Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud says that the interests of natives would be protected in all future dam projects. Can they believe that after the bitter experience of Bakun and Batang Ai?
According to the Borneo Post, Taib said he was prepared to offer what the displaced natives would need – similar to what was done for the affected communities when building the Bakun and Murum dams. “We have plans to resettle our people, like the Penans, to adapt to the new way of life. Maybe the facilities given are not for them per se but will be for their generations to come.”
Taib can’t even protect the interests of the displaced natives now and he is talking about protecting their interests in the future? I thought those displaced by the Bakun Dam were not exactly thrilled with conditions in the Sungai Asap resettlement scheme.
Taib now says the Sarawak government is much more prepared in handling resettlement following the Bakun experience. The Bakun resettlement was plagued with problems. Didn’t the Sarawak government learn from the unhappy experience of the 3,000 displaced natives at the Batang Ai Dam resettlement scheme in the mid-1980s?
Has anyone bothered to ask the Penan what they really want? Today, the once mighty Rajang River, the pride of Sarawak, has been reduced to a pitiable state, as this entry in Hornbill Unleashed illustrates vividly. The livelihoods of many along the river banks have been threatened.
Meanwhile, no one can say how viable the Bakun Dam is going to be (given all the problems including the degraded catchment areas reported earlier) or if it is going to end up as the ultimate white elephant. The Bakun Dam appears increasingly jinxed by the day. (Remember, the dam will affect the natives’ ancestral burial grounds.)
If Sarawak’s leaders are the superstitious type, as they seem to be, they would probably be quaking in their boots. They now want to facilitate the holding of a ritual to “appease the gods” (and the Ibans), as the Borneo Post reports. I am not surprised that some people may be feeling outraged at the terrible environmental consequences of the logging and the dam and, after seeing how their leaders have betrayed them, are now turning to higher authorities (divine help) as a last resort.