and people of Long Wat, gushing about how he is helping him by destroying their landscape and flooding their sacred sites and implying they are delighted at his kind interventions:

A sense of relief came to me knowing that development was on the way to them. Development that would address the prime issues of amenities, education and jobs.”[Torstein Sjotveit, ‘My Visit To Long Wat‘]

SEB's PR made out that  Pengulu Pao Tului was a great supporter of Torstein Sjotveit - a very different picture has now emerged.

It is particularly telling that this very Pengulu Pao Tului, who spoke so bitterly last month, is still being portrayed by SEB and the media as a staunch supporter of the ‘kind’ actions of the state government and its energy company.

Just two days ago, Bernama and the Borneo Post were quoting him as agreeing that the community’s grievances had been “solved through negotiations and dialogue” in an article entitled “Penans in Murum build their lives for a better future”!

Churning out the propaganda, but the people themselves tell a different story

This same article recycles the same old SEB propaganda about “immediate massive improvements” and blames absent NGOs for the widespread Penan protests:

“They are also to be given free housing of one unit of the longhouse per family of 1,300 sq ft, clean and stable water supply, electricity supply with subsidised monthly allocation of RM40 per family, free Astro Njoi package (Malaysian cable television) for every longhouse, integrated community halls with chapel and kindergarten, school, own garden plot per family and medical assistance.”[Borneo Post]

However, the film makes it perfectly plain that none of these facilities exist and the Pao Tului confirms the community have been given no information about whether or when they will ever be actually provided.

Meanwhile, he and other spokesmen make plain the community is living in discomfort and uncertainty, with disrupted services and precious little cash compensation.

Could this be the reason why the man who led the Penan negotiations with SEB for the past years; who went to Kuching last year and who has represented his increasingly frustrated community, has now just been stripped of his position by the state government?

Are they seeking to punish Pengulu Pao Tului, while attempting to present him as their supporter at the same time?

If so, it is clear that the only punishment he fears is that of his own ancestral spirits for failing to pray proper forgiveness for the disruption of their once flowing river and sacred places.  The Penan have yet to gain the opportunity to hold their ceremony and SEB have not even provided the money to buy small sacrifices to make to these troubled spirits and ancestors.

The words of Pengulu Pao Tului (in answer to yards of SEB propaganda in Malaysia’s BN newspapers)

“At the very beginning we had meetings with the authorities and I didn’t allow a dam to be built in this place.  We have been negotiating for several times.  There was a time we met with one YB and three foreigners. They even stayed at my old longhouse. So, I told them before I left, “once you get back to Kuching or Kuala Lumpur you can tell the Chief Minister or the Prime Minister bring all your soldiers and weapons and kill all the Penan of this area”.  That is what I told them before the dam was built. I told them “after you have killed all the Penan then you go ahead and you can build the Murum Dam”.  But finally we were not able to stop them building the Murum Dam.

The reality of the willing negotiations described by SEB and their visit to the "welcoming" Penan.

So we asked them to pay RM500,000 per family instead. We waited for years but our demand was not fulfilled. Recently, on 23rd February 2013 we had another meeting in Kuching.  At that meeting I offered to reduce by RM200,000 then another RM100,000 then to RM100,000.  Since they had refused to pay us RM500,000 for such a long time. I reduced the price in order for the government to be able to pay.  I thought they were not able to pay RM500,000 because we had been given a free [replacement] house and free water and a free electricity supply [not guaranteed].  Maybe they can’t afford to pay that  much? Yet, till today October 23rd they have not fulfilled our demand. It made us so frustrated we felt we just wanted to call the government and tell them “give us whatever you want!” On 24th July 2013 we were having a meeting at Long Menapa and the Government proposed they will pay RM850 per month per family. That payment will last 4 years. This subsidy will stop after we get payment from agricultural schemes..  But most of the Penan don’t want this. Our initial demand was RM500,000 then when we ask for only RM100,000 it is still being rejected.  So, now we would like to ask for RM3,000 per month per family for life.  If they cannot afford to pay RM3,000 per month they must pay us RM850 in cash and not RM250 in cash and the rest in goods ‘worth’ RM600, as mentioned by some.  If they cannot afford to pay RM3,000 per month they must pay us RM850 in cash and not RM250 in cash and the rest in goods ‘worth’ RM600, as mentioned by some” – why no one should trust the government of Taib Mahmud.  

Left clinging to shifting promises by SEB and Taib Mahmud's state government

“It should not be limited to 4 years, it should be a life-time payment”, says the exasperated Pengulu on behalf of his helpless and vulnerable people who have attempted to negotiate with the ruthless state government and Torstein Sjotveit’s SEB.

The former Pengulu, now in his 80s, then speaks of his sorrow at the destruction of the community’s sacred places – places which SEB have implied they went to great lengths to preserve in their PR material.  The film then discusses the material benefits promised by the company in return for the community’s resettlement and the destruction of their homeland:

“When are they going to build the schools, medical and other facilities? ”  ”I am still waiting for an answer on this.6th June 2010 YB Billy Abit Joo briefed us on this in Sungai Asap. He said they would build a clinic, primary school, secondary school and even a market, that is what he said. .. “Do they have a time frame to carry out the plan?”.  No we don’t know, we don’t even know the place”.

Torstein Sjotveit and SEB have already failed on their public promises, which were that these facilities would be in place for when the Penan moved to the new sites.  They are not and chances are that SEB are hoping that once the fuss has died down they can leave the Penan to rot in the slapdash site they have created on the side of an oil palm plantation and described as the “highest benchmark of good practice” in resettlement.

building site - the Penan's 'bright new future'



  1. Torstein might want to tell the world and his wife how many times he was entertained by Shin Yang directors and how many girls had been delivered to hos hotel room each time he was in Miri.

    Comment by Billy Uggat — November 16, 2013 @ 7:47 PM | Reply

  2. I do not believe in mainstream newspapers like NST and Utusan. Utusan is dying of the same disease that was engineered by its masters in UMNO, while many papers that are not even daily publications can survive, why is it Utusan is being so badly hit? Clearly it’s operations & management is being burdened with the same kind of corruption, cronyism, wastage and inefficiency as the UMNO led BN Government.

    Comment by Kamaria — November 15, 2013 @ 3:31 PM | Reply

  3. This is indeed very good news to the Baram YBs who are trying their best to convince the people on the BENEFITS to be gained from the Baram damned dam once it is built!

    Now lets hear what they have to say about the damned dam now that they know the truth about the Murum Damned dam.

    We do not want any more of those boring and comical BN reasoning from them and they should really stop peddling and recycling those crap about the outside influence, BMF influence, foreign backings and the ever popular NGO meddling shit.

    Nobody is buying into those stale accusations anymore. The people who are protesting and doing the blockading in Baram are the people who are directly and immediately affected by this damned dam. And the YBs better not antagonise the people further with more stupid claims, comments and accusations.

    Comment by brian — November 15, 2013 @ 12:35 PM | Reply

  4. Penan folks may not be well educated, but they are definitely not corrupted like the BN politicians.

    Comment by Rajesh — November 15, 2013 @ 11:34 AM | Reply

    • BN spent RM7.2 billion on consultant fees since 2009 as they lack intelligence to come up with plan and strategies to govern the country?

      Comment by Hairi — November 15, 2013 @ 7:10 PM | Reply

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