Don't use Bakun dam as an example to build Papar dam, environmental group tell Sabah govt

Save Rivers Sarawak chairman Peter Kallang today said that the Sabah state government should not have cited Bakun dam as being a ‘beneficial’ example over its decision to go ahead with the construction of the Papar dam in the state. ― Picture by Sulok Tawie
Save Rivers Sarawak chairman Peter Kallang today said that the Sabah state government should not have cited Bakun dam as being a ‘beneficial’ example over its decision to go ahead with the construction of the Papar dam in the state. ― Picture by Sulok Tawie

KUCHING, July 1 — Save Rivers Sarawak chairman Peter Kallang today said that the Sabah state government should not have cited Bakun dam as being a “beneficial” example over its decision to go ahead with the construction of the Papar dam in the state.

He said Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal’s recent claim that Sarawak was reaping the benefit from Bakun dam was a lopsided remark used by the Sarawak government and Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) as a publicity stunt.

He said the remark did not take into account the long-standing problems and complaints of the indigenous communities affected by the Bakun dam.

“The Bakun dam submerged an area of 700 square kilometres of forest, farmland and villages while 10,000 indigenous community members from 15 villages were displaced and resettled in Sungai Asap,” Kallang said.

He said most of the displaced indigenous people were still struggling to make a living in SungaI Asap while in their original villages they had vast land for farming, hunting and foraging.

He said each family was only given three acres of farmland which was not enough to sustain a living since much of the land was rocky, sloped and sandy.

“On top of that, many plots of the land are inaccessible as there were no roads and having very difficult terrain,” Kallang said.

He said the government failed to fulfill its promises that the Bakun dam would bring job opportunities, improved standard of living and development.

He said many formal complaints from the people had gone unnoticed and unheard.

He said Belaga state assemblyman Datuk Liwan Lagang, who is also the Assistant Minister of Water Supply and Murum state assemblyman Kennedy Chukpai Ugon have also lamented of the slow pace development in Belaga district, after more than 20 years since the construction of the Bakun dam, followed by the Murum dam in 2014.

He said Belaga town, despite in the same district with Bakun dam, is yet to be connected to the power grid.

Bakun dam was bought by the Sarawak government in 2017 from the federal government for RM2.6 billion and also agreed to settle all outstanding loans plus interests.

Kallang also reminded the Sabah chief minister to get the consent of the local communities before proceeding with the Papar dam.

“In any mega project which is affecting the environment, properties and people, the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as stated in the United Nation Declaration on Right of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) must be seriously observed.

He added any social and environmental wellbeing of the indigenous peoples must never be compromised by economic objectives.

The Sabah state government, despite the protests by the environmental groups and the local communities, has decided to go ahead with the construction the Papar dam, costing some RM3 billion at a new site in Ulu Papar, instead of at a site at the Penampang-Papar border.

According to Sabah Infrastructure Development Minister Datuk Peter Anthony, the construction of the dam, both to generate electricity and to hold raw water, would begin as soon as the new plan was ready.

When completed, the Papar dam would generate 100 kilovolt ampere electricity and has the capacity to hold 1,000 million litres of raw water per day to solve treated water problems faced by Papar, Kota Kinabalu and nearby areas.

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