Thursday, July 31

Construction of 12 dams - who benefits and who loses?

(Image source: Taken from The Star)

Despite assurance by Sarawak government leaders of their economic benefits, the proposed 12 dams which are to be constructed in the State will have serious ramifications on the livelihood of the Natives as can be seen by the existing Batang Ai Hydro dam in Lubok Antu, and the yet-to-be completed Bakun Hydro dam and the proposed Bengoh dam not far from Kuching.

Built at a cost of RM600 million, the Batang Ai hydro dam that began its construction in 1982 and became operational in 1994 submerged some 21,000 hectares of land, the bulk of it was NCR land and affected 418 families from 26 longhouses. These families who had to be moved out from the area for a new “beginning”, lost everything – their livelihood, their land, their cultural heritage and their roots.

No doubt some received compensations for their losses including land, but there are some people who were not compensated as they were unable to prove their customary rights over their land. Yet there are others who received their compensations just before the 2006 state elections – some 24 years later. There were also sad stories of those who received their compensations earlier, as shopkeepers and car companies took advantage of their quick riches. Today they are poorer as compared to the pre-dam period.

The promise of new “beginning” does not materialize. The two acres of land promised to each family are grossly inadequate. Worst still when a family extends. Even though the dam supplies electricity to all parts of Sarawak, there are longhouses near the dam are yet to be supplied with electricity such longhouses at Ensawang.

As for the Bakun project which was approved in 1986 and was shelved three times, it will submerge about 700km square of land, the size of Singapore, displacing some 10,000 Natives (Kayans, Kenyahs and Punans). Leaving behind some of the most unique longhouses and their traditional farms and hunting land, they are now being relocated at Sg. Asap where they are asked to pay RM15,000 for a-one room house. As at Batang Ai, they are also given a small plot of land for farming. Now they are struggling to make a living and are unable to pay for the house as the jobs promised them have never materialized. In the words of Nyipa Bato, an Orang Ulu leader, the Bakun was supposed to create at least 200 millionaires, but now it has made more than 2,000 Orang Ulu bankrupt!

The Bakun region has some of the rarest species of plants and animals that cannot be found anywhere on this planet. The construction of Bakun Hydro which was originally supposed to supply electricity of West Malaysia through undersea cables has now been abandoned. Instead it will supply electricity to an aluminium smelting plant in Similajau some 180 km from the dam.

Recently, some 400 families who refused to move out from the Bakun area had their houses demolished by officers of the Land and Survey Department. Fortunately, they applied to the Court to stop the Land and Survey Department from carrying out their tasks.

Similarly at the Bengoh Dam, there were four Bidayuh villages affected and they were directed to move out, failing which action would be taken against them.

Now another 12 dams are to be built and should be completed by 2020. The dams which are to be located at Batang Ai, Ulu Ai, Metjawah, Baleh, Belaga, Linau, Belepeh, Murum, Baram, Tutoh, Limbang and Lawas will increase the total capacity of electricity in the State to 7,000 MW including Bakun’s capacity of 2,400MW. Imagine the size of the land to be submerged and the sufferings and miseries of the Natives especially the Orang Ulu will be endured.

Do we really need all these dams? While the environmentalists are worried about the effects on our ecological systems and the damage to the rarest specimens of flora and fauna, the Natives are worried about losing their livelihood, cultural heritage and their NCR land – farming land, their gardens (pepper and rubber tress) ‘temuda’, ‘tembawai’, ‘pemakai menua’ and ‘pendam’.

The government only thinks of economic returns and business opportunities. But we know that companies owned by certain families only are going to reap not millions, but billions of ringgits. Companies like SESCO Enterprise whose CEO is Abdul Aziz Hussein, Abdul Taib Mahmud’s brother-in-law, CMS (also belongs to Taib’s family) and Naim Cendera (owned by Taib’s relatives), and timber companies. Plenty of money will come from clearing of forests, the construction of roads, bridges and cables as well as accommodations. SESCO Enterprise will play the leading role in all these dam businesses. So, who do you think benefits the most?

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Thursday, July 24

Education funds for rural schools

The RM3.9 billion under the 9MP as recently announced by the Prime Minister in order to provide 24-hour supply of electricity and water to rural schools in Sarawak and RM1 billion for rural students as announced by the Education Minister should help to raise the standard and quality of education in the rural areas.

