Save Rivers Sarawak has questioned Sarawak Energy Berhad's sudden Christmas gift to 20,000 natives in 33 villages.
KUCHING: An NGO here has expressed doubts over Sarawak Energy Berhad’s (SEB) sincerity in distributing donations to 20,000 natives in 33 villages around Baram over the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Save Rivers Sarawak chairman Peter Kallang opined that the timing of the gesture looked like an “an attempt to buy” the people’ s confidence.
SEB is the lead contractor in the Baram Hydroelectric Dam project. The project will displace thousands of indigenous people and submerge vast tracts of native and communal land.
Since late last year, natives in the area have been mounting blockades at the site demanding the state government and SEB abandon its plans.
On Monday SEB firmly denied it had bribed or coerced the native community in Baram into supporting the project.
In a statement issued here, a SEB spokesperson said “the donations made by us to the JKKK/churches in the communities in conjunction with Christmas and New Year were in response to the requests made by the communities in the area during one of the discussions we had with them and in a letter dated Nov 28.
“Sarawak Energy takes great exception to these accusations. We are aware that such allegations are usually made with malice intention by people who have their own political agenda or to further the individual’s or the related NGO’s cause,” said the spokesperson.
The statement further asserted that SEB was “in constant communication with the communities in Baram” and that “the Social and Environmental Impact Study has been conducted for the project in compliance with the requirement of the State”.
“By engaging with the effected community, our intention is to inform and give a clear picture to the communities on the on-going study and the proposed implementation of the project.
“Our engagements with the people have always been professional and ethical and it is frustrating to note that this good intention has been misconceived by a small group of people orchestrated by the anti dam NGOs who have been instigating the people with these lies in order to propel their own agenda,” SEB noted in the statement.
Not all accept SEB gift
But Kallang is skeptical.
“If what they (SEB) said is true, then what if everyone, anyone maybe from Miri or Tudan (also in Miri division) goes up to them and asks for donations? Will they give out the donations?
“Why did they only give out the donations to only the 33 villages with 20,000 natives in Baram?” he asked.
Kallang said 31 villages, mainly of the Kenyah population, as well as Kayans and Penans, had accepted SEB’s ‘donations’ on the grounds the gifts were ‘sincere’ and the recipients were not obliged to offer anything in return to SEB.
Two villages, Long Mekaba and Tanjung Tepalit, however refused to accepted what SEB offered.
The villagers here claimed they feared once they received the money, SEB would say they (the natives) were in favour of the construction of the Baram dam, which they did not want’.
Kallag also questioned SEB’s claim regarding the natives’ requests for donations.
“I want to ask them (SEB) specifically, which villages that requested for donations? If only a few of them requesting, why give to all 33 of them?” asked Kallang.