SAVE Rivers chairman Peter Kallang says the people of Baram who opposed the Baram hydroelectric power (HEP) dam are not opposing development of infrastructures such as roads and other modern amenities.
“The truth is they do not want to suffer the same dreadful ordeals which are experienced by the victims of existing mega dams in Sarawak and by victims of mega dams the world over,” he said yesterday.
In a recent issue of The Borneo Post under an article titled, “Don’t turn a blind eye to the people, Masing tells environmentalist”, Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Masing defended the government’s decision in building the proposed Baleh HEP Dam.
Masing ,who is also the Minister of Infrastructure Development and Transportation, said that he respected SAVE Rivers’ decision not to have roads built to Ulu Baram and asked for reciprocity in respecting the government’s decision to build roads in Baleh by building the Baleh dam.
He described the decision as a ‘balance’ in protecting the environment and the ‘need to protect and improve the lives of the people’ and to give them ‘the benefits of the 21st century.’
“The fact is that SAVE Rivers and those who oppose the Baram dam are not against the construction of roads or any infrastructure.
“But they are against the so called development like mega dams which are adversely affecting the people, exploiting and impoverishing them as seen in the legacy of problems suffered by those affected by the Bakun, Murum and Batang Ai dams.
“Both SAVE Rivers and those who oppose the Baram Dam place the people’s interest first. But they are still waiting for the government to build good infrastructures in Baram,” said Kallang.
He added that was why they had reluctantly allowed their timbers to be licenced for logging, because the government promised them infrastructures as spinoffs from the timber industry.
“The timber in Baram are now almost totally wiped out, however there are still no good infrastructures or road as promised,” he stressed.
He pointed out that while it was still dangling the carrots of infrastructures and development, the government gave away thousands of hectares of native customary right lands to developers for oil palm plantation.
“After years of waiting, those promises for infrastructures are also still not fulfilled. So, the best infrastructures in Ulu Baram and most other parts of rural Sarawak to date are the shoddy, muddy, dusty timber roads, with a record number of accidents and casualties.
“The people who really profit from those exploits are corporations and people in power but not those villagers who are directly affected. Every development should be with the consent of and benefiting the people, especially those who are directly affected. All large projects must be transparent, open for public feedbacks and consensus,” he added.
Referring to Masing’s statement, Kallang said, “Is this man who holds a very senior position in the Sarawak government, the Deputy Chief Minister and at the same time, Minister of Infrastructure Development and Transportation actually saying that roads cannot be built without building mega dams?
“If that is what he means, I would like to know how developed countries without mega dams can have world class infrastructure and live in what he termed as the ‘benefits of the 21st century’ .
“The government is duty-bound to develop the country. If it fails to satisfactorily develop the country even after more than fifty years, it has totally failed as a government,” added Kallang.
The Borneo Post Online