Thursday, February 28, 2013

Megadam Project Galvanizes Native Opposition in Malaysia

A family poses for a portrait in a Malaysian river.
A family stands in the river that passes through their village of Long Napir, one of the areas likely to be affected by planned megadam development across the Malaysian state of Sarawak. The Bakun Dam, seen under construction below, displaced 10,000 indigenous people.
Photograph by Yvan Cohen, LightRocket/Getty Images

The Bakun Hydroelectric Dam in Sarawak, Malaysia.
The Bakun dam. Photograph by Mohd Rasfan, AFP/Getty Images
Gan Pei Ling in Long Lama, Malaysia
Published February 27, 2013
Most villages along the Baram River in Malaysia cannot count on round-the-clock electricity. Diesel generators hum at night near longhouses in the northwestern corner of the island of Borneo. Mobile and Internet coverage are almost nonexistent.
A plan to dam the Baram River would generate power far in excess of current demand in the rainforest state: At 1,000 megawatts, the hydropower project would be large enough to power 750,000 homes in the United States.
Yet the promise of power rings hollow for many who live here.
Natives from the tribes of Penan, Kenyah, and Kayan have taken to their traditional longboats, traveling downstream to the town of Long Lama to voice opposition to the plan. (See related quiz: "What You Don't Know About Water and Energy.")
Baram is one of seven big hydropower projects that Malaysia's largest state, Sarawak, is building in a bid to lure aluminum smelters, steelmakers, and other energy-intensive heavy industry with the promise of cheap power. Together, the dams mapped out in the state government's sprawling $105 billion Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) plan would harness nearly as much river power as the largest generating station in the world, the massive Three Gorges Dam in China. (See related photos: "A River People Awaits an Amazon Dam.")
The Sarawak project is changing landscape and lives. The dam across the sinuous Baram River will submerge 159 square miles (412 square kilometers) of rain forest, displacing some 20,000 indigenous people.
Open acts of defiance are rare in Sarawak after three decades of authoritarian rule under the state's Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, who has long battled charges that he has amassed personal wealth by selling off swaths of the rain forest in corrupt deals with timber industry. But protests have become increasingly bold among indigenous people opposed to the megahydro plan. Last September, native tribes set up a blockade to protest the Murum River dam project in western Sarawak. And in January, the longboat protest came to Long Lama, with shouts of "Stop Baram Dam" in indigenous languages reverberating through the normally quiet town.
"I don't care if I'm not reappointed" as the village chief by the government, said Panai Erang, 55, an ethnic Penan, one of several chiefs openly against the state-backed project. "I have to speak out for my people."
Power Transformation
Baram Dam is part of a grand eonomic-development vision for Sarawak, which along with Sabah is one of two Malaysian states on the northern coast of Borneo (map), along the South China Sea. Borneo, shared with Indonesia and Brunei, is one of the largest islands in the world, and home to one of its oldest rain forests. (See related story: "Borneo's Moment of Truth")
Endangered species such as Hose's civet, the Borneo gibbon, and six different species of hornbills rely on the habitat. The Bornean bay cat, one of the most elusive cats in the world, was sighted near the upper Baram River last November. Sarawak boasts more than 8,000 unique types of flora and 20,000 species of fauna, including one of the world's largest butterflies, the Rajah Brooke Birdwing, and one of the most extensive cave systems on Earth.
Despite its natural resources, Sarawak's economy has lagged behind the rest of Malaysia. An ever-widening economic gap, as well as a sea, separates Sarawak from the fast-growing states and bustling capital of Kuala Lumpur on the Malay peninsula. But Sarawak's SCORE plan aims to "transform Sarawak into a developed state by year 2020."
A government spokesperson close to Mahmud said Sarawak has to tap the hydro potential of its numerous rivers to power the state's industrial development.
"The people affected [by the dams] will be those who are living in small settlements scattered over remote areas," said the spokesperson, who asked not to be named, in an email. "They are still living in poverty.
"To build a dam, not just to generate reasonably priced energy, is also to involve the affected people in meaningful development," he said. "Otherwise, they will be left out."
The spokesperson added that Sarawak will also be exploiting its one to two billion tons of coal reserve for power. One of the coal plants is already operating in the developing township of Mukah. Malaysia's first aluminum smelter was opened here in 2009.
Sarawak's plan is to grow its economy by a factor of five, increase jobs, and double the population to 4.6 million by 2030.
But during the January protest at Long Lama, village chief Panai Erang said he and his people have little confidence that they will benefit from the new industrial development. Erang has visited the town of Sungai Asap, in central Sarawak, where 10,000 indigenous people already displaced by the first megadam project, Bakun Dam, were relocated. The forced exodus began in the late 1990s, and construction continued for more than a decade. With a capacity of 2,400 megawatts, Bakun, which opened in 2011, is currently Asia's largest hydroelectric dam outside China.
Erang said the settlers were given substandard houses and infertile farmland. Some have returned to Bakun and are living on floating houses at the dam site.
The community leader is fearful for the future of his villagers. Many do not possess a MyKad—the Malaysian national identification card—because of government policies making it difficult for them to prove citizenship. As a result, they cannot vote and would be unlikely to find employment if they were forced out of their ancestral homes into towns and cities.
"This is not the development that we want," said Salomon Gau, 48, an ethnic Kenyah from the village of Long Ikang, located downstream off the Baram River. "We don't need big dams. We want micro-hydro dams, [which are] more affordable and environmentally friendly."
Energy and Development
