Hornbill Unleashed

July 11, 2014

New CM makes no dam difference


The long-reigning former chief minister of Sarawak, Abdul Taib Mahmud, and his successor, Adenan Satem, have both shrugged off the angry protests of native communal landowners and insisted that there is “no stopping” the construction of giant hydroelectric dams. Baram Dam, the next in line to be built, will dispossess 20,000 people.

Adenan, Taib’s former brother-in-law, has initiated chats over tea with the state opposition – a welcome gesture, after the decades of Taib’s regal conceit. Adenan has also adopted Pakatan Rakyat’s urging for Sarawak to retain 20 percent of her oil royalties, instead of the current 5 percent.

However, the devil in the details – the confidence trick of existing federal development funds being disguised as ‘increased royalties’ – has been kept out of sight: Pakatan lawmakers were shut out of Adenan’s private negotiations with Petronas on June 20.

Adenan gave up his ‘new broom’ act when he told the press on July 1 that the hydroelectric dams must go on. He was quoted as saying that rural Sarawakians are “not interested in human rights… they are more concerned about their rights to fresh water and electricity”.

His professed sympathy for the rural population is unconvincing. Taib and Adenan have encouraged the invasion of logging, oil palm and dam contruction companies into Native Customary Rights (NCR) land throughout the state.

The current state administration, featuring the same parade of Taib loyalists as in previous years, has ignored the Federal Court’s unambiguous judicial decisions supporting NCR, and a binding international treaty, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Logging concessions and oil palm plantations have polluted rivers and water catchments. Dams have drowned longhouses and entire cultural histories. These ‘megadams’ have made the fortunes of Naim Holdings Berhad (chaired by Taib’s cousin Hamed Sepawi), CMS (run by Taib’s son Mahmud Bekir) and other corporations linked to Taib’s family.

Local communities have remained impoverished – many, ironically, with no access to the electricity grid, even if they live next to the dams.

Adenan has recently made a commendable announcement that his immediate family will not benefit from land deals, but he has been careful not to mention his former brother-in-law’s family.

‘This project will bring death to the rakyat’

“I’ve been campaigning against the Baram dam since 2008. This construction project will bring death to the rakyat, not development. There will be terrible effects on the people living here, on the ecosystem and biodiversity,” Philip Jau, chairperson of the Baram Protection Action Committee, told Malaysiakini at a dam blockade, run by local natives, near Long Lama.

Natives from Iban, Kayan, Kenyah, Penan and other communities throughout Baram have set up a makeshift barricade across the dam access road at Long Lama, and the Baram dam construction site at Long Na’ah. Since Oct 23 last year, the protesters have kept heavy machinery from reaching the proposed work site.

Philip (left), 55, a Kayan teacher from Long Laput, is proud of a  new bamboo and wood shelter, larger than a basketball court, built by a communal effort at the dusty blockade. The airy shelter, complete with a kitchen and sleeping platforms, is reminiscent of a longhouse, The walls are festooned with bright ‘stop Baram Dam’ banners.

It replaces the baking hot, ramshackle hut the protestors had previously been camping under, and provides a few home comforts to those villagers manning the blockade

“This new building sends a powerful message to the government, that the people of Baram are determined to oppose this proposed dam, with all our might,” he explained. “We will stay here until the dam is scrapped. This is not development. If the government is serious about development, it should start by building decent roads in Baram: to Lio Matoh, Bario, to each community – and not by building this dam.”

He said he had seen for himself the despair of communities afflicted by previous hydropower dams in Batang Ai,  Bakun and Murum.

“Although the government promised development, in truth, the rakyat there were much worse off than they were before the dams. The government is building these projects for their own benefit, not for the rakyat. There are ministers who have vested interests in the construction of these dams, but they don’t have the courage to tell the truth.”

MACC ignored report

“We made a report to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in Miri, against chief executive officer Torstein Dale Sjotveit (left) of Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB), which is owned by the state finance ministry, because he awarded the cable project to connect Murum Dam to the state grid to a company owned by Taib’s son. This is a corrupt practice, an abuse of power,” Philip Jau said.

In lodging the report in 2012, Save Rivers, a community-based NGO, had  claimed that Taib, the finance minister at the time, had handed over the RM99 million contract to Universal Cable, owned by Sarawak Cable. Taib’s son Mahmud Bekir is a major sharehloder in Sarawak Cable.

Swiss NGO Bruno Manser Fund has condemned Dale Sjotveit for awarding contracts totalling RM1.2 billion to companies owned by Taib’s close relatives since 2010, including two contracts worth RM618 million to Sarawak Cable last August. The MACC has failed to take action against Taib or his family.

Philip shook his head when asked whether the new CM Adenan had improved policy. “I do not see any difference. The new CM’s style is exactly the same as the previous CM’s.”

Adenan is conscious that he owes his position as CM to Taib. Adenan was, after all, appointed in preference to Taib’s deputies, and far more senior ministers, Alfred Jabu Numpang (right) and Abang Johari Abang Openg.

But by gritting his teeth and forcing through these unpopular dams against angry opposition, Adenan risks leaving a legacy no better than that of a puppet on a string.


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