Aliran is astonished at the Sarawak’s Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) controller’s remarks that public participation in an Environment Impact Assessment process is dangerous as evident in cases of locals such as the Penans being allegedly manipulated and used by NGOs.
Controller Dr Penguang Manggil was reported as saying that the people, especially in the rural areas, did not have a high level of education and could be easily manipulated: “If the EIA study goes for public review, then it might be difficult for the project to proceed” (Borneo Post, 9 October 2007).
In an age of evidence-based policy, there is absolutely zero evidence for his alarmist claims. There has never been public participation in the NREB’s EIA practice; so his claims are based on nothing more than disdain for the intelligence of the people in the rural areas.
Indeed, if the colonial authorities had resorted to a similar baseless argument, there would have been no recognition of Dayak political parties and associations. At that time, Dayaks were even more rural and even less educated; hence, by Penguang’s logic, they should have been even more amenable to being manipulated and therefore not to be trusted to participate responsibly in the social and political life of Sarawak.
Instead of acting in a professional manner, Penguang has indulged in empty political rhetoric, and brought the NREB into disrepute. His statement suggests that the NREB is not a professional agency with the duty of ensuring the proper conduct of EIAs. Rather, his statement suggests that the NREB sees its job as getting projects approved regardless of their environmental or social impact.
The fact is the NREB passed an EIA for the Shin Yang Forest Plantation in Murum that contained a false claim, namely, that there were no people residing within the area in question.
Penguang, instead of acknowledging the error committed by the NREB, the consultants and Shin Yang Forest Plantation, chooses to cast aspersions on the capacity of the Penan to participate in the EIA process. If there had been public participation, including Penan representation, the NREB might have been saved from such an embarrassment – and dispossession of the rights of the Penan.
As things stand, Penguang would better do his job – and restore some confidence in the professionalism of the NREB – if he were to acknowledge the error, and call both Shin Yang Forest Plantation and the consultants to order for having breached their attestation that the EIA report does not contain any material errors. What greater error can there be than to “disappear” seven Penan villages and a thousand Penan men, women and children?
Aliran Executive Committee
16 October 2007