by Tony Thien
Malaysiakini.com, 31 July 2008
A Sarawak social activist – in reference to his Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud’s rebuff of environmentalists – said sardonically that the state need not stop with their dam building craze.
See Chee How said that if the state was planning to export electricity from dams – the 12 new dams they plan to build in the next 12 years – they might as well keep building on dams.
Taib was quoted in local newspapers as saying that “environmentalists may have their say on the environment but it would be the people in the government who decide how best to charter the course of the state’s future and also to further develop its economy”.
He said the 12 dams totalling 7,000 MW production capacity collectively will go on ahead “for the sake of economic development despite the criticisms, sometimes destructive, coming from certain activists.”
“They voice their concerns but the government decides.”
Taib added that he would also not allow a small group to decide on the betterment of the people, and that protests don’t solve economic problems like hunger and poverty.
See – a lawyer and state PKR state liaison committee member – told Malaysiakini that initial hydro power studies first carried out by an Australian engineering group under a Colombo Plan Plan Technical Aid in the early 1960s , already identified more than 50 suitable dam sites.
Further studies – including master plan studies – in the 1970s identified dam sites – including Bakun and Murum for immediate implementation. It was recommended that power should be passed to Peninsular Malaysia via an undersea cable.
The state’s first hydroelectric dam is at Batang Ai in Sri Aman Division, with a capacity of 600MW. The second 2400MW Bakun Dam is at advanced construction stages and is expected to be completed in two to three years.
The social activist questioned the chief minister’s rationale, and said that despite many poverty alleviation projects in rural areas, many remain under the poverty line.
See sounded that if foreign NGOs and local activists did not discover and disclose state-owned Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB)’s plan to develop the 12 hydro-power plants, it would have stayed a secret.
He thanked the Bruno-Manser Fund (BMF) for obtaining SEB presentation material at a briefing in China early this year. It showed plans for the proposed dams.
The PKR man said that the government should be responsible and transparent, and not keep vital information from the public.
Malaysiakini learnt today that two Chinese companies – Three Gorges Hydro Project Corporation and Sino-Hydro – are competing to bid for the RM3billion 950MW Murum dam, located slightly above Bakun in central Sarawak.
It is further known that officials from both companies are keenly awaiting the state cabinet’s final decision on the matter.
Sino-Hydro is already in Sarawak, involved in the construction of the Bakun dam as well as a much smaller dam in Bengoh near Kuching and has teamed up with a local public-listed company Naim Cendera – which has close links to state leaders.
Many countries, especially in the West, are moving away from hydro dams and instead concentrating on enhancing energy efficiency and conservation, See said.
A local leading Dayak activist Nicholas Bawin last week told Malaysiakini that the government should carry out socio-economic and environmental impact assessment studies first before going ahead with dam constructions.
Main concerns are the enormous amount of land mass used which encroach native customary rights lands, communities displaced and reduction of water quality, according to Bawin who is also state PKR state liaison committee deputy chairperson.
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