Thursday, February 6, 2014

Taib thumbs his nose at Sarawak natives over new dams

BY DESMOND DAVIDSON
FEBRUARY 05, 2014
Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud is steaming ahead with plans to build two more dams in the state despite of objections from natives whose land would be affected. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, February 5, 2014.Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud is steaming ahead with plans to build two more dams in the state despite of objections from natives whose land would be affected. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, February 5, 2014.After standing their ground for 100 days in their blockade of the proposed dam site in the remote Baram district, natives in Sarawak yesterday heard the chilling news from Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud – the dam will be built.
Even more ominous was his announcement that the state has decided to build two dams, at Baram and Baleh, simultaneously, rather than stagger them.
Often slammed by opponents over the state's plan to build a total of 12 such dams to underpin its industrialisation drive, Taib said the simultaneous construction was necessary to meet the demand for power by companies from Japan, Korea and the Far East that had shown interest in setting up their plants in the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (Score).
Speaking at the soft opening of University College Technology Sarawak (UCTS) campus in Sibu, Taib said Bakun dam, completed in 2009, and Murum dam, which is nearing completion, could not generate the amount of power the companies are projected to require.
The industrial corridor stretches from Tanjong Manis in Sarikei in central Sarawak to Samalaju in Bintulu in northern Sarawak.
“With the two new dams (Baram and Baleh), we will be able to cope with higher demand for energy, especially from new investors in Score,” he said.
He reportedly also said Sarawak had to “slow down a bit” applications by foreign companies to invest in Score because of the problem with electricity supply.
The local environmental non-governmental organisation at the forefront of the state's anti-dam campaign, Save Sarawak Rivers Network, reacted swiftly to the announcement by claiming Taib is bulldozing the controversial plan by disregarding the wishes of those affected by the dams.
Save Rivers chairman Peter Kallang accused Taib of “totally ignoring” international standards and practices in the dam construction, such as the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) principle as stated in the United Nations declaration on the rights of the indigenous peoples to which Malaysia is a party.
“The remark by Chief Minister (Tan Sri) Taib Mahmud came as no surprise.
“From the remark, we can see that the focus is on dam building and not on the welfare of the people, the state nor the environment,” Kallang said.
He added that the social, environmental impact assessment was not taken seriously “since the decision to build the dam was already finalised before the result of the assessment was even known”.
This electrical engineer turned activist also questioned Taib's haste to build more dams.
He said “the latest revelation” on the RM7.8 billion Bakun dam that could generate 2,400 megawatts (Mw) of electricity was that out of the eight turbines installed, seven have been commissioned but only six units were in operation.
Kallang claimed the six units were “running at half load” – 150Mw and another unit was 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?
“When the impoundment of Murum is complete, there will be an additional of 944Mw installed power which will add up to the excess installed capacity. So what is the big hurry in building more HEPs (hydroelectric dams)?
“Someone seems to be either out of touch with reality or deliberately misleading the public for his own agenda.”
Save Rivers and a host of other international environmental advocacy groups have long accused Taib of using the dam project to enrich himself and his family members.
Two European NGOs, Bruno Manser Fund and its Norwegian partner, Fivas, sought help from Norway's anti-corruption body Økokrim in November last year  to investigate a huge state contract that had been awarded to a company linked to Taib.
BMF and Fivas lodged the “urgent complaint” with Økokrim against the chief executive officer of Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB), Datuk Torstein Dale Sjotveit.
They said Sjotveit, a Norwegian who heads the state-owned power supply firm, should be investigated for awarding two SEB contracts to Trenergy Infrastructure Sdn Bhd, a company owned by Sarawak Cable Bhd (SCB) chaired by Taib’s son Datuk Seri Mahmud Abu Bekir Taib.
The two contracts worth RM618.6 million are for the construction of two 500kV transmission line projects from Mapai to Lachau and Lachau to Tondong.
The awarding of the contracts was confirmed by SCB to Bursa Malaysia.
Under Norway’s tough anti-corruption laws, Norwegian citizens can be held accountable if found guilty of involvement in corruption anywhere in the world. – February 5, 2014.
~ The Malaysian Insider

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