ANTIDOTE Facts and figures sometimes tell a story better than flowery flourishes or alluring alliteration.

The Sarawak Report investigative reporting website examines a leaked government-commissioned report on the Murum Hydroelectric Dam, in the upper reaches of a tributary of the Rejang, which is Malaysia's longest river.
It mentions casually that eight villages - one Kenyah and six Penan communities - which are being forced to resettle because of the dam, live far below the official poverty line.

NONEAmong the 1,500 villagers displaced by the Murum dam, the average monthly household income is a shocking RM102. Sarawak's poverty line stands at RM830 per household per month. 

The report estimates that the allowance provided by logging companies extracting logs in the forests around the villages was "not regular" and "very low", with an average monthly stipend of RM54 to each household.

Arguments that Penan farmers and hunters might have little need for cash were dismissed by the report: ‘In the past the Penan have been able to survive by relying on the forest for much of their food and material needs. This situation however is precarious as the forest resources are under increasing pressure from other land uses...the communities are thus in transition from an economy based on forest products to one requiring cash income from other sources.’

The ‘pressure’ on the forest is clear enough. The villagers have already suffered at the hands of logging companies. Now, alarming maps in the same leaked report show that oil palm plantations have already been awarded on the resettlement land promised to the Penan, 14 ha per household, by the state government.

azlanSarawak Report says the beneficiaries of the oil palm estates are Taib allies, logging and plantation companies Samling and Shinyang.

To heap further insults on the Penan and Kenyah being forced from their homes by Murum, the government-sponsored report recommends a cash compensation of RM850 per resettled household per month for the first two years, followed by RM500 per month for two more years, and subsequently, no further compensation.

The leaked Social and Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA), dated November 2011, was accredited to consulting firm Chemsain Konsultant Sdn Bhd.

The firm did not acknowledge or refute the authenticity of the leaked report. The state government has failed to honour its promise to publicly display the SEIA for the Murum Dam.

Meanwhile, according to Swiss-based forest advocate NGO, the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), some 200 local villagers have started blockading the Murum access road being built by Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB), the owner of the Murum Dam. The villagers face hunger, heat and possible violence from hired thugs or police enforcers.

SEB is run by chairperson Abdul Hamed Sepawi, first cousin of Abdul Taib Mahmud, Sarawak's wealthy chief minister.

A thought experiment

The Murum dam, scheduled to inundate an area of 245 sq km next year - twice the area of Georgetown - is expected to produce 944 megawatts of power. Sarawak already has a glut of unsold electricity from the long-delayed Bakun Dam.

The driving force behind this gratuitous waste of money must surely be the profits accruing from the construction of the 140 metre high Murum Dam and its supporting infrastructure. 

NONEThe leading contractor in Murum is Cahya Mata Sarawak (CMS), majority-owned by Taib's family.
Taib (right) has been described by a former daughter-in-law as therichest man in Malaysia, and probably Southeast Asia.

One estimate of Taib's wealth, by the BMF, suggests Taib alone owns some RM45 billion.

Perhaps one last slew of statistics might help illuminate the gap between the RM102 monthly income for a poor Penan family, and the RM45 billion allegedly accumulated over Taib's 30 years in power.
"Try the following thought experiment, suggested by the mathematician John Allen Paulos, in his book 'Innumeracy'," John Lanchester once wrote, in a discussion on immense wealth.

"Without doing the calculation, guess how long a million seconds is. Now try to guess the same for a billion seconds. Ready? A million seconds is less than 12 days; a billion is almost 32 years." 

By the same reckoning, if a ringgit corresponds to only one second, an average Penan family, in the midst of being uprooted in Murum, could stretch out RM156, its total monthly income (including irregular allowances from loggers), over two and a half minutes. 

In contrast, RM45 billion would cover nearly 1,420 years.

KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist - ‘anak Sarawak, bangsa Malaysia’. This weekly column is an effort to provide a voice for marginalised Malaysians. Keruah Usit can be contacted

~ Malaysiakini