The concerns of the indigenous tribes are echoed by academics and activists from Malaysia and around the world. They worry about SCORE's potential social and environmental impact.
Benjamin Sovacool, founding manager of Vermont Law School's Energy Security and Justice Program, studied the SCORE project extensively. He and development consultant L.C. Bulan traveled the corridor and interviewed dozens of Sarawak planners and stakeholders to catalog the drivers and risks of the project. Their research, conducted at the National University of Singapore, was published last year in the journal Renewable Energy.
Government officials told the researchers that SCORE would improve prospects for those now living in villages, especially the young people: "They want gadgets, cars, nice clothes, and need to learn to survive in the modern economy," one project planner told Sovacool and Bulan. "They are not interested in picking some fruit in the forest, collecting bananas, hunting pigs."
And yet when the researchers visited the Sungai Asap resettlement community, they found people scraping for both water and food, oppressed by heat and rampant disease, with limited transportation options. "We had trouble sleeping at night due to coughing from a tuberculosis epidemic, malaria-carrying mosquitoes buzzing around our beds, and the smell of urine, since the longhouse lacked basic sanitation," they wrote.  Many community members had fled.
The squalor stands in marked contrast to the portrait of Sarawak that the SCORE project seeks to paint in its bid to attract new industry, a region of "world-class infrastructure, multimodal interconnectivity and competitive incentives," strategically located near potential fast-growing markets of India, China, and Indonesia.
Sovacool and Bulan noted that SCORE had encountered difficulties in finding investors and financiers, and flawed environmental impact assessments and questionable procurement practices would further hamper those efforts. (At least one major aluminum smelter plan was scrapped last year over a dispute over finances.) The authors concluded that SCORE might undermine Sarawak's greatest assets: "[I]t is taking what is special to Sarawak, its biodiversity and cultural heritage and destroying and converting it into electricity, a commodity available in almost every country on the planet."
And yet, Sovacool and Bulan wrote that such projects may become increasingly common globally, as governments seek to build energy systems and spur development at the same time.
Daniel Kammen, founder of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratoryat the University of California, Berkeley, who has worked extensively on alternative energy solutions in Malaysia, thinks Sarawak should explore other renewable energy options before implementing SCORE's power projects.
"The political and infrastructure challenges are immense, and the ecological and cultural impacts have barely been evaluated," he told National Geographic Newsvia email.
He said careful evaluation and planning in cooperation with communities could yield better solutions; Kammen's team's work was pivotal in the 2011 decision by neighboring state Sabah to scrap plans for a 300-megawatt coal plant in an ecologically sensitive habitat, and provide energy instead with natural gas.
"What is vital to the long-term social and economic development of [Sarawak], and of Borneo, is to explore the full range of options that are available to this resource-rich state, recognizing that community, cultural, and environmental resources have tremendous value that could be lost if the SCORE project goes ahead without a full analysis of the options that exist in the region," he said.
Mounting Resistance
The natives of Sarawak, including those from Baram, have already lost thousands of hectares of customary land to logging companies and oil palm plantation companies over the past few decades. The state government often cuts land lease deals with companies without consulting natives. Consequently, there are now more than 200 land-dispute court cases pending in Sarawak.
The Penans, a nomadic hunter-gatherer tribe, have suffered more than the Kenyah and Kayan agricultural tribes as they are entirely dependent on the forest for their livelihoods, and are well-known for their blockades against loggers.
But the dam development has united different tribes traditionally divided by their disparate interests. Unlike previous upheavals due to logging, the hydro projects will force tribes out of their ancestral land completely. Adding to anger is the appearance of nepotism in several of the deals; for example, Hamed Abdul Sepawi, chairperson of the state utility company Sarawak Energy Bhd, which is building the Murum Dam, is the cousin of chief minister Mahmud.
The tribes struggle to have their concerns heard. The opposition party that organized the longboat protest in January at Baram, The People's Justice Party, collected more than 7,000 signatures but the government-appointed regional chief refused to see the protestors.
In some cases, the opponents have received a better reception abroad. Peter Kallang, an ethnic Kenyah and chairperson of the Save Sarawak Rivers Network, and other local indigenous activists traveled to Australia late last year to draw attention to their plight. "Development isn't just about economic growth," said Kallang. "Will these mega projects really raise the standard of living among our indigenous communities?" With support of Australian green groups, the activists pressured dam operator and consultant Hydro Tasmania to withdraw from Sarawak's hydropower projects.  Reports say Hydro Tasmania told the campaigners it plans to leave Sarawak after it fulfills its current contractual obligations, but the company has maintained it has been a small player in the SCORE program.
In any event, the indigenous activists plan to step up their campaign against the dam in the coming weeks in anticipation of upcoming national elections. Sarawak and Sabah traditionally have been viewed as a stronghold for the Barisan Nasional coalition that has ruled Malaysia for half a century.
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim now views the rural states on Borneo as key to his bid to unseat the long-standing regime, due to the support he has garnered among increasingly organized indigenous tribes.
In uniting Sarawak's native peoples, the project to alter its rivers may, in the end, change the course of Malaysia.
This story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challenge.
~ National Geographic Daily News

