“NO dam, no road.” These words have been ringing in the ears of Sarawak's Orang Ulu living in Baram and many find the words uttered by Deputy Chief Minister James Masing a week ago real unpleasant.
Others say the rejection is sheer political blackmail, a punishment to the people for forcing the government to scrap the 1,200-megawatt Baram hydroelectric dam.
The dam, the government says, is a crucial cog in its plan to be an industrialised state by 2030.
However, the anti-dam voices say if it was built, it would have flooded 400 sq km of rainforest and farmlands, buried their ancestors’ graves underwater forever and displaced 20,000 people.
Now it looks like victory is coming with a cost for the people of Baram.
Last week, when these tribes people renewed their request for proper sealed roads to their villages, Masing, who is also the state's infrastructure development and transportation minister snapped back with those four words.
He cited the uncompleted RM700 million road from Long Lama to ulu Baram – the site of the shelved Baram hydroelectric dam – as an example.
It was the same road the anti-dam activists had blockaded to prevent its construction.
“But that's not the road we're asking for to be built or completed,” Peter Kallang, the man who spearheaded the campaign against the dam, said.
“That Long Lama to Ulu Baram road was designed to only support the construction of the dam. No feeder roads to the various villages and settlement were ever incorporated in that road plan,” the chairman of the environmental organisation Save Rivers Sarawak said.
“That road is therefore useless to us. What we want, and are asking, is to tar seal the timber roads we commonly use and seal all the feeder mud roads to the various settlements and villages.
“Isn't that what the government of the day is supposed to do for its people?
“We do our own road,” suggested Dr Francis Jana Lian, striking a defiant hint of trying not to be too dependent on the government too much.
In a suggestion to his three Orang Ulu elected representatives – Baram MP Anyie Ngau, Telang Usan assemblyman Dennis Ngau and Mulu assemblyman Gerawat Gala – Dr Lian said the roads could be done “in a simple way… with minimal assistance and at a fraction of the cost”.
His plan was for the three elected representatives to use their RM5 million annual development allocation to purchase three mobile stone crushers.
Each crusher costs about RM500,000, he said, and he suggested they be sited in Tinjar, Tutoh/Apoh and Baram.
“With the crusher we can crunch river gravels and seek the cooperation of the timber companies and plantation to gravel the road at least one and half feet thick and in no time we will have all-weather gravel roads – main road and feeder roads – all over Baram,” he said.
The suggestion won some support.
Ding Seling said the proposal might mean the people of Baram would have to make “some sacrifice on minor village projects” but they could at least thumb their noses at the “arrogant” minister.
Ngau, the Telang Usang assemblyman, has said he is considering the proposal seriously”.
Kallang, however, is lukewarm to Dr Lian's idea.
“Gravel roads do not last. It will even be worse than the Jiwa Murni roads,” he said in reference to the much criticised roads built by the army engineer corp.
One good example of a Jiwa Murni road is the Ba' Kelalan – Long Semadoh road where some stretches are now “muddy tracks”
Ba Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian recently said the road had deteriorated to such an appalling state that “there is no visible sign that there had ever been a proper road”.
“Some parts of the road are now just muddy tracks, which even 4-wheel drives have difficulty negotiating. These vehicles get bogged in the mud and have to be pulled out with ropes,” he said.
The quality of the Jiwa Murni roads were even raised in the Auditor-General’s Report 2016 which stated: “Quality of work was less satisfactory. Road shoulders and drains were not built… There were potholes, uneven and muddy road surfaces. Road maintenance was less satisfactory... Besides faded road lines, there were untrimmed wild plants and grasses along road shoulders… safety of the roads built were “less satisfactory” as they were steep and winding, with “no slope protection.”
“Not wise. And who is going to undertake the maintenance?” Kallang said.
Kallang should know what he's talking about. He once tried to do a similar road at his village of Long Ikang many years back.
“The engineering scope is too huge for us to handle. The road we planned had to pass through swamps and hills, a daunting task for any villager.”
But Dr Lian is not giving in so easily.
He had told Nagu that if he needs input for working paper, “I think a lot of us can provide, anytime”.
They want those roads. – July 8, 2017.
~ The Malaysian Insider