Local village headmen are being told that the government has shelved the construction of the Baram Dam.
Orang Ulu National Association Miri (OUNA) chairman Pete Kallang said: “As one of those affected I just can’t understand this injustice and this outrageous and abusive exploitation.
“Why, it could be seen as an act in complete disregard for our well-being and opinion.
“This could be proven by the priority given to the preparatory construction activities done even before the proper Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) are completed or perhaps not even started and made accessible to affected and interested parties.
“In doing this, it seems the construction of the dam is to be implemented whatever the findings or recommendations that would eventually be available if and when the EIA or SIA is done,” he said.
Kallang added that during a recent meeting with the affected locals, he was shocked to hear the headman saying that the government would not build the dam.
“The reaction by this particular headman reflects the effectiveness of the discreet process practised in building the dam.
“The dam construction is one dark secret kept away from those living in Baram.
“If it is occasionally mentioned by the proponents, the subject would be down-played, and watered-down with downright euphemism.
Civilization under threat
The reality, he said, was different as reported in the media.
“We learned from newspaper reports and information dripping from the project supporters speaks of an affected area covering 38,900 hectares (389 sq km) or half of the size of Singapore island.
“It will be constructed of around 180 meters above sea level and will generate 1,200 MW of electrical power.
“At least 90% of the land mass which will be flooded by the dam reservoir will be the Native Customary Rights (NCR) land.
“Relocation of the 20,000 people to make way for the Baram Dam will definitely result in a permanent social damage.
He said the Kenyah and Kayan people traditionally live in longhouses and mass relocation of the people will no doubt spell the end of the traditional social structure.
According to Kallang the construction of the dam is a ‘senseless’ exploitation of resources “which is primarily driven by avarice coupled with immorality’.
“But for us who are directly and adversely affected parties, no one can blame us in thinking that this is a calculated, intentional and purposeful manoeuvre to wipe out our races.
“The dam will not only cause the colossal environmental devastation and severe consequences on the ecosystem, but it will also rage a permanent degeneration of the ethnic identity and heritage of the natives who live in the region.
Only big companies benefit
Kallang, who is also the chairman of the Kenyah Association in Miri, said whilst the bulk of those affected were from the Kenyah community, the other groups affected included the Kayans and Penans.
“These are also the same majority groups of people who are most affected by the Bakun Dam which has just been commissioned.
He added that Baram was the least developed part of Sarawak and arguably the least developed area in the whole of Malaysia.
“So far, the only so-called ‘developments’ which are seen in Baram are the colossal and exhaustive exploitation or extraction of the Baram natural resources.
“These are like the reckless harvestings of the timber, extraction of lime stone, sand dredging, vast oil palm plantations and now the dam for hydropower electrical generation.
“Practically all the beneficiaries of these so-called developments are big companies owned by big tycoons from outside the Baram.
“Most of the workers employed at these facilities are also from outside Baram and a lot of them are foreigners.
“To say that these “developments” bring employment is a fantasy; so we do not see how the Baram dam can bring significant economic opportunities for the locals.
“Any spin-off employment is just a pie in the sky for the people of Baram,” he said.