Can camera-toting natives spark rural revolt?

By Free Malaysia Today

KUALA LUMPUR: Dumbstruck by the sight of towers piercing the clouds above Kuala Lumpur, visitors from the Sarawak interior have gone home to their village on the Baram River with pictures that they hope will give their relatives some idea of how they felt during their visit here.

They experienced “a kind of revelation,” said their spokesman, Willie Kayan.

“They were amazed by all the tall buildings in KL, especially the Petronas Towers, and they asked where all the money came from.

“I told them the money came all the way from Sarawak from our oil and gas.

“They were sad, they were angry, and they took a lot of pictures.”

He said this would be the story that they would tell in their village of Long San, in the upper reaches of the Baram, which, among Sarawak’s great rivers, is second in length only to the Rajang.

The group of visitors numbered about 30, including children. They represented the Kenyan, Kayan, Berawan, Malay and Iban communities. Willie is a Berawan.

Long San has been described as “the modern world’s last outpost” on the Baram. Beyond the village lies a range of mountains housing the world’s thickest rainforests.

The visitors were in Kuala Lumpur last week to demonstrate against rampant logging in their area and Chief Minister Taib Mahmud’s plans for more mega dams.

“Our fears and concerns aren’t baseless,” Willie said. “There have been enough scientific studies on the effects of deforestation and the dams. We don’t want the Baram Dam.

“Bakun has taught us a lesson. Until today many of the 10,000 displaced people have not received whatever was promised to them,” he said.

The massive Bakun Dam, a controversial project associated with former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, lies across a tributary of the Rajang.

Fear of damage

Willie and his group’s immediate concern is the proposed 1,000-megawatt Baram Dam, sited some 200km inland from Miri.

They want the proposal scrapped because for fear of damage to the social and natural environment.

“It will affect our lives,” he said. “We will be deprived economically. We will have limited sources to generate a livelihood. Because of this, we will also be deprived socially.”

The visitors, who were here for three days last week, said they were alarmed by the clearing of massive forests to construct a highway to facilitate the construction of the dam.

They, as well as many other critics in Sarawak, feel there is no justification for the Baram Dam as the energy generated by the 2,400-megawatt Bakun Dam is more than sufficient for Sarawak’s energy needs for many years to come.

According to Willie, the visit to Kuala Lumpur had made them realise how much Sarawak had lost “due to Taib’s corrupt administration”.

In recent months, the alternative media have published scores of reports on what seems to be immense wealth owned by Taib and his family as well as the opulent lifestyles they lead.

Alongside these reports have been articles on poverty in Sarawak. Sabah and Sarawak, which are oil and gas hubs for Malaysia, are the poorest states in the country.

Plunder and squander

So shocking were the revelations of Taib’s extensive international portfolio of properties – allegedly derived from the plunder and squander of state resources during his 30-year term – that Kuala Lumpur has stepped back from offering him unequivocal support despite Barisan Nasional’s (BN) need for Sarawak’s vote bank in the forthcoming general election.