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?