Same story, different dams

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  • Thursday, 21 May 2015

worried looks. Baram folks looking worried after hearing that the state government have given the gohead for the construction of the Baram Dam to proceed. Stephen pic

SINCE Saturday, I have been getting calls and messages everyday from anti-Baram Dam activists.

They are alleging that there are certain wakil rakyat and senior government administration officers who are conspiring to get huge amount of contracts from the Baram Dam project.

That explains the haste in which they had plotted to get the Baram Dam project approved, so they claimed.

These activists also alleged that certain longhouse chiefs in Baram had been bribed to pledge their support for the project to commence.

The names of certain VIPs allegedly behind these conspiracies were mentioned.

I have heard these conspiracy theories before.

Last year I heard that timber extraction contracts worth at least RM70mil had already been agreed upon between certain quarters with regard to harvesting of logs from the forests in Baram at the 400 sq km site being earmarked for the Baram Dam water catchment reservoir.

What is certain is that the Baram folk in the 25 villages to be flooded are afraid. The look on the faces of these anxious Baram folk says it all.

They have been coming in droves to Miri since Sunday to convene emergency meetings and to meet lawyers to seek help.

I have seen these looks before.

In 1996 I saw similar expression of anguish and fear when I travelled to the interior of Bakun to visit the 15 longhouses that were to be uprooted by the Bakun Dam.

Those settlements located in the upper reaches of the Balui River in the Belaga district were populated by about 10,000 people. All of them were eventually uprooted and resettled into the Sungai Asap Resettlement Scheme, some 60km from Belaga town.

When I interviewed those Bakun folk then, they too claimed conspiracy theories in how they were forced to move out.

They claimed their longhouse chiefs had sold them out, and had signed the agreement for the relocation with certain YBs without the consent of all of the longhouse people.

They also claimed that certain wakil rakyat eagerly wanted the Bakun Dam because of the huge contracts that were waiting for them.

Subsequently, three Bakun villagers went to Kuala Lumpur and filed a civil suit in the KL High Court to stop the Bakun Dam project from commencing.

In their suit they claimed that the majority of the Bakun people had not given consent for the dam project to proceed.

The High Court decided in their favour and granted an injunction to stop the construction of the dam.

However, the then prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, issued a statement and slammed the injunction, saying that the Bakun Dam was an important national project and that it was not a football that could be kicked around.

Not long after that, the Appeals Court reversed the High Court decision. The injunction against the Bakun Dam project was cancelled.

The resettlement of the 10,000 Bakun folk commenced and the building of that gigantic dam began.

The rest is history.

Now, I am seeing the same scene unfolding again in Baram.

I was informed that a law suit may be filed soon against the state government over the manner in which it had granted permission for the Baram Dam project to proceed.

The Baram folk are crying that they have been victimised.

The same conspiracy theories that clouded the Bakun Dam project are resurfacing, this time in Baram which is about 700km away.

There is one distinct difference though between Bakun and Baram. The population in Baram is more aggressive and vocal compared with the Bakun folk. The Kayans and Kenyahs in Baram are more assertive, louder and definitely bolder.

I went to Balui twice before the Bakun Dam was built, visited Sungai Asap 14 times and the Bakun Dam nine times after it was built.

I must say that the Bakun folk are more docile and resigned to their fate more readily.

This time though I can see the Baram folk behaving differently in wanting to stop the project.

They are willing to go the distance and will slug it out with the state government.


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Opinion , East Malaysia , bakum dam , baram


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