LONG SAN, Baram: Ask Long San folk about the proposed Baram Hydroelectricity (HEP) dam project and the majority of them will tell you they are strongly against it
Anti-dam banners hung outside Long San villagers’ houses.
Anthony Lawai Karing
In fact, many houses in the village in Long San are seen hanging banners bearing the message ‘Stop the Dam’. Some are written in Malay — ‘Kami Tidak Mahu Baram Dam’, which is meant to send a message to the government that they are against its construction.
Local activist and former Marudi Councillor Anthony Lawai Karing, 74, when met by the BAT IV team yesterday, claimed 90 per cent of the villagers from 17 villages affected by the proposed dam project were unhappy with it.
“I dare to say 90 per cent of the local people are not happy (with the Baram HEP dam project). Those who say they want the dam is actually more interested in the compensation.”
Lawai, who claimed to be speaking for the majority of the Kenyahs, said the main reason why they opposed the project was because they were being left in the dark about the project all this while.
“Very little information was made available to us. We don’t even know where they are going to resettle us. The discussions on the project were always between the authorities and a selected group of people from the villages.
“How can this happen? The dam will affect an estimated 25,000 people and, therefore, they should talk to every household and listen to their views. Only then the people will know what is going on.”
Besides that, he said the villagers were concerned that the dam would affect their livelihood.
“This is the only land we have. Our race will be gone and we will also lose our identity if we allow the dam to be constructed. The dam will cause our lands to be submerged and this will cause us to lose our land, longhouses, plantations and everything we have.”
Lawai, who is also a former agriculture office in Baram, said the Kenyahs had a lot of plantations in the affected areas, adding: “If we are resettled, how are we going to replant the plantations that have been planted by our great grandparents. It will not be easy to replant them.”
He also rebutted claims that there was an advanced Social Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) study for the areas affected by the Baram HEP dam, stating that the villagers were not aware of such study being conducted.
Lawai, who was a PBB member from the 1960s till 2005, said the authorities had always tried to mislead the people to give consent to the construction of the dam by giving “vague promises” on development without giving any specifics.
“Our leaders always tell us that they will bring development plans for us. We want to know the plans they have for us. The lack of information and explanation from the authorities had made many people very unhappy.”
Meanwhile, Roland Lalo, 25, from Long Senong, Sungai Akah, said he opposed the dam project because he did not want his plantations and ancestors’ burial grounds to be submerged.
“We heard we will be resettled at Kampung Tanjung Tepalit in Long Lian. Research has been conducted there and we were told the land there is unsuitable for agriculture.”
Annie Swee and Maureen Jimmy from Long Tap both disagreed with the dam project. They remarked: “This is where we live and it must also be where we will die.”
“If the government really wants to help the Baram people, they should find ways to improve the infrastructure such as road, electricity supply and communications. They should also help the local people by helping them with rubber and palm oil plantations.”