Dayakbaru: Let the truth be told.
Do you think the present government is responsible to set what is wrong right? Or do we see that the government actually do not take responsibility for their poor work and is now walking away from the problem by telling more lies and threatening the people with their “power”? You decide – Change WE Must.
This report is compiled through field visits to the Bakun areas & interviews with the affected residents in different communities. These include those who have moved to the Sg Asap resettlement scheme, those who have moved to alternative communities of their own choice, and those who are still remaining in their respective communities along the Rejang/ Balui rivers. The visits were conducted from November 29-December 4 1998.
The Controversial Bakun Dam Ordeal:
The Bakun dam project has been a controversial issue for the 10,000 over natives from 15 communities living along the Rejang and Balui river for the past 5 years since its revival by the Malaysian government in September 1993. The project was scrapped in 1990 when the Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohammed explained that it was Malaysia’s contribution to global conservation.
Since then, the residents and government agencies have been engaged in a spate of tussle over the issue, which has been shrouded by controversial reports and information. This was especially so in terms of the relocation of the people and the compensation accorded to them. The Malaysian government has been very tight-lipped about the entire project, which it claimed to be the biggest Hydroelectric dam in the SEA region.
Many related issues were raised from the source of the funds needed to build the dam to the safety standards, and the almost non-existent process of dialogue & consultation with the different tribal groups involved mainly the Kayans, Kenyah, Ukits, and Penans, who are the majority among those affected.
Relocation: Code name Operation Exodus
In September this year (1998), the government finally implemented their plans to relocate the people after 3 years of postponement. This move came at an untimely period when the entire country and also the SEA region are facing a serious economic crisis. And in early 1998, the government announced that the Dam project would be scaled down and for the moment it had been shelved due to the economic downturn experienced by the country.
But nevertheless, the resettlement exercises, codenamed “Operation Exodus” was carried with the first victims being Long Ayak (Ukits) and Bato Keling (Kayans) in September this year. Then 2 months later in November, Uma Daro (Kayan), Uma Belor (Kayan) and Long Gang (Kenyah) were moved from the Bakun area.
All 5 communities have been moved to the Government-planned resettlement scheme located at Sg.Asap-Sg.Koyan area, an area located in the Northeast direction and about 3 hours (by rough logging roads) from Belaga town.
Resettlement Scheme is a Scam!
The scheme offered to the families is like this: The families are told to move only to this housing scheme in Sg.Asap-Sg.Koyan, otherwise they would not be given the 70% balance of their cash compensation for the loss of property and goods from their previous homes in Bakun.
This is the main reason driving the people to move to the resettlement area for fear of losing the rest of the compensation. But to date the people have not been given any written notice of these conditions in writing nor was it ever discussed during the past few years of negotiation. Even if it was, the people were never really made to understand this until the last moment during this exodus operation.
In a recent report in a Sarawak daily newspapers in November 1998, Dato James Maseng, the Minister of culture and tourism who is also in charge of the relocation exercises has this to say. He was quoted to have said that the 70% balance of the compensation would only be given within 2 weeks upon the arrival of the people in Asak-Koyan.
1. For those who agreed to move, each family was given RM500 for carrying out certain rituals to appease the “pemali” (taboos) spirits before closing their houses and moving, another RM500 when they arrive at the new housing unit and also another RM2,500 as goodwill money for inconveniences caused.
For people who are not really used to money economy, to be suddenly offered cash amounting to hundreds and thousands is certainly an overwhelming experience. But in reality, they also have many expenses. For instance, to charter a land cruiser from Long Linau (river point stop for residents from Long Gang) to Sg. Asap cost RM400 per trip. The 1-hour long boat ride from Long Gang to the river stop at Linau cost at least RM100-150 depending on the size of the boat, the amount of things to be carried. This exercise usually involved more than 1 trip so one can imagine the expenses of moving.
In any moving exercise, there will also be a lot of additional expenses to be incurred in settling into the new house. In their case, the very badly constructed houses required a lot of renovation and even repair work before it was fit for living in.
2. Upon arrival at the site, they were told to sign a simple 2-page form to enable them to collect their house keys and identify the location of their unit. Many people have not actually seen the houses, and upon their arrival and inspection of the houses, they are shocked and disappointed. Many wanted to return to their communities in the Bakun area, but were told that they had signed the document so it binds them to the new houses.
3. Then within a period of 2 weeks, the authorities would then approach the people with a thick 30-page “sales and purchase” agreement in English and full of legal jargons used in contractual documents. They would ask the people to sign several times in different places in the document.
