KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 12): The building of the Murum Dam is not in accordance with the principles of good practice, environmentalists said today, noting that the project disregarded the interests of the indigenous people displaced by the project.
Wong Meng Chuo, the director of the Institute for the Development of Alternative Living (Ideal), said Sarawak Energy Bhd’s (SEB) claim that the dam was built according to best practices with full consultation with the local people, is not entirely true.
Wong said that while the local people were invited to attend meetings about the project by SEB, they were not able to give feedback as they did not know what to say.
SES, however, proceeded to distribute photographs of the people attending the meetings with captions stating that they had voluntarily agreed to the resettlement plan, he said.
Womg said that according to international best practices on building dam, the affected local people must be consulted in three manners – “free, prior and informed”
"Free means they are free to say no; prior means way before the project starts, while informed means they are given all the information," Wong said, adding that the SEB had failed to comply with any of these principles.
Wong was speaking at a press conference by NGOs concerned with the plight of the indigenous communities affected by the construction of hydroelectric dams in Sarawak.
He said SEB only conducted the social impact assessment for the Murum Dam project two years after construction had started.
"It's like an afterthought," he said.
He also pointed out to the lack of community representation.
"Some village headmen were invited to go to the meeting. Although the village headmen can serve as legal representatives, it is unclear whether they are really representing the people's interests", Wong added.
According to the Resettlement Action Plan, an affected family will received RM800 a month for the first four years, besides a single RM4,000 payment to move from their house.
Wong, who has been promoting environment protection awareness for decades, said that in any development project, the affected people should be adequately compensated.
Their livelihood must be better than before, otherwise it would be gross social injustice to the affected community, he added.
The Murum dam will generate 944MW of electricity after its commencement in 2014.
In recent days, Penans living in the affected area are have been setting up blockades at the Murum Highway, leading up to the construction site.
Their goal is to get the government to pay compensation of RM500,000 to each family.
However, the government had not sent anyone to meet with them.
Baram Dam faced similar issues
Peter Kallang, chairperson of the Save Rivers coalition, meanwhile spoke about the latest development with regard to the Baram Dam project.
He said 25,000 people will be affected by the Baram Dam, and many of them have also been setting up blockades at Long Lama and KM15 since last month.
Unlike the Murum people, the Baram community rejected the dam totally and refused to receive any compensation from the government, he said.
The Baram community has resorted to peaceful blockades to ask the dam construction workers to remove their heavy machinery and to leave Baram district.
About 60 dam workers together with 15 policemen had complied and left the area without untoward incidents. Construction work has come to a complete standstill.
He said the people there are writing a letter to the construction company to state that they are not going to be responsible for any damage to the equipment near the dam site.
Today is the deadline set by the people for the company to move out the equipment.
Peter said that the Social Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) for the project6 will only be coming out next month but “they are building the dam before the SEIA is approved."
The Baram Dam is expected to generate 1200MW electricity once it is completed.
However, Peter pointed out that currently the electricity usage of whole Sarawak is only 1,000MV.
Furthermore, the state has a store of 1,300MW electricity in 2010, and when Bakun Dam started its operation, it produces 2,400MW a year.
"In other words, we have a surplus of electricity in the state," Peter said.
The dam projects are part of the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) to produce 7,000MW electricity for the whole of Sarawak in 2020.
Under SCORE, the priority industry that will use this energy is the aluminium smelting plant while on the bottom is tourism.
Peter said that the government should switch the priority because tourism industry could offer more jobs to the local people.
"We want development, but we want development that is people centred. Instead of building mega dams, the government should build good infrastructure, and build micro dams or solar energy plants to supply electricity to the local community," he said.
In order to support the people in Murum and Baram to continue their fight, the Save Rivers coalition will launch a fund raising campaign by the end of the month.
The public will be asked to donate RM20 per person for the people's struggle. The money will be used mainly to pay for the food and shelter of the people in the blockade area