Second wave of development

SARAWAK Corridor of Renewable Energy (Score) is branded as a second major wave of development to hit Sarawak’s shore which some describe as a “tsunami”. With a projected investment of about RM300bil up until 2030, it is a wake-up call for everyone, especially the 607,800 people living within the 70,709 sq km perimeter of Score in the central region of Sarawak.

Many who may be directly affected by the Score projects are still coming to grips with the potential impact it will have on their traditional livelihood and environment.

For those who live in Asap, Batang Ai, Bintulu and Mukah who already have seen some changes, they have come to realise that the development agenda which they had relentlessly demanded at every general election to raise their standards of living, inadvertently comes at a price.

Make no mistake about it – Score is no longer just rhetoric. To date, some RM24bil investments have been ploughed into the state under this banner, while a further RM70bil worth of projects have been proposed. By 2030, Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, the architect of Score, said he expects some RM300bil worth of investments to be poured into the area which will ultimately turn Sarawak into a bustling industrialised state and a hub of energy source for Borneo island.

It is envisioned that excess energy from Sarawak will be sold to Brunei, Kalimantan Indonesia, Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia. However, the issue being debated at the moment is how much power will be sold to them and at what price.

Score was launched on Feb 11, 2008. It is one of the five regional development corridors being developed throughout Malaysia. The core of Score is energy resources, particularly hydropower (28,000 MW), coal (1.46 billion tonnes), and natural gas (40.9 trillion cu ft) found abundantly within the central region.

Ten priority industries have been identified for Score – oil-based, aluminium, steel and glass, tourism, palm oil, timber, livestock, aquaculture and marine engineering industries.

The forecast numbers are rather ambitious; Sarawak’s GDP is projected to expand by leaps and bounds to RM118bil annually, providing 1.6 million jobs and doubling the population to 4.6 million by 2030. About 800,000 job opportunities will be directly churned by giant industries within the Score. Sarawak’s current GDP is RM23bil per annum.

The main towns that will be immediately affected by Score are Mukah, Sibu and Bintulu, while the five growth nodes are Samalaju (Similajau) in Bintulu (designated for heavy industries), Mukah (smart city & research and development, training institutions will be located here), Tanjung Manis (deep seaport & halal hub), Tunoh in Kapit (specialised in agriculture, reforestation and eco-tourism) and Baram hub (agriculture, reforestation and eco-tourism).

Of all the areas mentioned, Mukah and Tanjung Manis are undergoing massive infrastructural constructions. The first of the smelters plant to move within Score is Press Metal Bhd’s plant in Mukah. The RM2.5bil plant has an initial smelting capacity of 100,000 tonnes and total capacity of 300,000 tonnes. Currently, it is powered by Sarawak Energy Bhd’s (SEB) grid and the Mukah coal plant which started operations last year.

Bakun Dam

At the core of Score lies Bakun Dam, Southeast Asia’s biggest hydroelectric dam. The dam which is expected to be fully operational by next year is expected to initially generate 1,776MW mainly to cater for energy-intensive aluminium smelting plants in Samalaju and a poly-silicon factory in Bintulu. Bakun Dam’s total capacity, at this point, stands at 2,400MW.

With that, the recently privatised state utility SEB is expected to be one of the main beneficiaries of Score as it is the main agency that oversees the management of energy resources in Sarawak.

Even so, projections, while they may look good on paper, may change if circumstances change. But as it stands now, it appears to be drawing significant interest in the business community locally and abroad, while at the same time rallying criticisms from environmentalist and social activists. In a nutshell,

Score evokes widely varied emotions from apathy, empathy, confusion, fear to sheer excitement.

Observers will be watching closely if the “people factor” is given due attention, which essentially involves those directly affected by the infrastructural development within Score and the human resources needs.

The people factor is crucial to the success of Score, as correctly pointed out by Sarawak Land Development Minister Datuk Dr James Jemut Masing. Action, he says, should focus on the welfare of the people, especially the resettled “Bakun” people at Sungai Asap in Belaga.

“The Bakun people’s welfare should be tackled first,” says Masing, adding that Asap has become a point of reference for Penans in Murum who are facing similar uncertainties.

The Murum Dam construction is expected to be completed by 2013 and 1,352 Penans will have to be relocated as a result. The state government is currently in talks with the settlers on their new resettlement area.

Government officials say “this time around, it will be voluntary resettlement. We are working closely with the Penan in Murum to make sure that they will benefit from the resettlement.” Other hydroelectric dams planned in the pipeline are those in Pelagus, Baleh, Baram, Limbang and Lawas.

When the Bakun Dam construction was confirmed in early 1990s, 15 longhouses and more than 9,000 indigenous people living in the Balui valley were resettled.

The emotional farewell of the first group in 1996 was heart wrenching. Fourteen years have passed but the resettled people of Bakun, who have been moved to the Asap settlement, still seem to have plenty to complain about, indeed a far cry from the rosy picture that was painted then when they were persuaded to move.

According to Masing, many who live in longhouses had to endure power blackouts as they couldn’t afford to pay their electricity bills while many young ones had left the settlement due to lack of job opportunities. To add insult to injury, a significant portion of the land given to the people for farming was discovered to be not fertile and subject to flash floods, a major bane for their crops.

The people at Asap fear being sidelined once the Bakun Dam starts operations, says Masing, adding that the government plans to develop fishing and tourism industries within the Bakun Dam, a plan that is being lauded. Priority should be given to the displaced community to tap these opportunities.

“There must be greater awareness among the corporate sector of their corporate responsibility,” Suhakam Commissioner Dr Hirman Ritom had said earlier while the state must realise the need to implement human rights norm and legal framework in the pursuit of development and industrialisation with greater community and civil society participation.

In Taib’s own words on Score: “... we cannot become a developed nation unless the people have the capacity to participate in the big transformation of economic management which entails transfer of technology in carrying out our tasks from the most difficult one, which is the development of Mukah as a Smart City, to that of providing better quality of amenities to the people. If the administration walks that talk, the historic development agenda of the state should be on the right track.”

Related stories: The dam runneth over Sarawak shakers

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