Sarawak natives skeptical over Adenan’s dam moratorium
by Joseph Tawie
KUCHING: Some 20,000 natives from 26 longhouses and villages in Baram who will be affected by the proposed Baram dam are taking Chief Minister Adenan Satem’s moratorium announcement on the dam works with a pinch of salt.
Last month, Adenan told the natives in Long Lama that a moratorium has been imposed on works on the proposed Baram Dam.
The CM mentioned it again when he was interviewed by TV3 on the occasion of Malaysia Day on 16 Sept 2015.
On both occasions, Adenan said that the construction of the Baram Dam has not been finalised and in the meantime his government was willing to listen to both sides – the people who are against and those who are supporting the proposed dam.
The natives believe that the moratorium is a temporary measure by the chief minister in view of the coming state election. He may not want the Baram Dam construction to be used by the opposition to influence the voters against the State BN, especially in the Telang Usan and Long Lama state seats.
These two seats and even the Marudi state seat could be “black” areas for BN judging by past results if there is no such thing as “moratorium”. For example in the last parliamentary election, the BN candidate won with a 194-vote majority.
Thus the natives have that eerie feeling that after the election, it may be a different cup of coffee altogether.
They are concerned that the CM has to proceed with it as the mega dam construction is a “pet project” of former CM Abdul Taib Mahmud.
Taib had planned to build 12 mega dams in the state. So far he had built the Batang Ai, Bakun and Murum dams.
Even though Taib is now the governor of Sarawak, the natives believe that he still holds strong influence on the present state government. He may pressure Adenan to do the rest of the dams including the Baram dam.
“While welcoming the moratorium announcements, the natives are very cautious as there are a number of issues related to the construction of the dam which are yet to be resolved.
“These issues must be resolved before the people can believe the goodwill and sincerity of Adenan’s and his government’s gesture,” said Peter Kallang, Chairman of SAVE Rivers network Sarawak.
SAVE Rivers, a grassroots network of indigenous communities and civil society organisations in Sarawak, is spearheading the fight against the construction of destructive dams in the state and is working to protect human rights.
Peter said that the natives had expressed their reservations during a two-day dialogue with the human rights commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) at Long San, Ulu Baram early this month.
He said that the natives were very worried about the status of their native customary rights (NCR) lands which had already been gazetted for the dam construction.
Secondly, they were concerned with the on-going logging activities which were carried out with valid ‘Salvage Logging’ permit issued by the government in anticipation of the dam.
“The natives will only be comfortable if the gazette and the permit are revoked,” said Peter, adding: “While they are really glad to hear that there is a moratorium on Baram dam project, the great sense of anxiety is still there”.
They said that if the CM was sincere, he should bring the issue of moratorium to the cabinet or even to the State legislative assembly where the revocation process should be made.
On the blockades, Peter said that as long as there was no “black and white” the natives would continue to put up blockades to stop workers from Sarawak Energy Berhad from entering the dam site.
He said the natives put up camps to accommodate them at the two blockades while monitoring and making sure that there was no logging carried out on the dam site.
The blockaders had been there for the whole of last year. This year is the second year that the villagers are maintaining the two blockades.
Peter said that the natives are against the proposed Baram dam as it is expected to flood an area of 34,000 hectares of forests and their ancestral land, which is roughly equal the size of Singapore.
For the natives, they will have to be relocated elsewhere where their future and that of their children will be full of uncertainties, he said.
“Their future is their main worry,” he added.
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