Bakun Dam ‘Unsafe’! – Exclusive Evidence on Corner-Cutting and Sloppy Construction Practices

Bakun Dam ‘Unsafe’! – Exclusive Evidence on Corner-Cutting and Sloppy Construction Practices

13 Apr 2011

This post is also available in: Iban, Malay

Watering down the concrete! Construction phase in 2009.

Devastating information has come into the hands of Sarawak Report, which throws terrifying doubt over the safety of the Bakun Dam!

Inside information, which includes documents, photographs and videos, has been passed over to us by former a Quality Controller, who says concerns about sloppy procedures and cost-cutting measures were ignored by the bosses at Sinohydro.

The sensational video footage [below] clearly shows workers hosing extra water into the cement mixers before it is pumped into the dam, which is visible  in the background.  Our information is that this forbidden practice was endemic on the project and that poor quality control procedures allowed it to happen.

It is well-known that the Chinese contractors were under extreme pressure from the Malaysian Government during the period up to 2009 to get the dam finished as quickly and cheaply as possible, after a series of delays and cost over-runs.

The informant who spoke to Sarawak Report told us:

“We compromised all the time to speed up the project”

The total failure of Quality Control that amounted to negligence

Ready to inundate – Bakun was Taibs pet project. It has been bailed out by the Employee Provident Fund, Malaysias main public service pension fund.

Bakun has been filling since last October and it is now just 15 meters short of full inundation.  An area the size of Singapore has been flooded to accommodate the hydro-electric project, which sits up-river of tens of thousands of inhabitants, including  the major city of Sibu.

However many believe that it will turn out to be a White Elephant as no genuine use has been found to justify its construction.  Now the whole integrity of the project is thrown into question by the major concerns our information will now raise over the safety of its construction.

The key problem, according to our informant, has been a total failure of the Quality Control measures, which are supposed to ensure the dam is built to proper specifications.

He complains that there were “definitely not enough” Quality Controllers hired for the project and that therefore it was impossible to carry out adequate supervision across the many different work points on the enormous site.

Dams are constructed according to carefully calculated specifications, he explained, particularly with regard to the mix of ingredients for the concrete that is used.  The quality of the concrete is vital for the strength and safety of the structure and the so-called ‘design’ of the preparation takes into account the specific conditions of the particular project.

Dangerous short-cuts and cost-cutting

There were two dangerous malpractices that have been particularly highlighted by the Quality Controller, who has spoken to us.  First, he says the contractors habitually substituted higher grade mix with lower grade cement in the composition of the concrete to save money.

“When you prepare concrete you need to add water, sand and aggregate and the process must carefully follow the design and quantities of all the ingredients”, he explained.  “You also need to put in chemicals to strengthen the concrete and make it slow to harden.  Any deviation or substitution of lower grade materials can seriously compromise the quality of the concrete”.

Secondly, he says that when the mixed concrete was then taken from the batching plant in cement carriers to be pumped into the dam, workers were then responsible for another regular malpractice that was endemic on the project and had far-reaching implications. This was the adding of extra water to the mix to make it more fluid and easier to pump.  He would reject batches of concrete that he caught being weakened in this way, however he says that he knew that with so little over-all supervision on the site many others got through.

The informant has provided us with numerous photographs of this practice taking place at the dam site and has also sent us video, clearly showing workers hosing in water into the cement carriers.

“They did this practice all the time when I was not around.  It happened all over.  They were doing it to make it easier to pump the concrete and to stop their pumps blocking”.

The Quality Controller explained what dam experts have confirmed to Sarawak Report, which is that any tampering with the mix of the concrete at this stage undermines the strength of the concrete and forms a serious risk.

Watering concrete

The UK construction expert Dr Andy Hughes from the company Atkins Global acknowledges that there is a frequent temptation for workers on dam sites to water the concrete, which is hard to handle in the correct state:

“People will cut corners, which is why you have supervision”, he said.  “Any watering of concrete should be rare on a dam site and it should be controlled and done for a specific purpose”.

When we explained the practice at Bakun by workers on site, he insisted “Any changes should be done in a managed way.  The most important thing is that you have consistency across the dam.  If they were doing it ad hoc in a patchwork quilt all over the dam you would not know where the strengths and weaknesses are”.

