17 May 2012

What Is Damn Well Going On?! – Australian Greens Query Hydro-Tasmania’s Sarawak Projects

What Is Damn Well Going On?! – Australian Greens Query Hydro-Tasmania’s Sarawak Projects

This post is also available in: Malay

Hydro-Tasmania seem to have taken over as the leading experts backing Taib's dam programme

The Green Party in Australia is demanding explanations from Hydro-Tasmania about what exactly its subsidiary Entura is up to in Sarawak?

Investigations by Sarawak Report have revealed that Entura, which acts as a consultancy arm of the publicly owned company, has become deeply involved in a whole range of projects linked to Taib’s plan to flood Sarawak with 12 new dams over the coming years.

Speaking yesterday in Tasmania’s State Parliament, the Greens’ Energy Spokesman, Kim Booth, criticised the failure by Hydro-Tasmania to provide proper disclosure about these controversial ventures, which involve flooding huge areas of the Borneo Jungle and displacing hundreds of thousands of native people.

We have already disclosed that Entura have taken on the management of the inundation of the new Bakun Dam, for example, advising on safety issues and the structure of the Dam.

Hydro-Tasmania has also acknowledged that Entura has taken up further consulting contracts relating to the Murum, Belaga, Pelagus and Metjawa dams.

However, Sarawak Report can now further reveal a far more extensive involvement by Hydro-Tasmania in Taib Mahmud’s SCORE (Sarawak Corridor of Energy) projects.

In particular, the current construction manager in charge at the Murum Dam, where the first two years of construction were kept a closely guarded secret, is in fact a staff member on loan from Hydro-Tasmania itself, Andrew Pattle.

Last week's river protest by natives fighting the Baram Dam - no use for the planned electricity has yet to be divined

And, in a further recent move, Pattle has also been appointed as the Senior Project Manager for both the two next planned dams, the Baleh Dam and the hugely controversial Baram Dam, which has sparked waves of protest amongst indigenous people throughout the state!

Don’t be too judgemental!

Featuring in Hydro-Tasmania’s own annual report Pattle has even discussed his new position in the “jungles of Sarawak” in a manner that will certainly raise eyebrows in Australia.

In particular, he has acknowledged that matters of safety and environmental compliance “are not given as much importance here [Sarawak]“!

Even so, he urges readers not to be “too judgemental” since what Australia did a few decades ago “is the state of practices in Malaysia today”!

Such easy-going statements by their own representative make an awkward contrast to the high-minded claims  and supposed Sustainability Code claimed by Hydro-Tasmania in its official statements and website. Here the company asserts that its standards match “international best practice”!

This lax attitude towards Sarawak is despite Pattle’s description of it as “a sensitive environment with significant social and safety challenges”!

Not being "too judgemental" on safety and environment compliance. Hydro-Tasmania's man on the ground in "the Jungles of Sarawak"!

Could Australian taxpayers end up picking up the tab for Taib’s mega-dam projects?

In a recent rejection of a Freedom of Information request, Hydro-Tasmania cited the refusal of the Sarawak Government and ‘commercial confidence’ as its reasons for withholding information that would normally be readily available in Australia, in particular about the social and environmental impacts of any planned dam building .

Kim Booth has criticised the rejection, pointing out that foreign consultancy is not Hydro-Tasmania’s main business and it is not a major money spinner.  Yet, if things were to go wrong the Tasmanian taxpayer might have to pick up a very expensive bill!:

“The refusal to provide a response leaves the public in the dark about the potential risks that Entura is taking in their overseas adventures,” Mr Booth said.

Kim Booth - raising the growing concerns in Tasmania

“The Energy Minister needs to rule out the taxpayer being financially liable in the event of a dam failure, or some other critical problem with this controversial project.

“We know that the Bakun dam has displaced at least 9000 families in Sarawak and flooded 700 square kilometres of land, much of which is critical rainforest.

“Hydro Tasmania should clearly be focusing and spending money on their core business, which is delivering energy at the cheapest possible price to Tasmanians.”

“The Tasmanian public has a right to know what work the consultancy arm of Hydro Tasmania is undertaking and to make sure they are not unnecessarily undertaking risky projects that are potentially contrary to their own principles, as well as international social and human rights.” [Media Release, Tasmanian Green Party 8.05.12]

Linked in - Andrew Pattle on loan from Hydro-Tasmania to drive through Murum, Baleh and Baram Dams!

Hydro-Tasmania challenged to live up to its principles in Sarawak

In yesterday’s Parliamentary debate Booth challenged Energy Minister, Bryan Green, to hold the publicly owned company to account against its own proclaimed principles on sustainability in Sarawak, which the company claims are benchmarked against “international best practice”:

“Minister, as shareholder minister for Hydro Tasmania you would be aware that their consultancy arm, Entura, affirms on their webpage that they are committed to all aspects of a sustainable future, including environmental and social. Entura states that their ‘commitment to sustainability is an extension of Hydro Tasmania’s long standing reputation in the field’. Minister …. are you aware that now the Bakun Dam has been flooded it has submerged about 700 square kilometres of land, much of that large tracts of rainforest, and displaced around 9 000 families? Minister, are you further aware that the destruction was so enormous?”[Kim Booth, Tasmanian Parliamentary question 16.05.12]

 

Our sustainability code is "externally benchmarked against international best practice" - or in the case of Sarawak against what Taib wants!

