KUCHING, Oct 19 — Mambong state assemblyman Datuk Dr Jerip Susil today insisted he actively engaged with Bidayuh villagers regarding the Bengoh dam in Padawan, rejecting a Bar Council report asserting that scant information had been provided to the group.
"(The report) sounds more negative as if we have mistreated them," he told Malay Mail Online when contacted over the report.
"Yes, after I became the state assemblyman for Bengoh (now changed to Mambong) in 2001, I was actively involved in telling the affected villagers about the benefit of the dam and that Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) was also engaged to do the socio-economic impact, under Professor Gabriel Tongga," he said.
Dr Jerip, who is also the assistant state minister of public health, said dialogues were held at various levels to engage the affected villagers.
"A liaison committee, under former Bengoh state assemblyman Sora Rusah, was set up to engage with the villagers who have their own task force committee, headed by Atodieu Peu. There was free flow of information to all the four affected villages," he said.
He said that all the complaints and grievances of the villages had been received in writing and all channelled through the village task force.
He further said the Bar Council committee that prepared the report never contacted him prior to releasing it.
"Their views were heavily skewed by those from the opposition," he charged.
According to the report, the Bar Council's committee on Orang Asli Rights, which undertook a fact-finding mission to Bengoh, from September 17 to 21 last year, found that the affected indigenous people from four villages — Kampung Taba Sait, Kampung Pain Bojong, Kampung Rejoi and Kampung Semban — either moved to higher ground outside the Bengoh Dam area or to the government’s Bengoh Resettlement Scheme (BRS) in Padawan.
“No formal communication was received by the villagers from the contracting companies or the state government before construction began,” said the Bar Council committee’s report released yesterday.
The report claimed that the about 1,600 villagers were given verbal instructions to relocate or move to higher grounds when the dam was close to completion, prompting protests which resulted in a civil suit.
Construction of the RM310 million Bengoh Dam project, which was designed to secure water supply for Kuching and surrounding areas up to 2030, began in 2007 and was completed in 2010.
The report also claimed that government officials had told villagers, back when the Bengoh Dam was mooted in the early 2000s, that they would benefit from the dam and there was no need to shift from the area, but they only needed to move further up above the water level when their villages were flooded.
“Many of them did not object to the dam project as the impression given then was that their villages would not be affected by the project,” said the report.