S'wak barging ahead with Baram dam premature

We would like to call on the Sarawak government and its agencies such as the Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) including the Baram MP Jacob Dungau Sagan and Telang Usan assemblyperson Dennis Ngau to immediately stop portraying that the implementation of the proposed and controversial Baram dam has been approved for implementation, as the feasibility study including the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and the Social Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) for the project have yet to be completed.

The sudden announcement in the media on August 24 on the formation of the so-called Baram HEP Community Consultative Committee headed by the Baram MP and the Telang Usan rep to look into the relocation of the Baram villagers who would be displaced by the implementation of the highly controversial dam project has given the impression to the public at large that its implementation has been officially approved.

What is worse is that the Sarawak government has even issued notices of extinguishment of native customary rights (NCR) over lands affected by the so-called access road to the Baram dam from the Rural Growth Centre (RGC) in Long Lama, Baram.

Until today, the EIA and SEIA for this dam have not been completed and it’s a mandatory legal requirement under the Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Order, 1994 (NREO) made under the Natural Resources and Environment Ordinance (Amended) 1993 that the EIA Report for such project must be submitted to and approved by the Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) which is chaired by the Sarawak chief minister before the implementation of the project can commence.

In this case, even the size and the site for this controversial dam has not been decided.

The Sarawak government and the SEB have recently stated that they will fully comply with international standards when implementing the 12 proposed new dam projects in Sarawak including this controversial Baram dam.  

But we have noted that the principles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which require governments to, inter alia, obtain the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of the indigenous people before implementing development projects and programmes within or over their territory have not been complied with by the Sarawak government and the SEB in the case of the equally controversial Murum dam now under construction and also in respect of the proposed Baram dam.                   

Informal briefing session for a few selected community leaders and individuals as was done by the Sarawak government and SEB in the case of the Murum dam and recently in Miri for the Baram dam cannot be considered as “a free, prior and informed consent” of or by the affected indigenous population in Murum and Baram as those were merely individuals who have not been authorised by all the residents of their respective longhouses to speak or decide for them.

There is no need to build these 12 new dams in Sarawak including this hugely unpopular Baram dam because to do so would result in Sarawak encountering a huge surplus of energy of more than 600 percent.

Even the Federal Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water, Peter Chin has also recently stated that “Sarawak is going to have a surplus power for a long time once the Bakun dam goes on line”.

The building of these 12 new dams would also adversely affects Sarawak’s financial standing in the future. At the current rate, each of these dams cost at least RM3 billion to built and the 12 would at least cost the State RM36 billion, excluding the future and usual huge costs overrun that is typical of such projects.

Further, all the problems caused by the Batang Ai dam have yet to be resolved and the problems faced by the displaced communities in Bakun and Murum are mounting by the day. In the circumstances, it is therefore utterly unjustifiable and totally irrational for the Sarawak government to keep building more dams throughout the state.

For the above reasons, we wish to hereby state that we strongly oppose the construction of this highly controversial Baram dam and all the other proposed 10 dams and we call upon the Sarawak government to stop its plan to do so.