Murum Dam misery for displaced Penan


A few days ago, The Star reported that the relocation of seven Penan villages affected by the proposed RM3 billion Murum Dam in Belaga, Sarawak would be carried out according to the findings of a social and environmental impact assessment.

State environmental adviser James Dawos was reported as saying that the government had appointed consultants to conduct the study, expected to be completed by year-end, and would consider their report before coming up with a resettlement plan. The villages affected are Long Wat, Long Luar, Long Tangau, Long Menapa, Long Singu, Long Malim and Long Uba. Long Wat villagers face double jeopardy: they are to be “temporarily relocated” (to enable the construction of a cofferdam to divert the river) before later resettlement.

Here’s what one analyst had to say in response:

The major omission in this news report is that it does not canvass the views of the affected Penan.

James Dawos is hardly qualified to speak on behalf of them; indeed, his recent flying visit to the area was his first encounter with them. Moreover, he used the occasion to boast about his many achievements, from the conference at Rio 17 years ago to the Bengoh Dam resettlement, which he thinks a success, but which the affected population thinks a disaster.

His denial that the affected Penan were involved in the Malaysia Day gathering to submit a memorandum to the Chief Minister is a measure of his own lack of familiarity with them.

Specifically, on the issue of “temporary resettlement”, the fact of the matter is that the Penan Lg Wat do not want to have to relocate twice. Once is bad enough.

All the Penan do not want the dam, except that they believe they can’t do anything about it, since construction has started. The construction was started without consultation, for all the federal government’s signing of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Similarly, the Penan Lg Wat believe that they are unable to stop the cofferdam, although they would, if they could.

From any rational, objective point of view, this idea of a “temporary resettlement” is totally hare-brained (and that would be an insult to hares): it could only be dreamed up by people who don’t give a damn about the people.

It is a well-established fact that all involuntary resettlement is a high risk event for the affected population: there is a high likelihood of failure, and anyone who has been involved in involuntary resettlements would be hard-pressed to name a case of unqualified success.

In the case of Murum, the risks are exacerbated by the fact that there is only going to be a very short period in which to conduct the required studies and assessments. By any standard, two-to-three months — the studies have not started — is way, way too short a period. In comparison, the studies for the Nam Theun II Dam in Laos took a few years, was subject to multiple levels of review, and even then, the resettlement has been beset with problems.

Now, the Penan Lg Wat are being subjected to a multiplied risk with this idiocy of a “temporary resettlement”.

It is believed that the principal beneficiary of the dam is Rio Tinto — for its proposed aluminium smelter in Bintulu. Now, if that is true, how can Rio Tinto justify such idiocy given its much-touted commitment to the Equator Principles?

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Thank you, this is very interesting article. The World Bank estimates that forcible “development-induced displacement and resettlement” now affects 10 million people per year. According to the World Bank an estimated 33 million people have been displaced by development projects such as dams, urban development and irrigation canals in India alone. India is well ahead in this respect. A country with as many as over 3600 large dams within its belt can never be the exceptional case regarding displacement. The number of development induced displacement is higher than the conflict induced displacement in India. According to Bogumil Terminski an estimated… Read more »

Ong Eu Soon

More dams only means more damns for the future. The Bakun dam is a disaster so is this damn! Stop the foolishness before nature strike back. One thing we all should choose to ignore is that the fault line of earthquick is moving closer to us shore. Soon we will end up as the victims of our own making. Leave the penan alone, we no need another damn to bring sorrow to our fellow Malaysians.

Gerakan K

No residential area will be allowed near the dam. No risk for this dam. Wait for experts’ finding before jumping into conclusion. Malaysia is free of earthquake. Don’t be over worried, man. No dam, no development fund.


I think what you mean, Gerakan K, is ‘no dam no Taiko Taib’ .

Miriam Ross

For those who are interested, details of Survival International’s campaign supporting the Penan are at


Gerakan K. You sound line MACC…selective persecution. Your statement clearly states…”state interest come first instead of handful of villagers”. So you are saying that the sarawak govt,since it is BN, has the right to dumped all the Penans (it is not a handful, mind you. it is in the thousands)to a place with very low economic value while the BN cronies reaped Billions by only selling the timbers. This is called selective logic ala BN.

Gerakan K

Put it this way. Profit from Kg Buah Pala totally go to developer pocket (that is one off). But profit from this Murum Dam project go to state government pocket continuously until the dam has broken. State government is owned by the people. Maybe in next Sarawak state election, PR will form the state government, mind you. This is not BN personal asset. PR can use that recurring income then according to its CM.

Gerakan K

The cost of maintaining a dam is relatively static and low. I’m 100% sure that this Murum Dam project is a cash cow for the state government. Plenty of power buyers from other countries with no competitor as power business is a regulated industry. The risk of running a hydropower business is even lower than running a banking/financial/insurance business. No NPL fear. No fear of credit crunch crisis. Even mighty AIG group needs US government aid.


Gerakan K. If you keeps on writing without keeping tab of what you wrote, I think you will get entangled in your own web of comments…that your comments contradicting each other. You said “state interest come first instead of a handfull of villagers”. Than is it safe for me to say that you do support LGE in the KBP issue. But how come the BN you are supporting is trying to discredit LGE on this issue????

Gerakan K

Some clarification needed for you, in Kg Buah Pala issue, the land used for private property project and hence a private matter. But in Sarawak, the project owned by the state government. Any profit (that is sure profit making project) will wholly pocketed by the state. No contradiction here. Please read carefully before criticize my comment.

Gerakan K

Like Bakun Dam project, there is no question of cheap electricity. The purchaser of the electricity supply (typically the industry giant), will buy in huge bulk and contracted for long period, eg 20 years or more. Thus it is logical for the state to offer some incentive like some discount. This is a long term money making scheme.


All you guys who comments base on facts…please continue to do so. Let Gerakan K write his comment since we who support PR wants freedom of speech for all. However from all the comments, I can safely say that a 2 party system is forming and GE13 will favour PR. Please get all your friends and relatives to register as voters as I am of the opinion that GE13 will be held sooner than expected….that is right after Sarawak state election.


Vote for BN for continued development


That does it…Anil, you blog has clearly been infiltrated by forces not simply pro-BN (that is hardly the problem), but simply averse to good judgment and human empathy. Your stirling efforts to show the injustices suffered by the weak and dispossessed all over the country are being hijacked by these rogues. Keep up the good work, the rest of the country which desires the dignity and rights of all Malaysians will support you against these quarters…

Gerakan K

People like you tend to look at obvious side of the story. Have you ever look at different angle? Do stop for a while and looking at Zimbabwe. Their government even unable to pay its school teachers salary and a loaf of bread cost millions because of its failed economy. This project has huge impact on state financial standing like Petronas keep pumping money for our federal government. People in turn will be benefited from various subsidy programmes like petrol, wheat flour, bread, sugar, cooking oil, cooking gas, government hospital treatment (cost RM1 only), etc. Please do not take these… Read more »

Gerakan K

In addition, unlike Singapore which has Temasik Holding, the highly capable state investment arm which can bring billions of profit, Malaysia has to look at our own strength, i.e. natural resources. In Sarawak the best income generating industry, of course is power generation due to abundance of river and geographical advantage. State interest comes first instead of handful of villagers.

Gerakan K

We can expect tons of profit earned by the state via this aluminium smelter plant in Bintulu. Bear in mind that this profit earned automatically each year no matter how good/bad economy. Such a smart investment by Sarawak CM. I hope LGE will learn something from him.