We all know that there are many disadvantages for rural schools: communication problems, lack of accommodation, poor study environment, poor facilities and equipment, shortage of text books and lack of discipline to name a few.

Adding to the woes of the rural schools is that low-grade teachers and even untrained ones are sent to rural schools. It is not uncommon for some teachers to resign as they cannot adapt themselves to conditions in the rural areas. Communications to schools in Ulu Baram, Ulu Batang Rajang and Ulu Katibas, for example, often take days and even weeks passing through dangerous rapids.

Replacements for such teachers are difficult to get, resulting in many classes without teachers for weeks.

As a result of these problems, the performances of the students in rural schools cannot expect to be better, even if there are bright students. Nor can they compete with students who study in urban schools where there are plenty of good facilities like libraries, laboratories, computers as well as having experienced and specialist teachers.

Thousands of students from rural schools each year cannot further their education and are forced to drop-out because of their poor performances in public examinations. It is not their faults, nor the faults of their parents. But it is more on the faults of the government.

It is interesting to note that the Federal Government especially the Ministry of Education has given top priority to solve these problems that have been plaguing almost all primary and secondary schools in the rural areas of Sarawak and Sabah by providing RM3.9 billion and RM1 billion for rural students.

We agree with the government that urgent steps must be taken now to solve these problems. Failure to do this may see an influx of youths migrating from the countryside to the bright lights of urban centres. Armed with little skills, these youths could pose juvenile problems like the use of ecstasy pills, taking drugs, “lepak” and “bohsia”. Indeed these semi-illiterate youngsters are not only a waste of manpower, but can also become a “time bomb” in our society.

Tuesday, July 22

Protem members are still pursuing MDC registration

Within a period of one month, Nicholas Bawin has again mentioned that the formation of Malaysian Dayak Congress (MDC) has been shelved. He has now joined Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) as one of the deputy chiefs.

By joining PKR, Bawin has therefore automatically opted himself out from MDC. In fact since he made the first statement on 28 June 2008 that he had joined PKR, he has therefore been replaced by someone else as protem president of the yet to be registered MDC. The rest of the protem committee members who are still in MDC are still pursuing the registration of the Congress as a political party. In fact the protem members have recently discussed with a legal firm with a view to sue the government over its no response to their appeal.

Since Bawin is with PKR, he has no more relevance talking about MDC and indirectly talking about Dayak agenda. Now he has a different agenda - an Anwar Ibrahim agenda.

But what puzzled the protem members was why Bawin single-handlely decided to shelf the formation of MDC. Did he discuss with other members? Or is he telling the hardcore members of the defunct PBDS that there is no hope in registering MDC as a political party and that they should follow him into PKR.

With due respect to Bawin, he has not got the charismatic personality of persons like Datuk Sri Daniel Tajem who have a great following.

Further more Bawin was asked to be protem president of Malaysian Dayak Congress when the proponents held their first meeting in April 2005 and once MDC was registered someone else who was academically better qualified and had greater influence would lead the party. Even the protem committee members had agreed to be replaced.

We hope Bawin should stop using the yet to be registered MDC as a tool to entice the hardcore Dayaks to join him in PKR. In PKR like other multi-racial parties, the Dayaks are only making the numbers and contributing to its strength but with little influence. Are we going to play a peripheral role under the Pakatan Rakyat?
Read past news about MDC in The Borneo Post below:-

Monday, July 21

When Taib will hand over his power?

While component parties of Barisan Nasional are geared for leadership change in the next two years, the State Barisan Nasional parties are silent of any possible change in their leadership. Change of leadership also means change of ministerial positions in the government.

In UMNO, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has publicly announced that he will hand over the UMNO presidency to Najib Tun Razak, his deputy now in June 2010 and this means that Najib will also take over the reins of government. Abdullah received the “power” in October 2003 when Mahathir Mohamad after 22 years as Premier relinquished it.

Except for MIC, the other parties such as Gerakan and MCA will see also change of leadership in the next few months.

But in Sarawak, Abdul Taib Mahmud became the president of Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB) on 26 March 1981 and also Chief Minister of Sarawak when Rahman Yakub, his uncle became the governor of the State. The question commonly asked by the people of Sarawak whenever and wherever they meet is: when is Taib Mahmud going to step down? He is aging and not in a healthy condition, after a colon cancer operation.

