Following the expose on Australia’s Dateline programme last week, Taib’s state government has at last agreed to fulfil its own promises made to the people of Sungai Asap more than ten years ago.
Land Development Minister, James Masing has now announced that these refugees are entitled to the homes into which they were forcibly moved and they are no longer being expected to pay the government tens of thousands of ringgit for their new dwellings.
So, the message is clear. When you are dealing with a government like BN you need to stand up for your rights and protest, otherwise they will exploit and abandon you.
There is no worse example of cheating and exploitation that what has been done to the 10,000 people of Bakun who have been flooded from their lands by that enormous dam. The same happened to the people of Batang Ai and the same looks set to happen to all the hundreds of thousands more Sarawakians who are now threatened by Taib’s plans to build another 12 monstrous and unnecessary dams.
Promises are cheap
The people of Bakun were of course made to understand that they had no choice about their removal. However, at the time they were promised that they could expect compensation in the form of replacement housing, jobs, compensation payments, land and also wealth from the electricity of the dam. Free water and electricity were also frequently mentioned to local people by the politicians and bureaucrats who encouraged them to accept the move.
Once they got to the bleak pre-fabricated housing of the resettlement town of Sungai Asap they realised they had been misled. Officials now told them they would have to pay for their new homes and that these were being valued far higher than the compensation payments they had received for their old homes. Who had the RM50,000 plus that was being asked by the government for the structures that soon turned out to be badly built and sub-standard?
On top of that, protestors told the Dateline programme that the five acres of land that had been promised to each family, so that they could farm their own food, was never granted. Some families have found small plots, but the government has never handed them their land titles.
So what happened to the billions and billions of ringitt that were made out of deforesting this vast area the size of Singapore in advance of the dam being built?
Why was none of this money used to compensate the local people, pay for their new homes, build adequate hospitals and schools, train them for new jobs and do all the things that had been promised by Taib’s politicians?
What happened to all the promised “progress and development”?
We know what happened to the money when we look at the big houses and jet set life-styles of BN’s politicians and their timber cronies. Bakun was never about helping the poor people of Sarawak.
Faced with hunger and squalor and misery in Sungai Asap, many of those native people have now returned to their original village homes, which are now floating on the sides of Bakun’s enormous man-made lake.
Their pitiful plight and the outrageous story of their exploitation shown on prime-time Australian television is what has provoked the sudden stand down.
Masing, who had been the original Chairman of the Bakun Dam Resettlement Committee and therefore directly to blame for much of the misery, admitted in yesterday’s statement that the state government had previously adopted the stance that it would pay “full compensation” for all previous houses affected by the Bakun Dam project, while demanding the families should pay for the new homes built for them.
No surprise that the government put a low value on the houses it confiscated and a high one on the new ones it provided!
But now he has conceded that the state government has climbed down. Masing claimed it was the visit by the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak before the last state election that had overruled this mean and arbitrary arrangement. The PM had been worried at the bad publicity and was seeking a vote catcher and so agreed the Federal Government should pay 50% of the cost of removing the poor refugees from their debt.
Voters held to ransom?
However, Masing’s speech revealed a further scandal! The money had been paid by the Federal Government in advance of the April 2011 election, yet 18 months later the State Government is still sitting on it!
Masing was blatant about Taib’s tactics in this respect. He plans to use the announcement in order to curry favour with voters over two elections! The promise of money that was made before the state elections in 2011 is to be announced again just before the next Federal Election, which is likely to be in 2013!
Why should the suffering people of Sungai Asap be forced to wait another two years to be given their right and to have promises fulfilled when at least the Federal Government has paid its share of the deal a good two years previously?
Do we think it is because Taib lacks funds or do we think it is because he is determined once again to try and bribe people with things that should be rightfully theirs?
Twelve years after their brutal banishment from their lands the people of Bakun are still waiting for promises to be fulfilled. And while it is good that Taib’s government has now been shamed into repeating these promises , who can believe a word BN say in advance of an election?
Masing should take heed of what his colleague Senator Idris Buang told Dateline in his interview. The Senator said that any instances of outstanding compensation should be considered illegal!:
“they ought to be compensated. It would be illegal, actually, if they’re not”.
Yet there are thousands of such cases in Sungai Asap and his BN government has perpetrated illegal land grabs and requisitions against tens of thousands more throughout Sarawak.
The people should learn from this lesson that ten years of meekness was rewarded only by meanness from BN and that only by standing up for their rights and by joining the demands of the opposition parties and human rights lawyers, who have been fighting their cause, have they managed even to gain the smallest concessions.
And they should never trust Taib to fulfil those concessions when they are made BEFORE an election with a commitment to delivering AFTER the election!
Taib’s government is now trying to ban the people who had in desperation returned to their floating homes after finding they could not make a living in Sugai Asap. BN want to make an exclusion zone and outlaw these shrines to the past history of the Ukit people.
Is this a government that anyone wants to retain at the next election?