At it again. Our informant says this is another occasion when he caught workers watering down the concrete, but that his bosses did not take it seriously.

Dr Hughes surmised that the actions by the workers might have been further prompted by the tampering that was taking place earlier in the process, which would have altered the consistency of the concrete.

“If they have changed the ingredients they may need more water. It is like playing around with the ingredients of a cake”, he explained.  “The specification will have been designed according to the conditions of the area and the nature of the available materials.  Any changing of the design mix should have gone through a formal process”.

The bosses ‘didn’t want to know’

Our informant tells us that he constantly reported the problems to his bosses at Sinohydro, including at their daily meetings.  However he got little response or support:

“I used to raise this issue and nobody took any notice of it.  They would just say ‘OK let it go, warn them not to do it next time’, that is all”, he told us. “If I found them adding water to the concrete I would reject it as sub-standard, but I could not be everywhere all the time and I know it was happening when I was not there”.

Sarawak Report has photographs of these rejection notices (see above), reporting that water had been added to the concrete.  However our insider is certain that the vast majority of this tampered mix was not rejected and was used in the construction of the dam.

Dangerous negligence that undermines the safety of Bakun

Powerful energy – starting to fill up.

Our investigations have shown that the seriousness of these findings cannot be under-estimated in terms of the long-term and short-term safety of the dam.  Our informant confirms that:

“The mix was used for the spillway, the intake point, the plunge pool and the face slab, which are all very critical features of the dam.  If these features of the dam give way then the reservoir will break”.

It is a prognosis confirmed by Dr Andy Hughes, who acts as a spokesman for the British Dam Society.  Bakun is a concrete faced, rock filled dam.  The concrete is laid in slabs with critical joins.  He told us:

“The integrity of that slabbing on the upstream face is what keeps the water back.  This is a critical element and there have been numerous problems with the cracking of the upstream membranes of these dams, particularly in South America… Personally, I always worry about the design of these things as we are still not sure how to really design them”

Hughes went on to say:

“The spill-way in particular is also very important.  It has to have very high strength concrete, because of the high velocity of the water passing through.  There are very high forces here”.

High time to investigate !

For years Sinohydro and the construction contractors have refused to take adequate action in response to the official complaints of under-resourced Quality Controllers at Bakun.  Now the project is completed, the dam is being filled and the story is out.

This is not the only safety issue related to the construction of the dam.  It has already been raised as a matter of concern that Bakun has been constructed in a region comprising several fault lines that could be strained by the added load of the water.  Minor tremors have been recently recorded, but these issues have been likewise ignored.

Tens of thousands of people live down river , culminating in the major coastal city of Sibu.  To refuse to thoroughly investigate concerns raised by the projects own experts would be a form of negligence of the utmost seriousness.

There has been yet another attack on Sarawak Report today.  This time our site was temporarily disabled by a deliberate hacking exercise.  We suggest the proper avenue for the authorities is to address this issue and the many other serious matters that we have been trying to raise in recent weeks and not to persist in trying to shut us up instead.

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  • OrangSabah

    Seems like there is an issue viewing the video.

  • http://none Watch Dog

    Who are to be blamed?

    1. Bakun Damn owner,if you give poeanuts,you get monkeys.Don't

    blame the sub-contractor.

    2.Blame the corrupted Government, Kantauton of the project.

    ** The workers are merely following instruction from their boss as the margin is very thin..all due to greed and corrupt officials.

    Never mind just let it burst.

  • Blunt Speaker

    If the dam really breaks, let it clear and rid of all evil and filth along it's path but not innocent lives. Or else, those culprits will face God's wrath to pay back for their greed and evil!

  • http://none observer

    The dam will burst in 5 years form now and lives will be lost,maybe in tens of thousands..Hope NOT but we cannot predict nature..

  • http://RCCdamsinternationalLinkedin Ted Warren

    There are many ways to see if this dam is safe. I am an expert in the field of dam construction and have worked on over 20 dams in 10 countries. I would suggest the following

    1 hire a concrete coring company ( I can recommend)to core the dam from it's crest to the dams rock foundation in several places

    2 perform destructive testing ie; compression and direct tensile tests to determine if the design parameters were met and have anexpert examine the cores. Take densities of the cores to see if the concrete was properly consolidated.