Earlier on, Taib had identified a number of PBB politicians who were tipped to take over from him. But one after the other, these politicians disappeared into oblivion, the latest being Adenan Satem. Since then, the question of Taib stepping down is very sensitive. I remember in 2003 a reporter from The New Straits Times who was with Mahathir on a farewell visit asked Taib when was his turn to step down.

So furious was Taib that he was seen to have kicked a chair during the Press Conference. The Head of NST bureau in Kuching became the victim and he was told to leave the State. Relationship between the State and NST was at its nadir point.

Nowadays, Taib has been searching for someone who can take over from him and so far he has not found anyone. It is most unfortunate that Taib cannot find anyone whose capability, ability and leadership is near to his despite a number of them are academically qualified. Alfred Jabu, for instance, is a graduate in agriculture and has been in politics since 1974 holding various ministerial posts in the government.

Since no one is capable of taking over from Taib, the next question being asked is: what will become of PBB should anything happen to Taib? Let us discuss the various possibilities.

Sunday, July 13

PRS supreme council rejects merger

* When Abdul Taib Mahmud first mooted the idea of merger between Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) and Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) on 20 May 2005 during the launch of Miri as a city, both James Masing, PRS president and William Mawan, SPDP president responded positively. Describing merger as the “most logical conclusion for the Dayak-based parties to work together,” Masing said that he viewed SPDP as a very viable partner and it was just a question of time, while Mawan said that if they could merge, why not? “If it is for the good of the Dayak community why can’t we do it since we are both in the Barisan Nasional.

Taib was reported to have told the two leaders that their parties must merge into a single entity if they wanted to win in the coming State election. Their possible contender would be Malaysian Dayak Congress (MDC) now being processed by the Registrar of Societies. Taib must have realised that following the deregistration of Sarawak National Party (SNAP) and Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS), both were Dayak-based parties, SPDP and PRS have received cool response from the Dayak community. Taib also realised that the Dayaks were angry, because the authorities have deprived them of their only political vehicles especially PBDS which had 99.9% of its membership were Dayaks.

But Chinese leaders in SPDP and PRS called for caution, because any move to merge must be done with great care.

PRS deputy president, Sng Chee Hua said that if it were going to happen, somebody would have to make sacrifices as members would scramble for the top posts. “No doubt, there will be a bigger room, a bigger boat, but the question will be who will be its captain. But if it is for personal reasons, then we just forget about it. We don’t want to waste time fighting again,” said Sng.

SPDP treasurer general, Tiong King Sing, expressed similar sentiments, adding: “There is no point to merge, if we have to quarrel over who should be the president and who should hold other important posts. There is no point to merge if at the end of the day, both sides get themselves embroiled in the fight for the top posts. If this is to happen, then why should we rock the boat?”

Understandably, both Tiong and Sng rejected the move as it would certainly deprive them of power and influence in the proposed party, especially when the solidarity of the Dayaks was being strengthened.

Many of Tiong’s Dayak supporters were not that keen at the idea of merger and they were annoyed with the way their president handled the whole issue.

Now three years have gone. Nothing has come out of it. But Mawan is still hopeful. In fact he is very keen to have the two parties merged. One theory is that Mawan is prepared to be the deputy president of the new entity and he is aiming to contest the parliamentary seat of Julau one day. He is hoping to replace Joseph Salang and eventually be made a Federal Minister. They say that the lifestyle in Kuala Lumpur suits his taste well.

But Masing has lately expressed caution and that the rationale for such merger must be fully understood by the grassroots. The “willingness must come from the grassroots and move upwards, and then the leaders must fit in the nuts and bolts of merging. A merged entity cannot be strong, nor will it last if the willingness to merge is formulated by the top leadership.”

Emerged from PRS supreme council meeting (on 5 July 2008), Masing had to use very polite and diplomatic words when he met the Press as he did not want to hurt the feelings of those who insisted that they must merge. What transpired during the meeting was the supreme council members were very vocal against the merger. It was outright rejection after they critically examined the pros and cons.

PRS’ rejection is understandable. Firstly, it has cleared itself of a leadership crisis that almost sent the party to the gallows. It is now solidly united especially after Joseph Salang, Aaron Dagang and other hardcore members of the demised PBDS had joined PRS. It is slowly and surely becoming a strong Dayak-based party with the ultimate aim of replacing PBDS. And why should they invite troubles and create problems by merging with a party that is heavily influenced by Chinese – a party that even asked MP Tiong King Sing to pay a bill worth RM8.00?