Cabinet & Parliamentary Rebalancing (Part 3): A weightier Parliament and a slimmer Cabinet

27 FEBRUARY 2013

Beef up parliamentImagine that you are the owner of a restaurant. Would you ask a waiter to oversee the manager’s performance? No? But that is exactly what is happening with the management of our country!

In our Westminster-style model of democratic government, Parliament is supposed to be the watchman making sure the federal government acts in the best interests of the rakyat. 

However, less than 60% of Barisan Nasional members of parliament (MPs) are free to perform that role. These MPs also tend to be junior, as their senior colleagues are subsumed into the massive Cabinet mess of 68 ministers and deputies.

It is no surprise, then, that BN ministers escape unscathed from scandals after scandals. Junior BN MPs have, by and large, shrunk back from critiquing their ministerial peers. It is the Pakatan Rakyat federal opposition and civil society that shoulder the burden of check and balance on the government. This makes it easy for ministers to shrug off criticism as ‘opposition-led’ or ‘politically-driven’, much like our under-performing restaurant manager can say  ‘It’s just my competitors bellyaching’.

The bad news is that ours is a shred of Westminister-style democracy. The good news is that there are sparkling versions that we can emulate. Just last month, British Prime Minister David Cameron was slammed by MPs of all parties for the “plebgate” controversy, while, in Australia, Labor MPs went  so far as to depose their own prime minister Kevin Ruud when they felt his policies were out of touch with public opinion.

The root of these vibrant and effective governments is a slim Cabinet, which leaves many senior MPs free to perform important oversight roles in Parliament rather than butt heads in overlapping ministerial positions within a corpulent Cabinet.

Read Cabinet & Parliamentary Rebalancing (Part 3): A weightier Parliament and a slimmer Cabinet on how a beefed up Parliament with bi-partisan, powerful, and well-resourced committees can help our government avoid stinks.