Many people signed this document and actually going through the entire process of moving only driven by the hope of receiving the 70% compensation money. Many have said that the moment they have received the checks, they would move away from the resettlement area.
4. The deal is like this: Upon signing, the contract is bound to purchase and pay the house unit for the price of RM52,000. This amount would be paid in stages. An initial amount of up to RM20,000 would be deducted from the people’s compensation payment for the value of the previous houses they have abandoned in the Bakun Dam project area. (This is not included in the 70% balance of compensation to be paid to each family within 2 weeks after they have moved to the Asap-Koyan resettlement scheme).
The remaining balance of the amount to be paid for the RM52,000 house units would then be paid through a loan financing scheme offered by Bank Utama, with a Base lending rate of about 4-5% up to a period of 25 years. They were also told that “for the first 5 years, the units are ‘free’…” But in reality in the 6th year, they will have to start paying their first installment of their housing loan.
Many families do not really understand that they have to pay RM52,000 for the houses as long as they have signed the sales and purchase agreement regardless of whether they are physically living in those houses or not! Some people think that they can just pass the units over to their relatives who want them, and some feel that after taking the money they can move back to the forest interior.
Many actually thought, “the first 5 years free…” meant they would own the house for free at least for 5 years. Most of them did not see that after the 5 years, they would still have to pay up for the house! Perhaps many of them did not anticipate so far ahead since they must have been planning to move away once they have received the checks for the 70% balance of the compensation.
Financial burden not explained
Nobody actually explained to them the mechanics of payments, installments, loan terms of agreement, etc. It is evident that the authorities have been totally ineffective in clarifying with the people the entire housing scheme and resettling deal.
5. Them families were also promised 3 acres of land each for their relocation from their former land in Bakun. The first community of 61 families belonging to the Ukit people from Long Ayak has been in the scheme for the past 2 months, most of them have signed the “sales and purchase agreement” and are now trying to settle into their new homes.
Many of them are not really working on their 3 acres because many of them complained that the land is too far away, it has not been cleared, and the land is not really suitable for farming. In the past their land would have been along the river thus making it easier for them to travel there by longboats or sampan. But now they will either have to walk or pay for a ride in the land cruisers.
6. They were promised that in the new scheme there would be schools, clinics, and other amenities in the vicinity.
The entire area of the resettlement scheme is like a newly developed suburban area. Each community of longhouse blocks has the same design and compound lay out, a community church, hall, kindergarten and garbage dump area. A school is located strategically in the area, and there are administrative centers are also build in the area.
Most families interviewed who complained about the new area said they moved also mainly in consideration to their children’s schooling. The exodus exercises of course resulted in the moving of the community schools, churches, kindergarten and medical clinics from their area. As such they felt helpless and had to move to the Asap area.
How corruption play its part
Sg.Asap-Koyan Houses-Somebody must have made a fat profit!: It does not take an experienced house builder or housing developer to conclude that the housing scheme in Asap-Koyan must have made somebody filthy rich!
The scheme is planned in such a way that each new community is built with 15-unit longhouse blocks connected by a walkway. Each location has a community church, kindergarten, open common hall, a fenced up garbage dump (without bins or holed dug), and an electric substation box.
The materials used to build the houses are really poor in quality; the wood used is of low standard and soft variety like Jelutong, kapur etc. Some are even rotted. The Be-lean wood used for the beams and poles are also joined by nuts and bolt, (a local taboo avoided by the people who believed that house must be build upon long, uncut beams).
Besides the low quality materials used, the construction is also flimsy, making the unit like a toy house, the wooden grilling used for some parts of the windows and walkways are so thin and shaky that a simple shove will break the thin wooden sticks. The floorboards are comprised of cheap softwood and some were even rotted or with insect holes.
Only the exterior of the structures are coated with wood varnish while the inside of each unit is still in the raw form, without any paint, varnish or waxing of any kind. In many parts of the wooden house, the wood is still hairy with sharp splinters because it has not been smoothen out with a wood plane. The thin walls separating each unit is made of plywood, in its raw form, no varnish, no paint.
There is no ceiling but one can see the beams and plastic sheet separating the hot zinc roof from the inside of the house. The bathroom/toilet units are shabbily constructed with thin asbestos sheet as walls and the floors are roughly cemented.
There has already been some breakdown in many parts of the units in different communities, such as the back stair giving way, the planks in the wall breaking, floor boards giving way, wooden sticks grill shattered.
