Unfulfilled promises frustrating resettled Penans

An aerial view of part of Sg Asap.

By Peter Sibon

KUCHING, March 22: The Penans who are resettled at Metalun and Tegulang resettlement schemes are getting increasingly frustrated with the snail pace of development in their areas.

Murum Penan Development Committee (MPDC) chairman Labang Paneh said even though they initially opposed the development of the 900MW Murum hydroelectric power (HEP) dam project, they decided to heed the government’s advice after being assured that their needs would be met.

“Now after five years being resettled at Tegulang and Metalun, the 353 affected families are getting frustrated with the slow pace of development that was promised to us before the project (dam) was implemented,” Labang told DayakDaily today.

Labang Paneh
Ekran oil plantation located in Sg Asap. The locals request it to be given to them.

Among the issues that needed urgent attention is the promised land for commercial purposes. The original idea was to enable the Penans to slowly transform their semi-nomadic lifestyle to a settled one within a given timeframe.

“We have been promised 14 hectares per family for commercial farming, especially for cash crops like pepper, rubber and palm oil. But until today, we have not seen these crops being planted because the land promised to us have not been alienated. Now, we are getting frustrated with this unfulfilled promise,” he said.

His community also have problems finding jobs at the Murum dam.

“We don’t expect to be employed to do jobs that we can’t do. But jobs like drivers at Murum dam, I’m sure some of our people are qualified, but none of our people are employed there (Murum dam),” he lamented.

The road leading to his resettlement area in Tegulang and the road leading to Metalun from the main road have not been upgraded as promised, too.

“During the raining season, it will be muddy. During the dry and hot season, like now, it will be dusty. So, you just imagine how we have to face such conditions every day when we send out children to school,” he said, adding that the road had remained as it was before — a logging road.

Another pertinent issue that he highlighted was the lack of facilities, such as health clinic and proper schools.

“The current primary schools at Tegulang and Metalun are supposed to be temporary, but until today, there is no sign that we will get new ones. We need the health clinic to be upgraded also,” he stressed.

Pemanca Tony Kulleh

Meanwhile, Balui Lake Native Association (BLNA) chairman cum Kenyah National Association Sarawak (PKKS) advisor Pemanca Tony Kulleh said they had highlighted their needs to the government ample times, especially on the shortage of land for their expanding families as well as for agriculture.

“So, now we have requested from the government to give us Ekran plantation, which is located near our resettlement area for commercial farming. We are getting tired of waiting,” he said.

Pemanca Umek Jeno

Kayan community leader Pemanca Umek Jeno also hoped the government would help his community in Sg Asap to upgrade their houses.

“Our wooden houses are decaying. We need urgent assistance from the government to assist us,” he said.

Both Tony and Umek also highlighted the fact that the road leading to their longhouses in Sg Asap needed to be widened.

“As we are the major producer of electricity in Sarawak, the least we expect is to light our roads at night,” they said.

Both of them also highlighted the need for a proper police station and more police personnel to curb the drug affecting their people.

“At the moment, there is a small police station beat base, but they don’t have the personnel to curb the spread of drug abuse. So, there is a need for the government to set up a drug rehabilitation centre,” they said.

A typical wooden longhouse in Sg Asap that needs urgent repair.

Meanwhile, the three community leaders agreed with Murum assemblyman Kennedy Chukpai Ugon and Belaga assemblyman Datuk Liwan Lagang that the slow pace of development in Belaga district needed urgent attention from the government.

Recently, Kennedy and Liwan called for improved and better deals from the Sarawak government over the seemingly slow implementation of basic facilities and infrastructure, especially roads. They also called for a skilled training centre in Belaga district.

Besides these basic needs, they 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 massive 2,400MW Bakun HEP Dam and the 900MW Murum HEP Dam.

“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 the Ulu Rajang Development Agency (Urda) 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 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. And Belaga town is the only town in Sarawak that is not connected to the grid,” Liwan said yesterday.

Liwan also commented that the least the government should do was to equip Belaga district with proper facilities as a gesture to thank them for sacrificing their livelihood for the two mega dams. — DayakDaily