Cabinet & Parliamentary Rebalancing (Part 2): The tangled mass - See more at:

The more the messier. Researchers have found that performance of national governments declines as Cabinets grow larger. Parkinson of Parkinson’s Law famenoted that it is critical for Cabinets to have less than 21 ministers if decision-making is to be efficient.

Our government shamelessly defies the ‘law’ with a whopping 30 ministers and 38 deputies. We ordinary citizens pay the price for its ‘disobedience’. A recent example is the AES (Automated Enforcement System) fiasco. The Transport Ministry installed cameras to catch speedsters on the road. Quite incredibly, though, it had obviously not consulted the Home Ministry, because the traffic cops said they would continue to run their own speed-trap operations, including at locations near the AES cameras. An even bigger farce broke out when the Attorney-General ended up freezing AES summons trials due to questions on its legality. When government ministers and agencies collide, more taxpayers’ funds would have to be wasted to sort out the disarray.
How can our government not turn into a circus of chaos when the Prime Minister alone juggles “more than 28 Cabinet committees”? There are so many Cabinet committees that even Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong had to admit that he can’t count them all. And the Cabinet mess is such that even a simple matter like traffic enforcement gets jammed.
There is hope for us if the government slims down. Read Cabinet and Parliamentary Rebalancing (Part 2): The tangled mass of 68 Ministers and Deputies on how our bloated Cabinet can be trimmed to a svelte 16 ministries and 18 ministers, in order to facilitate communication and cross-disciplinary cooperation for the benefit of Malaysians.
[Image source: Scales - darktaco/]

Cabinet & Parliamentary Rebalancing (Part 1): Why Our Government Needs CPR

In our Selected Exhortations category, we republish interesting stuff such as must-read articles and essays not originally written exclusively for the blawg, and which have come to our attention. Please feel free to email if you would like to reproduce your writing, but first follow our Writer’s Guide here.
Source: Scales - ba1969/
The Malaysian Cabinet runneth over. We have a whopping 30 ministers and 38 deputy ministers overseeing 25 ministries! In comparison, the Cabinets of the UK (which has a far larger population) and the entire continent of Australia comprise just 22-23 ministers each. In fact, we have nearly as many ministers as the 33 in India who administer over a population more than 30 times bigger than Malaysia in a land 10 times larger than ours.
So many top leaders in the same place end up duplicating work and clashing heads rather than working together. They are also not helped by the bizarre allocation of roles. For example, we have three separate Ministries covering agriculture and rural development matters; and the Ministry of Housing is in charge of moneylenders! The sad result is Malaysians can more readily cite instances of wastage and incompetence in Putrajaya than recall examples of efficiency.
Read Cabinet & Parliamentary Rebalancing (Part 1):  Why our government needs CPR for our diagnosis of the ailments afflicting our sclerotic Cabinet, and why some of its colossal mass could be better used if reallocated to Parliament.
(Featured image accompanying article on main page courtesy of marsmet542, source:
~ Loyarburok
- See more at:

Rafizi: BN's 'new' car price policy caters to rich

Harakahdaily,28 February 2013

Feb 28: There is nothing to shout about the announcement today by Ministry of International Trade and Industry to slash duties on cars from Japan and Australia, according to PKR strategic director Rafizi Ramli.

“It is not something new and it's part of the policy which is widely known,” he said.

Rafizi said there was already a policy to abolish import duties on completely built-up luxury cars, and no import tax on vehicles from Japan in the 2,500 to 3,000cc range.

But Rafizi said the policy was tailored to benefit the rich.

“Import duty is abolished for those big, imported and expensive vehicles which only the wealthy can afford,” he said.

On the announcement by International Trade and Industry minister Mustapa Mohamad, Rafizi said the ‘new’ policy would only impact 21,000 vehicles annually because CBU vehicles from Japan only make up 3.5 percent of the total industry volume.

While the impact on Australian-made cars is negligible, he added.

In contrast, Rafizi said PR’s automative policy which forms part of its manifesto is meant to reduce excise duties gradually over the course of five years at 20 percent annually.

