A nine-part TV2 Mandarin documentary series which was to be aired from 26 April to 7 May was forced off the air on 28 April. What didn’t they want us to see? Our correspondent provides some clues.
The documentary series was supposed to report on the social impact faced by more than 10,000 natives of the Belaga area who were forcibly relocated to Sungai Asap and Sungai Koyan area in 1998 to make way for the controversial Bakun Dam. Two episodes of this documentary were aired on 26 and 27 April before the series was yanked off.
Chou Z Lam, the producer of the documentary, revealed in a blog post that this was another instance of news interference by the BN government during and after the Hulu Selangor by election. He was told that some “sensitive elements” in the documentary could be harmful to the coming Sibu by-election and the Sarawak state election.
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Chou felt sorry for the people of Sungai Asap whom he had interviewed, for their problems and voices could not be heard now by the people of east and west Malaysia.
And what are some of the problems faced by those forced to relocate? Our correspondent reports:
The resettlers were allocated 3 acres (1.25 ha) per family which signed up for an apartment. Moreover, they were charged for the 3 acres at a premium of RM900 per acre; in comparison, the grant of leases to timber companies to establish oil palm plantations in the area was at a premium of RM600 per ha, i.e, about RM250 per acre.
It was clear that this was planned poverty. At the time of the resettlement planning in 1996, 3 acres of oil palm could not bring in a household income above the poverty line for a family of five. Even today, at RM500 per tonne of oil palm fruit, 3 acres can only bring in, at best, a gross income of RM10,000 a year. This is a net income of around RM7,000 a year, or about RM580 a month. The Mid-Term Review of the Ninth Malaysia Plan gave a poverty line income of RM830 a month for Sarawak.
Given this basic fact, is it any surprise that the documentary is not being allowed?
Urban people in Sarawak have only heard about the allegedly large sums of compensation given to the people affected by Bakun. What they do not realise is that while some people did get large sums, most didn’t. Moreover, the government held back the compensation due to them for their lost homes — as a means of forcing them to pay for the resettlement housing. From the very beginning, people have been unhappy about the quality and size of the resettlement housing. For most of them, their previous homes were much larger, and made of better material.
In addition, no concession was made in giving them preferential rates for electricity, or even an allowance of free electricity. They have only enjoyed the same concession granted in the past year as everyone else. As a result, after a short while, the Penan, the poorest of all the resettlers, had their electricity cut off when they could not afford to pay, and have had to live with no electricity for most of the past 12 years.
Imagine: a people who sacrifice their ancestral lands and homes for a hydroelectric dam living without electricity because they cannot afford to pay the high tariffs charged by the Sarawak electricity company, when one day of the previous Sarawak Energy Bhd’s CEO’s remuneration of RM1.3 million a year would have paid for all of the Penan’s electricity consumption for one year! The previous SEB CEO was not only the a former State Secretary, but also the brother-in-law of the Chief Minister.
1Malaysia? Rakyat diutamakan?
In this context, take the time to read Abun Sui Anyit’s heart-felt lament for Belaga and for his people here.
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