    3 monitor instrumentation ie Joint meters, Piezometers, or install them

    Have a team of experts review the results ie; designers, experts in construction amd impoundment proceedures. I can assist if need be or recommend others.

    It is better that you have a study done to determine if the dam is safe than to risk a catastrophic failure. this has been done on many dams and you will most likely find out that the dam is safe and put everyones minds at rest.

  • http://none Watch Dog

    Ted Warren..thanks for offering your expertise but will the thief minister take your offer and spend more money?

    You pay peanuts ,you get monkeys..Am I right? I also wonder why does the China company wants to do it for peanut as they knew very well abut the cost? No wonder the dam in China also BURST.

  • Sarabrand

    ‘Bakun Dam built to last’

    Masing says facility structurally sound and people should not feel threatened

    by Peter Sibon, The Borneo Post, October 15, 2010, Friday

    BAKUN, Belaga: The safety of the people living downstream of the Bakun Hydro-electric Dam right down to Sibu is assured as the dam is “built to last”.

    “Bakun Dam is built to last. It’s structurally sound and made with both economic and human factors taken into consideration,” assured Minister of Land Development Dato Sri Dr James Masing.

    He said those living downstream of the dam had no reason to fear that the dam would collapse and bring disaster upon them.

    “What we have today is the product of many leading brains in the business of building dams around the world.

    “The dam will serve its purpose, which is to provide the power that our industries need.

    “I am very happy to witness the historical event (impoundment) as I was involved in the development of the dam since 1982,” said Masing.

    He was a research officer with Sesco before he joined politics in 1983.

    Masing, who was speaking to the media at the dam site here yesterday at the end of his tour of the facility a day after its impoundment, also gave the assurance that communication would not be interrupted after the impoundment exercise.

    Masing, who is Baleh assemblyman, also assured that the Rajang River could also be controlled to mitigate flash flood, after the exercise.

    Earlier on, Masing was briefed on the progress of the impoundment by the managing director of Sarawak Hidro Sdn Bhd, Zulkifle Osman.

    He was accompanied during the visit by his wife Datin Sri Corinne Masing, political secretary to the chief minister Angeline Umis, Kapit Walikota Philemon Nuing, and Councillor Tan Kian Hoo.

    Sarawak Hidro, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Ministry of Finance Incorporated, is the developer of the dam.

    The dam is expected to produce power by the third quarter of next year.

    The initial power is estimated at 300 megawatts and would gradually reach the 1,700MW. Its maximum capacity is 2,400MW.

    Bakun Dam which costs some RM7.3 billion has eight turbines.

    During a press conference held at his residence in Kapit early yesterday morning, Masing assured that the government would pay compensations to 35 families from four longhouses.

    These families did not move to Bakun Resettlement Scheme at Sungai Asap.

    The total compensation is estimated at RM1.12 million.

    “While over 12,000 people were resettled in 15 longhouses built by the government at Sungai Asap in 1990, these families of 120 people just refused to budge,” said Masing.

    He said besides the compensation, each family will also be paid an allowance of RM7,175 for removal, transport and performance of cultural or religious rituals, and a subsidiary allowance of RM5,000 for building materials at their new longhouse site at Naha Jale.

    Masing said the Land and Survey Department is now processing the payments and Kapit Resident’s Office had fixed Wednesday, Oct 20, to pay the affected families.

    He also said that based on the survey by the Belaga District Office in April this year, there were 177 families or almost 1,000 people who are not included in the first group mentioned above.

    “As they were originally from the resettlement scheme of Sungai Asap, the government would assist them to move back to their longhouses at Bakun Resettlement Scheme. A subsidy of RM2,000 will be paid to each family,” he said.

    Masing stressed that for those with ‘bilik’ in the resettlement scheme, the government has decided to give them a 50 per cent discount or RM25,000 of the cost.

    “The government has also decided to release the ‘bilik’ in the scheme to all the owners whose compensation is RM25,000 or below.

    “In essence, the government is topping up the cost of the ‘bilik’ for those whose compensation is below RM25,000.

    “Meaning they are not required to pay anything now other than the compensation money which has been withheld,” he said.