The access road to the houses are also not ready thus making it very difficult for the people to carry their furniture and other heavy things from the main road to their housing blocks. The only thing working in these units are the digital electric meters imported from UK, giving them an accurate reading of their power consumption. It is amazing how the housing develop managed to obtain the certificate of fitness (CF) in order to qualify the houses ready for living, or perhaps there isn’t any CF issued at all.
Is the house really worth $52,000.00?
Firstly these house units are not worth RM52,000, higher than the revised price of low cost house units being sold in Kuala Lumpur. The houses are mainly made of wood and are all joined together in the style of a longhouse. As such there should have been a lot of savings in terms of the materials used. Moreover wood in Sarawak relatively cheaper than in West Malaysia.
Many were asked why they did not object to the price of the house since they must have noticed the low substandard materials and construction of the houses. They answered that they thought that this must have been the usual cost of houses since almost all of them do not have experience in buying ready made houses.
For Those Who Did Not Move:
To date, we have received reports that there are still some families in the Bakun areas who have decided against moving to the Asap-Koyan areas. For instance, there are at least 9 Ukit families still residing in the Long Ayak area, 13 families in Long Gang, and about 37 families from Long Gang who have resettled in another place in Long Lawen out of the Bakun dam project area.
For them, the authorities have heavily threatened them that they would not receive their compensation all because they did not comply with the order to move to Asap-Koyan. These families who stayed behind are also looking for alternative locations but as long as it is not at the resettlement scheme in Asap.
For instance, Long Gang, the 13 families have remained are living literally in an abandoned village, some houses are already broken down, some burnt, and a 2-year old church and all its wooden pews and structure has been left behind. Many long boats still operational are also abandoned. The village once brimming with activity and life has become a hollow shell, quiet and deserted except for the 13 families still carrying on their usual way of life.
They are also very worried about the schooling for their children since all schools, churches and medical clinics have also been moved out from their communities.
“The cost of the house in Asap, the condition of the land and the whole idea there goes against our way of life, but for the sake of the children many have moved,” explained Ajang, one of the local leaders in Long gang who chose not to move to Asap.
There were still a number of very elderly residents who were waiting for the “balloon” (helicopter) to fly them to Asap as they were too old or sick to endure the rough 4-5 hour boat and land journey.
Impact of ‘Operation Exodus’ on the Indigenous People:
The government has promised and claimed to have set aside RM300 million for the relocation and other compensation programme. So far the claimed that all the affected residents have been paid their initial 30% compensation. The process in which the figures were arrived at between the government surveyors and the people has been a point in contention until today and many people are still not satisfied at the way their compensation amounts had been calculated.
Now this 30% is only based on the land and the products found on it, not including the house as yet. The estimated price of their previous house will be deducted from the price of the new unit if Asap. The balance of the payment for the new unit will have to be paid through a loan scheme.
Let’s assume that the 30% payment is already used to help these people relocate and adjust to the new way of life (most food items have to be bought at prices which is at least 20-100% higher than prices in Belaga town) In fact many of them have already exhausted their initial compensation.
For instance in Long Gang it was reported that after the 30% were paid suddenly there were about 16 new Toyota land cruisers in the community compared to only 1 or 2 units in the past. But it is feared and anticipated that in the next few months if things get bad, and the owners cannot afford to maintain their monthly payments, all these vehicles will be repossessed!!
There are now many new electrical appliances in the Asap house like washing machine, new TV, video, Hi-fi, refrigerator, and others. But the question is can they maintain their hire purchase monthly payments and also how would they maintain these equipment because service centers are not exactly nearby as in the urban areas. Furthermore, the electricity bills would be another they would have to contend with.
That leaves the remaining 70% which would probably be used partially to pay for the new house loan repayment and for monthly living expenses in the first 2 years in Asap (Since most of their 3-acrea land is yet to yield any productive crops at least for the next 2 years). Even the promised Palm Oil scheme which was supposed to provide residents with employment is not started yet in that area.
So in the end the people will have to be dependent on the 70% compensation to keep them alive. Finally after several years, when it all runs out, they will be left with nothing except maybe debts and a 3-acrea piece of swampy hilly land which is hardly sufficient compared to the large tracts they used to have in the Bakun area.
In short, the people do not really realise that ultimately, in the long run their compensation money is like temporary relief because in the same breathe the government imposes a pre-condition for them to move to Asap and purchase that overpriced RM52,000 unit house. This straddles them to house loan and interests payments for the many years to come. Then, they would have spend on living expenses as compared to before when most of the food is obtain from the land such as fish, pig, fruits, vegetables, chicken, rice, etc…
So even though they are given a moratorium of 5 years before starting to pay, they will still have to fulfill their contract. Furthermore, if their 3 acres do not yield fruitfully, and there is no fairly satisfactory paying jobs in the next 2 years, their economic life will totally collapse, although they do not have to pay the house installments for the first 5 years!!