He said at present, vehicles 1,800 cc and below are slapped with excise duty as high as 85 percent, and 115 percent for vehicles above 3,000 cc, without considering production cost.

“These are the taxes killing the people especially the lower group who buy locally produced vehicles,” Rafizi said.

Mustapa meanwhile denied that the policy which would see zero duties on cars made in Japan and Australia after three years was a reaction to PR’s manifesto.

“It was just a coincidence ... It had nothing to do with (the manifesto),” he claimed.
~ Harakah Daily

500,000 blue ICs issued to immigrants under Mustapha Harun’s orders, says ex-Umno member

UPDATED @ 02:45:29 PM 28-02-2013
FEBRUARY 28, 2013
Siti Aminah says she acted on the orders of Mustapha. — Picture by Boo Su-LynPETALING JAYA, Feb 28 — About 500,000 blue identity cards (ICs) were given to Filipino and Indonesian immigrants in Sabah in the early 1990s under the orders of then-Sabah Umno chief Tun Datu Mustapha Harun, a former Umno member said today.
Siti Aminah Mahmud, who worked voluntarily in the Umno office in Kota Kinabalu, said today that the now-deceased Mustapha, who was the third chief minister of Sabah from 1967 to 1975, had told her that the ICs were issued to overthrow the Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) government.
“Datu Mustapha said this is (Tun) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad)’s project. Don’t be afraid of getting caught,” Siti Aminah told a press conference at the PKR headquarters here today, relating Mustapha’s briefing to her and other Umno members in Kota Kinabalu in 1990.
“Datu Mustapha said it was to increase the number of Malay voters to take down PBS,” added the 62-year-old woman.
About 500,000 blue ICs were given to Filipino and Indonesian immigrants in Sabah in the early 1990s.Siti Aminah said that she and other Umno members worked together with the National Registration Department (NRD) and village heads to issue about 500,000 blue ICs to Filipino and Indonesian immigrants from 1990 to 1994 in several areas of Sabah, including Tawau, Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Kota Kinabalu, and Semporna.
She added that she was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) from 1995 to 1997 for allegedly issuing fake ICs and falsifying NRD documents.
The 1994 Sabah state election saw PBS winning just 25 of the 48 state assembly seats.
But several PBS assemblymen defected to Barisan Nasional (BN) shortly after, causing the collapse of the PBS government.
Mustapha, who had founded the United Sabah National Organisation (USNO), is considered Sabah’s father of independence for his role in negotiating the state’s independence in 1963, before dying in 1995 at the age of 76.
USNO joined forces with former Sabah Chief Minister Tan Sri Harris Salleh’s Berjaya to form Sabah Umno after PBS defeated Berjaya in the 1990 state election.
Dr Mahathir, Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister who was in power from 1981 to 2003, has been accused of spearheading the so-called “Project IC”, in which citizenship was allegedly given to immigrants for their votes.
Dr Mahathir told a press conference last month that foreigners in Sabah had indeed received citizenship, but stressed that it was “within the law”.
Harris, who administered the state from 1976 to 1985, has denied at the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the illegal immigrant problem in Sabah of the existence of “Project IC”.
More than a quarter of Sabah’s population are foreigners, totalling a staggering 889,000 out of the 3.2 million-strong population in Sabah, or about 28 per cent, based on a 2010 census.
Sabah has 926,638 voters, according to a June report in English-language daily The Star.
Siti Aminah said today that one IC number would be issued to 20 or 30 people.
“One address is also used by 20 people,” she said.
“In one area, there’ll be a leader who will gather people. Once we reach, we’ll get their names. We don’t ask about their religions. We’ll see if they have Muslim names. If they don’t, we’ll change their names to Muslim names. Then we’ll take their pictures and thumb prints and send it to the Umno office,” she added.
Siti Aminah said the blue ICs would be processed in about a month and delivered in sacks to village heads.
“We’ll tell the village head, ‘Tok, please instruct the villagers to vote for Umno’,” she added.
Siti Aminah, who is now a PKR member, said she was unaware if the immigrants had paid for the ICs.
Senior Special Branch officer Supt Ahmad Fauzan Mohamad testified at the RCI last week that a syndicate involving then-Sabah NRD directors had made at least RM11 million from selling ICs to illegal immigrants in Sabah.
He also said that none of the 94 people, who were arrested under the ISA from 1995 to 2001 for their involvement in the syndicate, were ever charged in court.
Then-Sabah NRD director Ramli Kamarudin told the RCI last month that then-Deputy Home Minister, the late Tan Sri Megat Junid Megat Ayub, had ordered him to issue NRD receipts, which matched the names and IC numbers of registered voters, to immigrants.
Ramli had said that about 200 NRD receipts were issued in five or six state constituencies each, which the government considered difficult to win, before the 1994 Sabah state election.
Siti Aminah said she has not yet been called to testify at the RCI.
She also stressed that Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who was then Dr Mahathir’s deputy, was never mentioned in “Project IC”.
“Anwar had fought with Datu Mustapha and Megat Junid over Project IC,” she said.
Siti Aminah also said that according to Mustapha, “Project IC” started during Harris’ administration and was codenamed “03”, as well as “04” and “05” during Mahathir’s administration.
~ The Malaysian Insider