Its up to them!

The response of Bryan Green summed up the increasingly controversial support by ministers in Tasmania for the state’s growing involvement in Sarawak.

Ignoring the established fact that Sarawak is run as a deeply corrupt dictatorship, with no transparency or accountability to the people, and likewise ignoring the widespread popular protest movement against the dams, Green implied that Hydro-Tasmania should  leave it up to Sarawak to decide what is sustainable and what is not!:

” the debates people have within their own communities about whether projects are sustainable and the right thing to do, I think largely that is up to them”, he opined.

So much for a Sustainability Code benchmarked against international best practice!

Green went on to dismiss the concerns of the half million or so indigenous people who face displacement by Taib’s dams, comparing the situation to China!  This was his extraordinarily tactless comment:

“I know that you cannot have development without displacing people from time to time but those decisions are made, just as they have been in China in recent times”!

Floating homes - after promises of new homes and compensation turned out to be false, many of the 10,000 people displaced by Bakun defied the exclusion zone and returned to their own lands, where their homes have been flooded by the rising waters of the dam

Other MPs quickly interjected noting that China’s notorious human rights, safety and environment records were a very poor example to follow!

However, the Energy Minister continued to express his full confidence in Hydro-Tasmania, making the confusingly meaningless comment that:

“of course Hydro Tasmania upholds its own position on its views about being sustainable”

[click here for the full remarks in the debate].

However, as information gathers on this matter, it is unlikely that Australia’s involvement in Sarawak’s dam programme can continue to be brushed aside.

In a recent letter to Hydro-Tasmania the Green Party has further laid out the concerns of a growing number of people in Australia that one of their companies has been involved in the destruction of Bakun and the impending disasters of Baram, Murum, Baleh and the other planned dams, which are yet to be justified in terms of electricity needs.

Web of connected interests

Back from Japan where he was trying to defend Taib's company Ta Ann from revelations that it lied that its products were eco-friendly

Energy Minister Bryan Green has, of course, already featured in Sarawak Report, as one of the leading members of a group of pro-Ta Ann MPs in Tasmania.

The logging company, which is largely owned by Taib’s proxy and cousin, Hamed Sepawi, has caused conflict over its logging of Tasmania’s remaining natural forests, which it then attempted to promote as “eco-friendly wood”.

Ta Ann is anxious to remain in Tasmania, because this enables the company to get international certification for its products, which is not allowed for wood listed as originating from Sarawak, which has been largely destroyed by Taib and his family.

Sarawak Report has documented the links between Ta Ann’s investment and links in Tasmania and the growing success by Hydro-Tasmania in getting contracts in Sarawak. After all both Ta Ann and SCORE revolve round Taib, who makes all key decisions in the state through his multiple roles as Chief Minister, Finance Minister and Planning and Resources Minister!

Key supporter for Ta Ann - Tasmanian MP Paul Harris visiting Awang Tenggah (centre) and Len Talif Saleh in Sarawak, paid for by Ta Ann

The notoriously corrupt, Awang Tenggah, the Deputy Planning Minister and a key henchman of Taib Mahmud’s, has been closely involved in dealing with Tasmanian politicians in Malaysia and Australia.

Prominent political supporters of Ta Ann and Sarawak in Tasmania include the independent MP Paul Harris, who has been forced to admit to paid trips by Ta Ann.

Besides Green, another important spokesman has been Labour MP Simon Crean, whose brother, David Crean, is none other than the Chairman of Hydro-Tasmania!

As we have noted Hydro-Tasmania has been chasing business in Sarawak ever since Sino-Hydro, the Chinese company which constructed Bakun (as well as the Three Gorges Dam in China) faced criticism over its shoddy construction methods last year. [see Sarawak Report - Bakun 'Unsafe'].

Ta Ann tie up - David Crean of Hydro-Tasmania shakes hands on a deal with Awang Tenggah in Tasmania last year. Looking on is Ta Ann's Chief Executive, Taib's cousin Hamed Sepawi (left), who also acts as Chairman of Sarawak's Electricity body SEB in one of his numerous roles in the state

Their subsidiary Entura is currently managing the safety reviews concerning the inundation of the Dam following our revelations that much of the concrete used was watered down by poorly supervised workmen.

Entura’s website provides limited information on this matter, but as Sarawak Report has already pointed out the comments it has made are less than wholly reassuring:

“The dam and other civil works, including the intake spillway and associated control structures, the power house and the switchyard are generally well designed and constructed. The risks identified by the study may all be mitigated, by various means and effort, to successfully deliver a commercially operational power station.” [Entura statement on Bakun]

The Greens and many living in Bakun believe that people are entitled to know more about such safety issues and what exactly Hydro-Tasmania has been telling the Sarawak Government.

New best pals - Hydro-Tasmania are even helping Taib host an international dam conference in Kuching. The chief organiser is David Crean!

As popular demonstrations grow against Taib’s dams in Sarawak, the involvement of Hydro-Tasmania and the support of company’s political allies in Australia is likely to become harder to defend each day that goes by.

 

 

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