World Rainforest Movement

Defer Resettlement of Bakun residents in Sarawak

We have received the following statement from Sarawak with a request to circulate it as widely as possible:

“The Bakun Region People’s Committee (BRPC) urges the State government and the Bakun Resettlement Committee (BRC) to shelve the resettlement of the Bakun residents which is tentatively set for July this year, as announced recently by the Chairman of the BRC, YB Dr. James Masing.

The BRPC makes this urgent appeal for the deferment of the resettlement exercise based on the following:-

1. The Federal government has repeatedly announced that the Bakun HEP is postponed indefinitely. The status of the Bakun HEP is now fraught with uncertainties. As such, there is no valid reason for the Sarawak government to compel us, the affected residents, to move out of our present area, our ancestral lands and our source of sustenance and livelihood.

2. The resettlement exercise is also untimely and unnecessary in view of the prevailing economic and currency crisis faced by our country. If our people are moved to the new area, we will be at the mercy of the market as it will take us some time to start a new life and re-establish new gardens and food crops. Every food item and all our daily necessities will have to be purchased. Where we now live, we can still depend on our farms, gardens, forests and rivers and supplement our daily needs from these.

3. If the government intends to proceed with the resettlement exercise, the Bakun residents must be given the choice or option, that is, those who are willing and ready to move, they can go, while those who chose to remain in the present area must be allowed to remain until the Bakun HEP is actually implemented and the area flooded. The government should not use force or intimidate our people to move because by doing so, it is not only unjust in a democratic and civil society that our government leaders proclaim ours to be all this while it also reflects insensitivity and total disregard of our people’s choice of their way of life and determination of their own destiny. There are also a number of unresolved issues that have not been seriously and satisfactorily looked into. Some of the issues which have caused grievances and disappointment among our people are:-

4. The house (bilek) built for resettlement is very costly, i.e. around RM50,000 per unit/bilek. (A unit of low-cost house in Malaysia costs around RM30,000 to RM35,000). There are many complaints about the quality of materials and standard of workmanship in the construction of the houses. Given the high price, what the government is doing, literally speaking, is to give something to our people with the right hand (the compensation money) but takes it back from the people with the left hand (making us pay dearly for the resettlement house).

5. The three acres of land to be given to each family in the resettlement area is inadequate to support the family and our present way of life. Even in the foreseeable future, a family of four or more children will end up with a very tiny piece of land or worse, landless! Is this the price of development and reward for our people’s sacrifice?

Our people fought during the Japanese Occupation, the Communist Insurgency and during the Confrontation to defend our country but at the end of it, we are forcibly uprooted from the land we zealously guarded, the land upon which we shed our sweat and blood to nurture, the land upon which we lay our hopes for our children and our future generations -all by a mere stroke of the pen and terse statements from high public officials.

We do not have to wait that long to see how crucial and important the land is to us. The present economic crisis gripping the nation is a very glaring example. How sure are we that there will be no more similar crisis in the future? To make it worse, each resettled family is required to pay around RM2,200 to RM2,500 for the land title. This is adding insult to injury; we did not ask for this land in the first place.

6. The State government has not fully paid the compensation money to the Bakun residents. So far, only 30% have been given out. Full compensation should be given to our people before the government can ask us to move out. The people do not want to be trapped in a situation where they are forced to move and not fully compensated.

The entire project has been riddled with problems and uncertainties right from the start. The people do not want to be dragged into such a situation not of their own doing.

7. There are still many parcels of lands and gardens which are under dispute and their status yet to be properly determined. Some parcels of lands and gardens have been arbitrarily classified as statelands although we have cultivated and continuously occupied these lands for decades. As long as these lands which are rightfully ours under native customary rights are not compensated for, we will not vacate them. We will assert and enforce our rights thereon.

Given the above reasons, the Bakun Region People’s Commitee strongly urges the State government to seriously and sincerely reconsider and review its decision and plan to proceed with the resettlement exercise.

To go ahead with the resettlement programme given the conjuncture of circumstances i. e. the national economic crisis and the indefinite postponement of the Bakun HEP does not make sense. We strongly feel that it is unjustified, unnecessary, untimely and shortsighted. This decision flies in the face of received logic and wisdom and it can only court disaster.

The government should fully realise that no amount of compensation is considered adequate for the losses and sufferings to be borne by our people because they cannot be quantified. It will unleash untold economic and social costs in the long run. At this point in time, the government should seriously look into alternative models of development, including mini-hydros, and not focus on mega-projects because at the end of the day, it will also have MEGA implications and consequences and MEGA headaches!

Let us uphold the principles of democracy – From the people, of the people, by the people, with the people and for the people and not a few individuals!

Thank you.

“Bersatu Berusaha Berbakti”
(Unite, Strive, Serve)

Yours sincerely,
For and on behalf of BRPC,

(Signed by BATO BAGI) Chairman