Filipino intruders fire shots to warn off M'sian forces

The Filipino group holed-up in Lahad Datu confirmed reports of gunfire about 24 hours ago, but claimed that they were merely shots to warn off the Malaysian security forces.

Azzimudie Kiram, the brother of self-proclaimed Sulu sultan Jamalul Kiram III, told Malaysiakini that a sentry spied six Malaysian soldiers approaching Kampung Tanduo at around 5pm yesterday and fired into the air.

"Everybody jumped and went there, so I followed. When I arrived, I asked him (the sentry) what had happened.

"They told me that the shots were aimed at the sky to warn them that they have been spotted. According to them there were six Malaysian soldiers in three groups and they ran away," he said over the phone.

However, he said his group of about 130 remain calm with no intention of surrendering.
This was despite confirming that his group receiving anonymous leaflets giving a final warning, urging the group to surrender, but he vowed that theywould "stay put until the situation is resolved."

However, he insisted that his armed group, seeking to claim Eastern Sabah as part of the now-defunct Sulu Sultanate for historic reasons, is peaceful with no intention to provoke a conflict.

On the group's food supplies, Azzimudie said the tight military cordon around Kampung Tanduo has prevented food deliver , adding, "We, the Suluk people, are used to surviving in the forest".

~ Malaysiakini

No 'feel good' for Chinese businesses ahead of GE13

The Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) poll showed that 73 percent of its members are not happy with the current state of Malaysia's economy.

Conducted between January and February this year, the survey titled Economic Situation on Malaysia assessed the sentiments of 408 respondents on the second half of 2012.

There is also a rise in discontent over the federal government's minimum wage rule, with 69.4 percent of respondents, up 13.5  percent from the first half of 2012, stating that the policy would bring about negative effects on their business.

Nearly two-thirds, or 65 percent, of respondents also did not believe that Budget 2013 can strenghten domestic demand and maintain economic stability.

However, the Chinese business community appear optimistic about Malaysia's economic outlook for 2013, 2014 and 2015.

ACCCIM'ssocio-economic research commiittee deputy chief Peck Book Soon said, the business community weren't happy that big government project went directly to the "big boy", leaving out small businesses.


He said, the report also shown that the respondents have cast doubt over the government's goal in achieving high income nation by 2020.

"If you look at this purely from the businessmen's angle, they do have a bit of doubt," he said.

Meanwhile, only 21.6% of respondents agreed that government's attempts to move Malaysians out of the "middle income trap" has shown positive result.

The report said that many small and medium industries and entrepreneurs have not benefitted from the various government initiatives.

When asked if the survey include the question of politics and the general election, Peck said, this is too sensitive to be included.

To a question if the community fears of changing government, ACCCIM president Lim Kok Cheong didn't give a direct answer, but said the community will take to the polls calmly.

Lim criticised the government for ignoring ACCCIM's proposal for minimum wages to be implemented gradually ever since 2007  and said the disputes between employers and employees were regretted.

Lim felt that even the country recorded a 5.6% growth economic growth, but not everyone is optimistic about it in view of the existing economic scenario.
~ Malaysiakini