Bengoh natives, MP furious over logging activities

KUCHING: Two timber licences issued by the State Forestry Department have put a spoke in the state’s scheduled timeline to complete Bengoh Dam.

The licences were issued to leaders in Taib Mahmud-led Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB) and to the cronies of Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) president William Mawan Ikom.

The land area in question was earmarked for the relocation of native settlers affected by the Bengoh Dam.

The angry settlers have now refused to move out of the Bengoh Dam reserve and into the resettlement area, alleging that logging activities on the proposed land have damaged the land and made it unfit for farming and had caused massive environmental degradation.

The two licences were allegedly issued at the time when Talif @ Len Salleh was still the director of Forestry Department in January 2011.

Len has since retired and joined active politics.

Last Sunday, about 140 villagers from Kampung Semadang, Kampung Giam, Kampung Taba Sait, Pain Bojong, Rejoi and Semban went to the logging site to protest against the exploitation of the area.

There were heated arguments between the villagers and the loggers which almost led to a fist-fight.

Commenting on this, Mambong MP James Dawos Mamit said the Forestry Department had now created a “new” problem for the government.

He said the timber licences had created a situation that would disrupt the project.

Opposition support for Dawos

The state government, he said, had spent more than RM200 million on the proposed land and the refusal of the people to move is most regrettable.

“The government will lose millions of ringgit if the families affected by the dam do not move out from their present home and land,” said Dawos, who is the Bengoh Resettlement Scheme committee chairman.

He said all his efforts to convince the people to accept the dam project since 1997 have been rendered useless.

“All our efforts are wasted.. it was not easy to convince them to leave their homes.

“Now because of the Forestry Department, the government is going to waste time and money if the people refuse to move out,” he added.

Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian said the fact that Dawos was chastising the Forestry Department was an “encouraging sign that the voices of the people cannot be silenced”.

“The emergence of voices such as that of Dawos, who took the Forestry Department to task for issuing the timber licences in the Bengoh resettlement area, is an encouraging sign that the voices of the people cannot be silenced.

“I commend Dawos for his courage and I urge him to look further up the chain of command and confront the people who ordered or sanctioned the issuance of those licences,” he said.

Construction of the Bengoh Dam had commenced in 2007 and was estimated at RM315 million.

The dam, which is about 63.2m in height, covers an area of 10.21 square kilometres, a size equivalent to 173 Olympic swimming pools.

When operational, it will supply 2,047 million litres of water a day to Kuching until 2030.

Some 1,009 Bidayuhs from four villages are affected by the dam and are to be resettled in an area near Kampung Semadang, Bau.