Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud’s announcement that the RM4 billion Baram hydroelectric dam will be built together with the proposed Baleh Dam, has received strong opposition from Baram natives.
The first to react, is NGO Save Sarawak Rivers Network (Save Rivers) - which represents the majority of the indigenous people in Baram - accusing Taib Mahmud and his government of totally ignoring the requirement by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People (UNDRIP). “Taib does not care about the plight of the people and their safety and refuses to comply with environmental requirements, but proceeds with the construction of Baram Dam,” said its chairperson, Peter Kallang.
“It is a known fact that in its spree for building hydroelectric (HEP) dams, the state government totally ignores the international standard such as Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as stated in the UNDRIP, of which Malaysia is a party,” he said.
“Even (former Murum dam project director Andrew) Pattle who was seconded to Sarawak Energy Berhad from Hydro Tasmania/Entura made a statement in his company’s annual report in 2011, saying that the safety and environmental compliance were not given much importance in Murum,” he noted.
“From the remarks of the chief minister, we can see that the focus is on dam-building and not on the welfare of the people or the state; neither the environment, nor the common good for Sarawakians.
“The Social Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) was not taken seriously since the decision for building the dam had already been finalised before the results of the SEIA were even known or made,” lamented Peter.
He asked: “Why build more dams when the Bakun Dam is under-utilised? The latest revelation about the Bakun Dam is that out of the eight turbines installed for the HEP, seven are already commissioned. Only six units are in operation.
'Out of touch with reality?'
“But each of the six units is running at half-load - i.e. 150MW - while each is rated at 300MW. One of the eight units is notably down for maintenance.
“If the demand for power is as much as the chief minister had stated, why are the six units not running at full capacity? Why is there no hurry in commissioning the one unit?” Peter queried. “When the impoundment of Murum is complete, there will be an additional of 944MW installed power which will again add up to the excess installed capacity.
“What is the big hurry in building more HEP? Somebody seems to be either out of touch with reality or purposely misleading the public for their own agenda,” he added.
Peter (left) stressed that the decision by the government to build the Baram Dam would redouble their determination to put a stop to the dam construction.
“More blockades will be erected and more protests will be organised in addition to the two on-going blockades manned by hundreds of villagers at two different locations,” he said, pointing out that the natives had completed 100 days in manning the blockades on rotation.
The natives from 26 longhouses are worried that they will have to move out as all their lands and longhouses would be submerged.
Some 20,000 people are expected to be relocated elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Taib said the proposed Baram and Baleh hydroelectric dams would be built simultaneously, rather than one after another.
He noted that this was necessary to meet the energy demand by companies from Japan, Korea and other countries in the far east keen to invest in Sarawak Corridor of Renewal Energy (Score) which covered areas from Samalaju in Bintulu, to Tanjung Manis in Sarikei.
“The state government has got to revise its programmes and build Baram and Baleh dams simultaneously.
“We already have the Bakun and Murum dams. But with the two new dams, we will be able to cope with a higher demand for energy, especially from new investors,” he said in Sibu on Monday.