Secondly, PRS wanted to know the real reason why certain quarters insisted that PRS must merge with SPDP. Were they sincere? Or did they have a hidden agenda? “If it is to strengthen Dayaks’ unity, then it is only superficial as there are Dayak leaders in PBB and SUPP. They too must resign from their respective parties and join the new entity, if they really want to see the Dayak unity,” said a PRS supreme council member and added: “Only then there is a sense of talking about the Dayak unity.”

And the talk that the new entity would further strengthen BN “is also bullshit” as it would make no difference whether PRS and SPDP were to merge or not.

However, a PRS Supreme Council member said: -
(correction: the statement below was not by Masing as reported earlier; error regreted)

“If the two parties are really serious about merger, then we must set our vision and the mission to accomplish the vision. Our agenda is more than the Dayak unity. The questions are: Are we brave enough to articulate the interests of the Dayaks? Are we brave enough to defend and fight back our NCR land that has been taken away from us, how the Dayaks have been marginalised in education, promotions and recruitments into the civil service, how we are being left behind in terms of development and being deprived of business opportunities?”

He said that those are the main issues that should prompt them to be merged into a strong political union.

* Source: Volume II of soon to be published, “The Broken Shield – The Dayak Dilemma”

Monday, July 7

NCR land: The Ibans' greatest dilemma

(Click picture to enlarge)

Nowadays, it is not uncommon for Native Customary Rights (NCR) land owners to take the law into their own hands when Police fail to act on their complaints that certain companies have encroached or trespassed into their land. They have lodged reports, not once, but a number of times. And their reports have fallen on deaf ears.

So when the Police and the authorities fail to take action, what are they supposed to do? Do they have any alternative? Certainly no. The only way to make known their grouses or complaints to the outside world is to take the law into their own hands. They put up barricades and burn the company’s machinery. The company then lodges a report to the Police and almost immediately the Police come and arrest those “culprits” giving the impression that they are working for the company. The mass media then come and write their reports.

We have heard over TV and radio and read over the newspapers of NCR land owners being arrested in Lundu, Serian, Sri Aman, Niah, Bintulu, Miri, Sibu, Mukah and Julau for defending their land. And the latest arrests were made by Police on 26 June 2008 at Simunjan where Tuai Rumah Jayuh and three of his followers from Kpg. Sg. Raya were detained for allegedly putting up barricades and burning the company’s machinery at Paya Belebak, Simunjan, a stretch of land between Keniong and Temiang. (Read reports about the arrest here >>

Police used tear gas to disperse some 300 Ibans from several longhouses in the area who had gathered at the barricades. By a twist of luck, the tear gas which was fired towards the crowd turned against the Police personnel themselves who ran helter-skelter.

The villagers claim that some 10,000 ha of land are their NCR land which they have planted with fruit trees, pepper, cocoa and other cash crops and have been toiling the land for generations. Suddenly last year the BN government sold the land to the plantation company from Sibu (after paying millions of ringgit worth of premium). Armed with a Provisional Lease (PL), the company comes along and destroys their fruit trees and whatever is on the land.

I believe that our family has also a piece of land being taken by the company. Our great grandfather Rabong migrated to Ulu Simunjan some time in 1850 from Temiang Undup under the Brooke Internal Migration Policy (IMP). Under this policy, many Ibans from Lemanak and Skrang migrated to Kanowit, Kapit, Baram, Bintulu and much later to Limbang.

Rabong and his followers first settled at Kpg. Sematong Panjai a.k.a. Semalatong and gradually moved and spread to other areas such as Kg. Gayau, Kpg. Munggu Ai, Kpg. Keniong, Kpg. Kepayang and Kpg. Temiang. The writer is the fourth generation of the Rabong family who has settled in Ulu Simunjan.

Land is life to the Ibans (I cannot speak for other races) and as a result you often hear Ibans fight for and go to jail for their land. Land to them is like water to fish. Take away the water, the fish will die. And take away their land, the Ibans will not survive.

* It is my argument that the opening of NCR land, especially under the present system, is going to have greater impacts on the livelihood of the rural people. When the land is being taken away, where will they plant their paddy, fruit trees, rubber trees, pepper and other cash crops? Where will they fish as most rivers are polluted and fish have depleted due to chemical pollutants? Where will they look for paku-tubu (ferns and bamboo shoots) and other wild vegetables and fruits when all the land has been cleared for oil palm plantations?