    • http://none Watch Dog

      Sarabrand…James Semut Masin…is NOT a technical man nor is

      he an engineer. What he said is base on trust and honesty but LITTLE did he knew that this factor all depends on dollars and cents. If you pay peanuts,you will get monkeys.I am surprised that he did NOT see what has been exposed during the construction.DAMS in China have been known to burst due to the fact that cost cutting corners.So once things or disasters happen,ALL concerned will start to look for others'fault so that they can point their fingers.Or alternatively they will say "WE ARE NO MORE ON THIS EARTH" when disaster happen..washing off their fingers..This is all down to GREED!!

  • Gursharan

    Culture of corruption and fraud is the normal basis of award, management, supervision and monitoring of construction contracts, procurment/services agreements, sale of public assets, etc.

    The best part is that this is accepted by the rakyat as the status quo continues has been maintained for over three decades with higher quantums.

    Creation of high inocme [selected/connected] society. This could be the result of the various programmes the latest of which is the much touted transformation programmes even at international forums.

  • http://none Watch Dog

    Putra UMNO's clan has refused to sell BAKUN to Sarawak


    Taib Mahmud thought that he can twist PM's head but to no avail. Maybe this is part of UMNO's strategy to let Taib Mahmud to step down.

    Never mind about Bakun as Taib has still got 12 more dams or DAMNED to be built.We hope that Taib will not sell the land like Harris Salleh did for Labuan.

    The important thing is for Sarawakians to form "ANTI-MONOPOLY WATCHDOG AGENCY" to monitor all contracts,sale of plantation lands,etc,etc by one man,one family,one clan and one race(Melanau)in Sarawak.

    We have to register the NGO agency with ROS(Registrar of Society)" ANTI-MONOPOLY WATCHDOG AGENCY"..

  • pak belalang

    I have no objection for the DAM bcoz its for our own use ..of course the mat munser is giving wrong information to mat saleh the other side of thw world ..tis people doesnt want us to develope ..if mat saleh cutting down the trees to built their own DAM is ok no probloma ..but tis people are DAMN SHIT !!!!

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  • http://n/a Watch Dog

    According to expert,BAKUN Dam or damned is NOT safe after all

    unless rectification work is done. But why is it NOT carried out?.

    How about BENGOH water Dam or another damned? Is it safe too? The budget was for RM315 million and sub-contracted to China company for RM165 million. "When you pay peanut,we get monkeys as the saying goes". Am I right? Or is it done on purpose so that NAIM can get extra money from the state coffer??

    Workers die also went unreported.We can show you the graves,buried there also.Why is it not a proper burial? There are all Muslims.The kampong people know this but the contractor hides this.Is it their spirits are used to protect the dam???

  • http://arabia awang

    Chapter 44' versi 2011

    "Those who stay along rejang river like kapit,song,kanowit and the last sibu – should get away from this dangerous dam"

    Life is more values than your jobs$/business

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  • Reader

    Sebarang ajak writer tok…lu graduate bidang apa? On what qualification u kata itu dam tidak bagus? Lu ingat itu dam harga RM1 ka? Itu dam kita pakai sendiri…kalau boleh, hasil jual ke luar Swk. Itu duit pkai buat jalan, energize SCORE dll. Klu Taib mau mkn itu duit itu dia punya hal. Dia punya kubur…suka ati dia lah. Klu Anuar jd PM or Baru Bian jd CM ka…dia org pun buat benda sama…ratah sumber negara…sama saja lah bos…back 2 square one juga.

    Dear writer,

    Don't forget 2 email me ur academic qualification.

    Email: [email protected]

  • bucklynn rimbar

    hehehe… in sarawak is a joke….reader…..u don need to go to university to know truth justice n fairness or lies n corruption….but jus respect others view..all hav valid points…sarawakians hav voted in the state election and yes all the got erected now lets see the parliamentary election how many will be erected.opp….election my l in the election becomes r…and it became erection(sorry typo error)….guys majority hav voted and the minority has poken.can the outcome of the majority votes be polling error not really.

    nothing will change UNTIL We change,life is not a joke N our future depends on our current action,act right n do right.

    bakun dam n all d dams in sarawak are for sarawakians for its the land of the damned or sarawakians be damned with d dams.

    we get wat we asked for,why complaint.