9 JULY 2013
The notice from the Chief Minister of the government’s intention to gazette Baleh and the islands of Bakun as a national park has caught us by surprise. Why was there no dialogue or consultation with the people before the notice was issued? Giving only 60 days from the date of the notice to object is very unfair and to the people living on these areas, especially so if the notice is served by publication in the newspaper. How many people in the interior does the CM expect will have access to the newspaper, or be able to read, and even assuming that they do read the papers, how many would actually read the legal notices? Whilst the notice may be procedurally correct, it is grossly inadequate and unfair to the people to whom it is directed.
The question needs to be asked why the need to gazette the Bakun. Is it a sly exercise to finish off the last remaining claims the people have to the land left unsubmerged by the dam? This is to me, a cruel move against the people who have already been displaced and lost their lands and livelihood to the dam builders. Many have not been adequately compensated and many promises are still unfulfilled although they were forced to move to the Sungai Asap Resettlement Scheme. Some had moved back to their homelands on these islands as their lives at the resettlement schemes were miserable.
There is no necessity for these areas to be gazetted as national park. Those groups who are living there should be left with what remains of their heritage. To now eliminate the last remnants of their rights would be akin to kicking them while they are down. The government should bear in mind the Court of Appeal’s recent affirmation that NCR lands encompass the pemakai menoa, and that these islands are very likely the pemakai menoa of the people whose lands and homes were sacrificed for the dam.
If the government intends to nationalize the area, all care must be taken to ensure that all those affected receive notice of the intention and full consultation and dialogue carried out with them. The government must have the details of the villages submerged and people displaced from their extinguishment exercise for the dam, and it is incumbent upon them to ensure that notice is personally served upon all those people who are now affected by this latest exercise.
Ideally, the people’s rights should not be extinguished, but admitted and preserved under s 15 of the National Parks and Nature Reserves Ordinance so that they can continue to exercise and enjoy the rights and privileges belonging to them, including hunting and fishing rights and rights to collect jungle produce. In addition, they should be given the rights to manage the park and enjoy the benefits which may result from any activity in the area, such as eco-tourism.
In the event that extinguishment is carried out, adequate compensation must be paid to the people, and the government should exercise some discretion and grace in relation to the evidence and proof of their rights to the land, particularly as they are given a limited amount of time to make their claims. Again, they should be given a say in the running of the park so that they will be the ones to benefit and not some outside developers and resort operators.
While I was happy to read Liwan Lagang’s assurance that the government will safeguard the rights of the people, it would be better if he can assure the people that their rights will not be extinguished, particularly since there are many instances where compensation for the land submerged have not even been settled. He should also make it his business to ensure that all the people affected receive the notice of gazette. If there is to be extinguishment, pay the people adequately and ensure that they benefit from the scheme.
What I am advocating for the people affected by the intended nationalization of Bakun is no more and no less than what is required by the international standards which the Chief Minister pledged in the State Assembly to adhere to in implementing projects which impact on the people, including the Equator Principles but in particular, UNDRIP. The requirements include free, prior and informed consent, just and fair compensation and the right to participate in decision making in matters which affect their rights. The government owes it to the people to act in accordance with the requirements of UNDRIP instead of merely paying it lip-service, as it has been accustomed to doing.
The government’s poor track record of looking after the rights of the indigenous people and upholding their dignity gives me cause for concern in this matter and I have trouble believing that it will perform any better in this latest extinguishment exercise.
ADUN N70 Ba’ Kelalan