by Jonathan Chia, firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted on August 6, 2014, Wednesday
KUCHING: Batu Lintang assemblyman See Chee How has urged Chief Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Adenan Satem to convene a ministerial briefing with the ministries, departments and developer involved in the Bengoh Dam project.
See (left) stressing a point during the press conference. At right is PKR Stampin branch secretary Desmond Kho.
The state PKR vice chairman said the briefing was necessary to understand the delay in the project, to identify the weaknesses and flaws in the project implementation and undertake necessary steps to ensure that there will be no further delay in its implementation.
He said it is a case of improving governance and taking on governmental executive responsibility rather than evading the problem by pointing fingers at others, particularly the innocent native communities.
He took to task Second Resource Planning and Environment Minister Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hassan for putting the blame for the delay in impounding the dam on the native villagers who filed claims against the government and accusing opposition members of instigating the villagers not to move to the resettlement area, saying it was clear that the minister and state government were misinformed and misled.
“While it is true that the affected villagers have filed a legal action to call for the declaration of their native customary rights (NCR) over their ancestral land in Upper Bengoh, these villagers had not in any way hindered or impeded the construction of the Bengoh Dam, nor did they make any attempt to inhibit or hold back the impoundment of the water reservoir.
“On the contrary, the native landowners fully realise the importance and significance of the public purpose this water reservoir project serves. They did not make any attempt for interim injunction to stop the dam building works, and they had fully resettled themselves outside the reservoir area even before the dam was completed,” he told a press conference here yesterday.
See, who is the lawyer representing about 70 families formerly from Kpg Rejoi, Kpg Bojong-Pain and Kpg Taba-Sait in the legal action, said it was unfair to point fingers at the native Bidayuh villagers who have no access to newspapers unless their relatives bring the newspaper to them, usually during weekends.
Contrary to what Awang Tengah pointed out, See said the delay of the impoundment for more than three years was wholly due to the differences and disagreement between and among the government authorities and the contractor.
“The native Bidayuh villagers in the Upper Bengoh villages are blameless. The civil action could have been settled instantly when the case was filed.”
He said the state government has documentary evidence, including aerial photographs taken before 1958, to conclusively show the existence of these native Bidayuh communities and their continuous occupation and usage of their ancestral land in Upper Bengoh.
“The trial of this case was unduly delayed because the state government had made interlocutory applications to derail it. Even as late as last year, the government authorities had tried to constitute large tracts of land including the NCR land of these village communities as national parks to hold up the trial.
“It was only until April this year that the state Director of Forest had admitted to the existence of the NCR and privileges should best be regulated under the Sungai Sarawak Kiri Water Catchment Area Declaration Order 2002.
“Together with the additional revelation by the state Director of Forest that the Second Resource Planning and Environment Minister had indicated to him that the state government did not wish to proceed with the constitution of the two national parks, the representatives of the Upper Bengoh indigenous communities had agreed to enter a consent order with the state government in May 2014.”
Meantime, he said parties are negotiating to settle the five-year-old civil action amicably, adding that at all material time, the affected villagers had shown their readiness and willingness to cooperate with the state authorities to resolve their native land rights claims and resettlement.
“The fact that the former village communities of Kpg Rejoi, Kpg Bojong-Pain and Kpg Taba-Sait had totally resettled themselves at the present village sites of Kpg Nyegol, Kpg Sting and Kpg Muk Ayun as early as 2009, is proof that the resettlement of their communities were completed and were resettled outside the Bengoh Dam water reservoir, and is no cause for the delay in the impoundment of the Bengoh Dam water reservoir.”
See said the minister was merely making an attempt to cover up the state government’s shortcomings and yet another failed resettlement project by making the affected native villagers convenient scapegoats.