No doubt some will benefit from bonuses and dividends, but the majority will adversely be affected especially when they become labourers on their own land for mere RM8 to RM15 per day. The health and the education of their children will also be affected. It will not be surprising therefore to see that in the next five, 10 or 15 or 20 years from now the rate of poverty in Sarawak instead of decreasing will be increasing.

Little doubt that the oil palm companies are transforming the rural areas into growth centres and economic hubs, but for the rural people these areas will become a living hell for them. Those who cannot stand this hell will migrate to urban centres hoping to find greener pastures. As they do not have the skills to compete in the highly sophisticated society, their livelihood will be like jumping from the frying pan to the fire itself. More social problems are being created in the towns – crimes, gamblings, prostitution, drugs etc. It will not be surprising to see one day that the Ibans find themselves living under the bridges as can be seen in some Asian cities. Already some Ibans have become scavengers looking for food among the dust bins.

* Source: Volume two of The Broken Shield – The Dayak Dilemma
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Wednesday, July 2

Dayak Kadazandusun Party (DKP)?

Although little publicity has been given to the Dayak Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) and Kadazandusun Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) joint Gawai-Kaamatan celebration in Miri on Saturday 28 June 2008, the holding of the celebration has far greater significance, not only culturally and economically, but politically as well.

It is true the basic aims of the two chambers are fighting for business opportunities for their members and their communities. But the second gawai-kaamatan celebration has kept in momentum the aspirations of the members, while at the same time further strengthening their bonds of friendship, and bringing the Dayak and Kadazandusun communities culturally and politically. Next year it will be KCCI’s turn to play hosts to its counterparts.

The presence of big names in politics gave impetus to some sort of political understanding between the two communities. Minister in the Prime Minister Department, Bernard Dompok and other high profile personalities and cultural groups from Sabah and Deputy Minster Joseph Salang, Leo Moggie, Daniel Tajem, Leonard Linggi and Celestine Ujang and Sarawak’s cultural groups are clear signs of a bigger thing to come.

As one Dayak leader said: “Being neighbours and of similar cultural heritage, this makes it the more importance for the Dayaks and Kadazandusuns to work together not only in the economic and cultural aspects, but also in the political field.”

The idea of forming a regional political party for the Dayaks and Kadazandusuns immediately comes into mind. Such an idea was thought of more than 10 years ago, but it was abandoned due to partly lack of support and partly it was a bit so sensitive. Behind the idea was Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) who was then in the Opposition and the then Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) whose position was rather unique - it was in the government in the federal Barisan and an opposition in the State. It was perceived by Kuala Lumpur as too regionalistic. So PBDS under Moggie chickened out.

Now the political scenario has changed. The political tsunami that hit the shores of West Malaysia and is fast spreading towards East Malaysia, offers, perhaps, an opportune time to reconsider and revive a regional political union, a Dayak Kadazandusun political party.

With a political entity such as this, Dayaks and Kadazandusuns will be able to exert powerful influence on federal politics than it is today where both the Dayak-based and Kadazandusun-based parties are simply being ignored as they are too insignificant. Together they can fight for justice and equality and demand for the 20 points that formed the basis of Sarawak’s and Sabah’s entry into the federation of Malaysia to be implemented. When Malaysian was formed the status of Sabah and Sarawak was equal to the status of Malaya. In other words, the three – Sabah, Sarawak and Malaya (and Singapore at that time) were equal partners. But today, Sarawak and Sabah are just like a State of Perlis or Melaka, which is smaller than the Kapit Division.

Because of the current political scenario brought about by the March elections, some of the Dayaks and Kadazandusuns are now attracted to join Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). But to many of us joining PKR individually will not make any difference as you will only add to its number and strength; you cannot make any major decisions. Preferably, the Kadazandusuns and Dayaks should form one single party for example the Dayak Kadazandusun Party (DKP) and this party in turn will join Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) as the fourth member of the coalition. In this process, the People’s Alliance will not only be strong and formidable, but the most important of all, it ensures the future of the Kadazandusuns and Dayaks enabling them to play greater role and say in the Federal Government.

DKP is in a better position to demand from the People’s Alliance Government for example for the post of deputy prime minister to be given to Sabah or Sarawak, for more Sabahans and Sarawakians be appointed to senior federal posts, for more oil royalty, more development funds, more business opportunities and for the Dayaks the return of NCR land to the rightful owners etc and etc.

Now the ball is being kicked to the courts of the Dayak and Kadazandusun communities. The question is who is to start the ball rolling?