Baram villagers witness first hand proof of empty promises

Date of publication: 
22 July 2014

KUCHING: Reports that the Sarawak state government has unofficially given the “green light” for the construction of the controversial RM4 billion hydroelectric power (HEP) Baram Dam have not deterred villagers at the anti-dam blockade in Long Lama who are adamant at staying put.

The Long Lama blockade was set up by the Baram Protection Action Committee (BPAC) about nine months ago on Oct 23, 2013 as a sign that the villagers were against the HEP dam project to be sited between Long Naah and Long Kesseh some 200km inland from Miri City.

When strong rumours spread that Baram Dam had received the green light, 170 Baram villagers paid a visit to the resettlement areas of Sungai Asap and Tegulang and Matalun in the Belaga District in mid-July to listen to the experiences of those who had resettled making the way for the Bakun and Murum dams.

The Sungai Asap resettlement was mooted in 1998 for those who had to make way for the Bakun Dam and Tegulang and Matalun resettlements in 2013 for those affected by the Murum Dam. The fact-finding mission comprised men and women from 17 villages in Baram from ethnic communities including Kayan, Kenyah, Penan and other indigenous groups.


Penan community leader Panai Erang of Ba Abang, who led the villagers on the fact-finding mission, said “If the state government’s promise of ‘Bandar Baru Baram’ as the resettlement area for the Baram villagers is anything like Tegulang, then it is definitely proof of empty promises.

“I am shocked as Tegulang has no school, clinic, police station, agriculture department or government office as promised before the settlers moved. The long stretch of road to the settlement area is a mud road that is not well maintained.

“We have been told that the resettlement area for Murum is world class. If this is the case, I shudder to think what the lives of Baram resettlers will become. It is a total disappointment and a rude shock to the group.”

According to NGO Save Rivers chairman Peter Kallang, this was the fourth such trip organised by the people of Baram, with the previous three trips being in 2013.

“This is the biggest participation so far. While Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB) has been organising trips to China to see the Three Gorges Dam, I think it makes more sense to see Tegulang, Matalun, Batang Ai and especially Sungai Asap which are in Sarawak and Baram folks will be resettled in Sarawak.”

The trip has definitely made Baram villagers stronger in their resolve and more fearful that they will have to suffer the plight of the earlier resettlers and face empty promises.

While the villagers protested, officials went on record to say that the only major thing left was the approval of the yet-to-be tabled Social Impact Assessment and Environment Assessment report on the project.

A source said that during the meeting which involved Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem, Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Alfred Jabu, Sarawak Regional Corridor Development Authority (Recorda) chief executive Tan Sri Wilson Baya Dandot and other key state leaders, the state government’s stand was firm that the construction of the Baram Dam would go ahead as planned despite the blockades at the access road site in Long Lama.

Telang Usan assemblyman Dennis Ngau confirmed the meeting which had also discussed plans to create a new township in Baram to house the affected villagers. He had been tasked to disseminate the information to the Baram folks on what was lined up for them.

A project blueprint would be drawn up soon and Ngau, who is also Barisan Nasional Youth chief, said he would go to the settlements in Baram and explain in detail what the future holds for the villagers. He confirmed that the Baram Dam project was for real.

The specifics for the relocation have not been decided yet but at least 20,000 people from 25 settlements would be uprooted to make way for the Baram HEP project.

Recently, a leaked assessment of the turbines of the Murum Dam from Norwegian consultancy company Norconsult concluded that the “turbine runners are not suitable for installation and operation”.

SEB decided to downplay the security risks at the Murum Dam and performed highly unusual repair works at the already installed turbines. In May 2013, Save Rivers visited Norconsult’s headquarters in Norway but chief executive officer John Nyheim declined to meet up with the delegation.

Concerned NGOs now want SEB to stop all preparation works for further dams in Sarawak and provide full assessment to the public on the turbine runners in the Murum Dam.

They are also demanding that SEB put the safety of the dam workers and the surrounding communities first.

They want SEB to explain how the turbine runner problem would affect the long-term performance of the Murum Dam as well as its potential effects on the downstream Bakun Dam.