Save Sarawak’s Rivers (Save Rivers) commends a statement made by the Senior Minister and Minister of Social Development William Mawan published in the Borneo Post on Aug 18, 2012, admitting to the shortcomings in the Sg Asap resettlement scheme.
It is hoped that Mawan would also further clarify that these issues, including similar issues affecting the Batang Ai resettlement, have not been resolved many years after the initial resettlement.
Today, promises are also made to the people of Baram that the government will look after them and will not abandon them. The promise made to them today is the same as was made to them when the exploitation of timber first started in the district in the 1970s and 1980s.
Those promises were on better standard of living, good roads and infrastructure. They were told that the government always has the interest of the people at heart. It was just like those made to the people of Bakun/Sungai Asap and Batang Ai.
Just like those in Sungai Asap and Batang Ai the promises in Baram are not fulfilled. Over 30 years since the first promises were made; there are no tarred roads or infrastructure for the communities who still eke a basic standard of living today. There is a burning question to how state and federal development funds allocated to the Baram have been spent or were there any such allocation in the first place.
Save Rivers would like to see that the government settle all unfulfilled promises made to the people of Bakun and Batang Ai who were forced to make way for these mega-dams, before embarking on building other mega-dams which would negatively affect the lives of many more communities. Building new dams would only add more problems for the government and subject more people to suffer as the consequence.
The people affected by Bakun were 10,000 those affected by the Batang Ai 3,000, Murum 1,000. But Baram will be about 20,000. So if the government cannot be trusted to meet the need of those in the earlier dams how can they amicably settle those of the 20,000 people?
On the formation of the Baram HEP Consultative Committee, the view of Save Rivers is that is a futile exercise. Similar committees were formed for Bakun/Sungai Asap years ago but they fail to meet the real needs of the people.
The phrase, ‘there is no smoke without fire’, thus aptly applies to Mawan's complaint about the "spin off these shortcomings in Bakun". If the issues of the mega-dam resettlements in Sarawak were efficiently resolved after many years, there should be no spin.
Save Rivers urges Mawan to take his own advice, whereby the current ruling party should act as problem-solvers, particularly of societal and environmental problems they have created.
Politicians should not say good things about the Baram dam just to stay in power. The Baram dam will have a permanent effect on the lives and well-being of the people. It would be most irresponsible to make such statements for personal or party interest.
PETER KALLANG is chairperson of Save Sarawak's Rivers.