Home Civil Society Voices 2012 Civil Society Voices Swiss NGO slams plans for 50 new dams in Sarawak

Swiss NGO slams plans for 50 new dams in Sarawak

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Sarawak’s indigenous people may have to pay the price for a US$105bn industrialisation scheme. A new report exposes the Sarawak government’s excessive hydropower plans. Bruno Manser Fund is calling for a moratorium on all dam construction after Bakun and for the withdrawal of foreign consultants from socially and environmentally damaging hydropower plans.

Tens of thousands of indigenous people from the rainforests of Borneo are facing forced displacement from their traditional lands on the basis of hydropower plans drawn up by the state government of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo.

A report released today by the Bruno Manser Fund entitled ‘Sold down the river. How Sarawak dam plans compromise the future of Malaysia’s indigenous peoples’ examines the dam plans that form part of Score, Southeast Asia’s most ambitious and most expensive energy project, with planned investments of up to US$105bn by 2030.

Cultural genocide

Under the guise of ‘development’, the Sarawak state government under Chief Minister Taib Mahmud is planning to virtually dam all the rivers in the state’s interior, irrespective of the social and environmental implications. The dam plans, which are being pushed ahead under a cloak of secrecy, constitute the core element of the so-called Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, Score. If implemented, they would entail the cultural genocide of a significant part of Sarawak’s rich indigenous culture.

Indigenous cultures from Sarawak’s interior, such as the Kayan, Kenyah, Penan and Kelabit, are likely to face extinction if the dam plans are implemented in full. But the dams are also likely to have serious negative repercussions on downstream Iban and Bidayuh communities. For centuries, the rivers of Borneo have been the lifeline of Sarawak’s indigenous people. The planned Baram Dam alone is estimated to be displacing 20000 Borneo natives and flooding over 40000 hectares of rainforests and farmlands.

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A first series of 12 dams is currently being implemented by Sarawak Energy, the state’s power monopolist. The report stresses the fact that Sarawak is already confronted with a power excess: the current peak demand in Sarawak is around 1000 megawatts (MW) and is thus far less than the power that can be produced by the recently completed Bakun dam alone, which, with a capacity of 2400 MW, is Asia’s largest dam outside China.

Foreign corporate actors’ pact with the devil

The Bruno Manser Fund report discloses that many companies involved in the dam plans are closely linked to the family of Sarawak’s long-term Chief Minister Taib Mahmud and to Cahya Mata Sarawak (CMS), the flagship of the Taib family’s business empire. Taib is currently under investigation for corruption by Malaysia’s corruption watchdog, MACC.

In order to benefit from the strong investments linked to the Sarawak dam plans, foreign corporate actors, such as Australia’s Hydro Tasmania, Snowy Mountains Engineering Company (SMEC), GHD, the US consultant MWH Global, Norway’s Norconsult, Germany’s Fichtner and construction companies such as China’s Three Gorges Corporation and Sinohydro have concluded a ‘pact with the devil’ and are assisting the Taib government with its momentous dam projects.

Key managerial positions within Sarawak Energy, the implementing agency of the dams, are held by foreigners, such as by the Norwegian CEO Torstein Dale Sjøtveit and by the Australian dam project director Andrew Pattle, who has been seconded by Hydro Tasmania.

Funding agencies behind the Sarawak dam plans include Malaysian banks, such as RHB Bank, EON Bank and AmInvestment Bank, as well as Kuwait Finance House and Kenanga Investment Bank, which is a joint venture between the Taib family’s Cahya Mata Sarawak (CMS) and Deutsche Bank.

Bruno Manser Fund calling for a moratorium

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The Sarawak state government and Sarawak Energy as the implementing agency are facing increasing opposition from the affected communities against their excessive dam plans. Representatives of SAVE Rivers, a Sarawak network set up to fight the Taib government’s dam plans, are currently embarking on a tour through Australia. The ‘Hydro Tasmania out of Sarawak’ tour is aimed at increasing the pressure on publicly-owned Hydro Tasmania, one of the most important corporate actors involved in the Sarawak dam plans.

The Bruno Manser Fund is calling for a moratorium on all Sarawak dam construction and for an independent external review of the Bakun, Bengoh and Batang Ai dams. Sarawak Energy is asked to sack its chairman, Hamed Abdul Sepawi, the cousin of Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, and to provide full transparency of its finances, contracts and funders. Foreign corporate actors are asked to shun Score, as any involvement in the Taib government’s hydropower program is inextricably linked to corruption, environmental damage and human rights violations.

The full report entitled “Sold down the river. How Sarawak dam plans compromise the future of Malaysia’s indigenous peoples” is now available online at:

For daily updates on the ‘Hydro Tasmania out of Sarawak tour’

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