MIRI: SAVE Rivers commends Land Development Minister James Masing on his admission that there is a “need for better communication between the implementers of the project and the people at the grassroots,” re: Penan blockade against the Murum Dam, as reported in the Borneo Post on 2 October 2012.
But it is with regret that Masing’s admission for better communication comes much too late – for the Penan and Kenyah communities are already affected by the Murum Dam as the construction started in mid-2008. The target for the completion of the project is by the end of 2013.
Peter Kallang, chairperson of SAVE Rivers, notes, “This is why we have been emphasising the need to abide by the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that Malaysia has signed, whenever the government does any major project involving the rural communities. According to UNDRIP, the communities have the right to demand free, prior, informed consent. This is necessary particularly in large-scale development projects that would affect their livelihoods and ancestral lands.”
“Free, prior and informed consent in particular, needs to be obtained from the communities before commencement of development projects. This was obviously not done for the Penan communities affected by the Murum Dam, as admitted by James Masing,” Peter Kallang added.
Mark Bujang, director of Borneo Resources Institute (Brimas), says, “It is an insult to the Penans to call them “ignorant”, as James Masing has done. Their recent actions [blockade] are in fact an indication that the Penan community in the Kapit division are well aware of their rights according to the Malaysian Constitution, the Land Code and UNDRIP. The Penans and Kenyah there do not want the dam.”
“According to the Resettlement Action Plan for these Penan communities, compensation is below the poverty level in Sarawak and state assistance is only for four years; therefore, is it a surprise that the Penans are very unhappy and are therefore, blockading?”, Mark Bujang added.
Raymond Abin of the Sarawak Conservation Network reports from the ground that out of the eight Penan villages affected, only one village (Long Wat) has received some compensation for their lands. But the villagers had rejected the cheques because the amount was far below what was initially promised.
“I was informed by the Penans themselves that there has been a total lack of consultation, and lack of information from the government about their land seizure to build Murum Dam. They are especially worried about plans to resettle them early next year as no houses have been built yet,” Raymond Abin said.
“One of their demands is to meet with the Chief Minister himself, and the CEO of Sarawak Energy Berhad, and for them to explain to the Penan communities what is going on,” Raymond Abin added.
SAVE Rivers is extending an invitation to James Masing and other high-level government leaders to explain the principles of UNDRIP.
Peter Kallang says, “It is unfortunate that many high-level government leaders do not understand the international UN declaration that Malaysia has signed, and are quick to accuse us of “instigating”. We therefore would like an opportunity to explain to them the rights of indigenous peoples under the laws of this country.”
Secretariat of SAVE Sarawak’s Rivers Network