Its blackmail to link road request to Baram dam, says activist

Peter Kallang -

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KUCHING: The man who spearheaded the campaign against the Baram hydroelectric dam, Peter Kallang, said Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing linking the road request of Baram people to reviving the building of the shelved dam “sounds like blackmailing”.

“Like any other citizen anywhere in any country, the people of Baram are entitled to infrastructure and all other amenities which the government of day should provide,” the chairman of the non-governmental organisation Save River said in his reaction to Masing’s “No dam, no road” statement yesterday.

He said if the statement is the official stand of the state government, “it is no doubt an intimidation and a simplistic view”.

“Blaming the people for opposing the dam is also a government’s admission for failing its democratic duty which is “the government of the people for the people and by the people”.

“The people of Baram have every right to reject the Baram dam and opt for any alternative development that they want.”

Former Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem ordered a moratorium on the Baram dam in May 2015.

The RM4 billion dam, is part of 12 dams the state had planned to build to meet the state’s projected energy needs as it aims to be an industrialised state by 2030.

The Baram dam was designed to generate 1,000Mw of electricity.

However, if built, it will also submerge 400 sq km of land, some 36 villages and longhouses and displace 20,000 ethnic tribes people.

Kallang also reminded Masing of what Adenan said a press conference on May 3 last year where he said: “There is no need to have another big dam… we can have mini dams so on, but not a big dam especially when we don’t supply (power) to west Malaysia anymore.”

“Baram is one of the most undeveloped areas in Malaysia.

“Elected representatives should always remember that their duty is to serve the electorates. Just being elected does not mean that they can do what they want without due consideration. To ignore taxpaying citizens of their rights is inhumane it could even be a crime,” Kallang said.

PKR state chief Baru Bian, in wading into the controversy, said by diverting the RM700million that had been approved by the federal government for the road would meant the state government is effectively punishing the Baram community for protecting their land.

The allocation was made under the 10th Malaysia plan.

“This statement by James Masing displays a warped rationale that should be a concern to all right-thinking Sarawakians.

“Why should the people of Baram have to give up their homes and lands in order to have a road?

“Does this mean that every community that requests a basic amenity such as a school or a clinic from the government must sacrifice something?” he asked.

He said the government should look after the people’s needs, not engage in bartering and deal making.

Baru, who is also the assemblyman for Ba Kelalan, said Masing’s statement is not only morally wrong.

“His excuse about the complexity and difficulty to just build expensive roads to cater for a few longhouses only is also unacceptable and incorrect.

“Why should the people of Baram be discriminated against in the provision of a road, and on top of that be so dismissively treated and told to sacrifice their lands?”

Baru, pointing to a World Bank policy working paper on road infrastructure and economic development by Cesar Queiroz and Surhid Gautam, stated that road infrastructure is a necessary element in the development process and concludes that there is a statistically significant relationship between road infrastructure and economic development on a worldwide basis.

He also asked Masing to look at China’s experience.

“The first thing the Chinese government did when they decided to develop their economy was to build roads.

“Once the road infrastructure was complete, economic activities followed. This is a simple cause and effect scenario that applies everywhere.

“Dams are not the be-all and end-all. Ministers should not make excuses for the failure of the government and more importantly, they should not engage in blackmail of the rakyat.”

William Lisu from Long Palai in Baram has one “simple” message for Masing: “No road, no Vote”. –