The new environment quite disruptive to their hundreds of years of existence in the forests. Now, most of the people are found to be drinking heavily even as early as 9 in the morning, gambling is rampant, and some fighting occurs. Most of them do not know what to do because the set up of the area is so artificial and in some ways quite urbanised, like a new township.
They are like lost sheep suddenly thrown into some alien set up, their daily chores are disrupted as their land is far and has to be cleared. There is little or no game in the area so hunting has become a thing in the past. Fishing is also quite difficult in the dirty and small tiny stream around their area unlike before when they resided along the banks of the mighty Rejang and Balui.
Families are divided, communities are broken up and conflicts have emerged between peoples. For example, one man revealed that his wife and he are now separated because he refused to move to Asap, while his wife wanted to go there. They are even in the process of getting a divorce.
In Long Gang, those who have moved and those who stayed behind are even disputing over whom should get the music instruments and speaker system used in their church.
The Kayans, Kenyah, Penans Ukits and other Dayak tribes are a very traditional and culturally bound people. They have their distinctive practices, beliefs and even artform. But in Asap, all the tribal groups are placed in barrack styled longhouses. It seems there is also an uniformed person assigned to oversee the maintenance and peace and order situation in each location. The locals complained that for years they have been living in their own social set up without their outside imposed “security guards” so this insults their culture and social practise.
There are strong indicators and signs of social-cultural erosion as people are becoming money oriented and their monetary needs have increased due to the money-based economy they have been thrown into now in Asap.
There are also fears that the economic and social pressures and cultural shock of relocation might even drive some young people to negative activities such as drug addiction, alcoholism and prostitution.
SOME IMPORTANT POINTS AND ISSUES TO BE RAISED:
The government should be questioned about the entire relocation “Operation Exodus” in terms of the readiness and viability to move the 9,500 people to Asap-Koyan scheme. Why the haste in moving the people when the possibility of resuming the RM13.6 bil. Dam is quite remote despite the government announcement of scaling down the dam! Why does the government seems to be so anxious in getting hold of the people’s land in the Bakun area-to further exploit the land for logs or other resources?
1. The housing developers (Bucknalls UK) and relevant government agencies (DO, land and survey office, Sarawak Administrative Officer, etc) should be investigated in terms of the price of the house (RM52,000) vis-à-vis the quality and standard of the house and the location of the resettlement area. Perhaps the ACA should be alerted too.
What is the proper and actual price of such a unit?? Who is profiting from all these, the housing developers who built using cheap and bad materials? The Bank Utama with their 4-5% interests charging (government servants rate) but it is low, so how does the bank profit from these? Perhaps, if the people cannot pay for the houses or run away, the bank get to reposess their houses but for what, these are really low quality units?? Which government agency is getting kick-back from this housing scam??
2. The social-economic, cultural impact of such massive relocation of Indigenous peoples should have been studied (assumed in the EIA??) and must be given serious attention now. Where are the studies of such anthropological aspects of relocation, why have we not learnt from the examples of South America and other Asian countries in relocating Indigenous peoples? Who is in charge of this and how are they monitoring the progress of this Bakun dam resettlement??
3. The compensation 70% balance to be paid upon relocation, and the compulsory sale and purchase of the Asap-Koyan houses must be investigated, consulted, translated and explained to the people. What is the legal implications of such conditions impose upon the compensation package? How is the sales & purchase agreement structured and why in English, can we file legal charges and damages??
4. For those who chose not to move to Asap-Koyan. What are their rights in demanding for the 70% compensation? If they are already in another resettlement community of their own choice (eg. Long Lawen, Besua, Danum, etc) do they have a right to the 70% compensation and additional compensation for the houses they have left behind in Bakun? In their new communities does the government have a legal, moral, social obligation to provide them with schools and medical clinics??
5. Legal & political recourse for the people. Can the people take up legal cases? For those who have signed the sales and purchase agreement, can they cancel it? What are their rights and avenues of actions in the face of such situations? Who must be called in to help in different aspects of this situation?
6. Roles of the Local Organsing & national Gabungan support & International solidarity support. What are each level’s roles and responsibilities and what is the strategy of the campaign from now onwards?
52 more damns, just imagine how many more victims will suffer…
Dayakbaru: Let the truth be told.
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