SARAWAK, Malaysia: A controversial dam project had been scrapped, not because the state government caved in to pressure said Chief Minister of Sarawak Adenan Satem.
“The reason (for scrapping the dam) is that I have examined the matter. There’s no need to have another big dam,” said Mr Adenan said. “We can have mini dams and so on, but not a big dam especially when we don’t supply (power) to west Malaysia anymore,” he added.
The mega Baram Dam project, which would have seen the government build a dam along the second longest river in Malaysia, was meant to enhance investment opportunities in Sarawak.
However, the project would have also resulted in the displacement of hundreds of native Dayak communities in the area, as well as destroyed the bio-diversity along the 400km long river.
The project was put on ice on Mar 21.
“There are a lot of people who have said (the move) is an election gimmick,” said Peter Kallang, Chairman of Save Rivers, a conservation group that has protested against the building of the dam for the last three years.
“But for me, I give the Chief Minister the benefit of the doubt. The guy could be genuine. For now, the villagers can go back to (their) normal (lives),” he added.
ACTIVISTS STILL NOT CONVINCED
The project was first mooted in 2008, six years before Mr Adenan took office. Despite the announcement of that the project was cancelled, activists are still unconvinced. Save Rivers had originally erected a blockade to stop the construction of an access road leading to the site of the proposed dam on the Baram River.
The group says the blockade will remain despite the announcement to cancel the Baram dam project as it is still not confident that the cancellation will be permanent because the previous administration had changed its mind on earlier dam projects.
“His campaign line is 'Give me 5 more years', (but) 5 years doesn’t mean anything because if you look at the Bakun (dam) during Mahathir’s time they stopped it twice because of the Asian economic downturn,” said Kallang.
“There was a delay of 10 years, after that they built Bakun again. So that is what I’m very wary about. I don’t know what the next guy will do. Probably they will build it again.”
Kallang added that the government should work with Save Rivers to explore alternative energy sources such as solar and smaller-scale hydroelectric projects so there will be no need for the Baram dam.
The 1,200 megawatt Baram Dam was one of 12 dams to be built under a multi-billion dollar programme by the state government.
Hydro-electricity power from these dams was planned to be used to develop the state and spur investment in heavy industry. At least four dams have already been built, including the controversial Bakun Dam.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article said the dam project was cancelled days to the Sarawak polls. This is inaccurate. The project was cancelled in mid-March.