Belaga hosts 2 mega HEP dams, but its people given raw deal

Seated: Liwan (left) speaking at the news conference in the presence of Kennedy (centre), Thomas (right) and Belaga youth leaders.

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By Peter Sibon

KUCHING, March 20: Assemblymen Datuk Liwan Lagang and Kennedy Chukpai Ugon are “a bit disappointed” that basic facilities and infrastructure, especially roads, are being implemented at a snail’s pace in Belaga district.

The area also lacks a skills training centre, they lamented.

In urging the state government to give Belaga folk a better deal, the duo also highlighted the lack of job opportunities for the locals from the operators of two major hydroelectric power (HEP) plants in the district, namely the 2,400MW Bakun and the 900MW Murum dams.

“As the money spinner of the Sarawak government, we are a bit disappointed that a lot of basic infrastructures are a bit too slow although we have URDA (Upper Rajang Development Agency) coming, where all these issues will be addressed. But it’s still a bit slow compared to other places (in Sarawak).

“The first thing is electricity. We are lighting up Sarawak and yet we (those living below Bakun dam) don’t have electricity. What we want is 101 per cent (coverage). Other places, like Bau, is already having 97 per cent coverage of 24-hour electricity supply from the grid, while Belaga town is the only town in Sarawak that is not connected to the grid,” said Liwan yesterday.

Belaga assemblyman Liwan emphasised that both Belaga and Murum, the two state constituencies in Belaga district, should be given more allocation and also the needed electricity supply, since the 3,100MW generated from the area is being exported to Kalimantan, Indonesia.

“At least equip our areas as a gesture to thank the people who have sacrificed their livelihoods for the dams. We also want a highway, but if that can’t be done, then at least a decent road,” he said, adding that roads leading to the Metalun and Tegulang resettlement areas need improvement.

Liwan also highlighted that the land above the water in Bakun lake should be surveyed and titles issued to the owners.

“As for land, we want all the land surrounding Bakun Lake, which is still ours, must be compensated and paid for. Besides that, we also want to claim our land that has been submerged above the estimated flood line, which is the land between the flood line and the actual impoundment line. The government has not paid us,” he revealed.

He added that he had led the local community to farm the land above the lake as they had no more suitable land for farming near their resettlement area in Sg Asap. Each family was allocated only three acres.

“And I’m leading the local community to farm there. I have set up my farm there, and you have been to my farm there. If the government of the day wants to take action, take action against me first,” he said.

Liwan, who is also Assistant Minister of Water Supplies, disclosed that during his recent trip to Canada, where the delegation also visited a HEP dam, the Frst Nation people were compensated properly and even given 15 per cent equity in the dam even though they were not affected by the dam.

Liwan also highlighted the lack of an emergency response plan for those living below the Bakun dam.

“It (the issue) has appeared for years in the newspapers, but it has not been explained to the locals and there has not been any drill and exercise being conducted. Even if there is an exercise, it will be a failure because you cannot communicate from Bakun to all longhouses below the dam as there are no communication towers. And even if there is, there is no electricity. So, how is the communication tower going to work?” he asked.

He pointed out that if Sarawak really needed communication facilities, it would be for those living below Bakun dam who really needed it as their lives are ‘seperti nyawa di hujung tanduk’ (living in imminent danger).

Murum assemblyman Kennedy, on the other hand, said there was an urgent need to repair all the houses in Sg Asap Resettlement scheme as the wooden structures had started to decay.

“The houses at Sg Asap are getting ‘reput’ (dilapidated) after 20 years. The problem is with the federal government, where Tun Dr Mahathir was the PM then. It’s now time for the federal government to (take a) look. It’s payback time. They made tonnes of money from there,” he said.

The first-term lawmaker also highlighted the need for a technical and skills training centre to be set up in Belaga district.

“We also need a technical and skill training centre, similar to the ones in places such as Betong and Mukah, as we have assets such as the lake for aquaculture and biodiversity such as herbs. We can also have a mechanical engineering school there as we have two dams there, and there is a need to maintain the turbines and even the electricity (supply),” he highlighted.

Meanwhile, a councillor, Thomas Balan Bang, urged the government to give priority to the locals to work in Bakun and Murum dams and also with Sarawak Energy Berhad as Belaga is the main source of power in Sarawak.

“A few weeks ago, we received complaints because many of our young people have the qualifications. There are some already qualified as electrical engineers, but when they applied for jobs, they never ‘kena’ (get the job). Why are they not given priority?

“If indeed they don’t have the basic knowledge, then teach them. It’s the basic fundamental for the Bakun management to look after what has been promised before, which is jobs for the locals,” he stressed.

Thomas asserted that if there were not enough qualified locals from Belaga, then it was high time the management for the two dams train more local youths.

“If they had done that since the beginning, they would have done their masters (degree). There must be a plan to do that … to give back to the community. So far, there is no such thing,” he said, adding that even the security guards employed in Bakun are outsiders.

Thomas also wondered why no one from the district had been appointed as a member of the board of directors (BOD) in the Bakun HEP dam management.

“Why are we not sitting in the board of directors? Who else knows Bakun better than us, who are from there? The issues in Bakun are in our hearts. You don’t ask people from KL or elsewhere to sit on the BOD. Are you saying that there are no qualified people in Belaga? I was once a member of the board of directors in one of the companies in Shell,” shared Thomas. — DayakDaily