‘New’ Papar dam site fails to placate villagers and activists

Sabah Infrastructure Development Minister Datuk Peter Anthony addresses a press conference in Kota Kinabalu April 12, 2019. — Bernama pic
Sabah Infrastructure Development Minister Datuk Peter Anthony addresses a press conference in Kota Kinabalu April 12, 2019. — Bernama pic

KOTA KINABALU, June 26 — The new site for the proposed Papar dam has failed to appease environmentalists who claimed that the project will still affect villagers in surrounding areas.

At least three groups — the Task Force Against Kaiduan Dam (TAKAD), Sabah Environmental Protection Association (SEPA) and Tanah Dahai (a coalition of communities impacted by the environment) — have spoken out against the announcement of the project by State Infrastructure Development Minister Datuk Peter Anthony.

“We have repeatedly stated... any new site must be dealt with by rule of law and due process which is absent in the new government as well. We have never received any technical details of the new site.

“All these ministers/and groups who are pro-dam seem to be making judgment calls according to what, we have no idea. We are still waiting for a technical report devoid of vested interest that can be trusted, then evaluate the pros and cons,” said SEPA president Lanash Thanda.

She said this project, along with the Tanjung Aru Eco Development, was a clear indication that the Warisan government has not held up their end of the bargain when chief minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal said that decisions would take the people’s views and the interests of the government and investors into account.

“When and how and whose views were taken? How were these views collected? These are a few of the questions that need to be answered,” she said.

TAKAD, whose main issue has been the displacement and disruption of livelihood of the indigenous people, said that the new proposed site was very close to the controversial Kaiduan dam, which was repeatedly scrapped and rebooted over the last decade by the Barisan Nasional (BN) administration.

“How can he say that no villagers will be affected? There are some nine villages upstream, which could be potentially displaced or submerged when they build the dam.

“The problem remains the same — the indigenous community’s rights to their land and livelihood are being eroded,” said TAKAD chairman Diana Sipail.

She said the same villages remain under threat — Kampung Timpayasa, Tiku, Terian, Buayan and Babagon Laut among others.

Yesterday, Anthony announced a new “final” site adjacent to Kampung Mandoringin in Ulu Papar for an RM3 billion Papar hydroelectric dam that would help support the entire west coast district, from Beaufort up to Kota Kinabalu.

This would be the fourth site proposed since the Kaiduan dam in Ulu Papar about a decade ago; it is located within Penampang but closer to the Papar border. Scraping the dam was among the 2018 election promises made by Pakatan Harapan.

When the Warisan-led government took over, villagers and environmentalists were shocked to hear that the dam project was back on, albeit with a new name — Papar dam — with its location downstream in two proposed sites — Mandolipan and Bisuang — before yesterday claiming that the sites were unsuitable and the project had to be moved back upstream.

“That’s misleading information. They first said the Kaiduan Dam was off, but it is essentially the same place, same river, same affected areas with a new name. Just based on the rough location described from yesterday’s site, it is still the same,” said Sipail.

Senator Adrian Lasimbang from Penampang, who has worked with villages in the interior on gravity water feed systems said that Kampung Mandoringin was close to the original Kaiduan dam, just further downstream.

“I still maintain that a dam is not the solution to our water problems. Address the non-revenue water first, improve the distribution system, then consider the dam,” he said.

He said he was also “puzzled” by the minister’s announcement to build a hydroelectric dam only outputting 100 Kilo Volt Ampere (KvA) of power which is 80kw.

“We don't even need to build a dam to generate 500kw from a mini hydro. It does not have any merits to justify the construction of the dam... It's just a gimmick to justify the size and making it a multi-purpose dam,” he said.

Sipail said that the government’s decision to go ahead with the dam was a betrayal to the people of Sabah.

“TAKAD has tried to engage with the government on the Papar Dam project, but the sentiments of those that will be affected have been totally disregarded by the Warisan Government.

“The statement from the minister clearly demonstrates the failure of the leadership to come up with other alternatives for the people and, instead, going along with BN’s greedy project style.

“We will continue to object and take the necessary action [to] safeguard our heritage. The environment, our land, and our way our living is our heritage and it cannot be forsaken in the name of the Warisan government,” said Sipail.

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