We can disclose that shocking revelations from a leaked report are what lie behind the massive road block at the Murum Dam site, where scores of lorries have been brought to a grinding halt by Penan tribespeople.
The impoverished hunter-gatherers mounted the desperate protest in response to learning key details of the resettlement and compensation plans, drawn up by the Government for when their homes are soon flooded by rising waters.
The plans were disgracefully kept secret until they were leaked to Sarawak Report earlier this week.
The secrecy was in defiance of international protocols, which require full consultation and disclosure to affected peoples before construction even begins.
Murum itself was of course also kept secret during the first two years of the dam’s construction, during which time Taib ravaged the jungle and blew tunnels through a sacred mountain area without permission.
But even now that this disgraceful project is in the open, our exclusive copy of the so-called “Resettlement Action Plan” for the native Western Penan shows that promises of fair and decent compensation amount to nothing less than the systematic ethnic genocide of these ancient hunter-gatherers.
Systematic Ethnic Genocide
Our leaked copy of the Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) shows that the proposals do NOT represent anything like fair compensation for the displaced hunter-gatherer communities who have lived in the Murum territories for generations and who have lost their jungles and livelihoods to logging, oil palm and soon floodwaters.
Under the RAP the Penan are due to be removed into isolated, inadequate locations on the fringes of oil palm plantations, where they have little hope of survival from farming.
Just as disgracefully the proposed level of compensation consists of a monthly allowance which falls far below poverty levels even in Sarawak!
This state assistance of just RM500 per family will run out after just 4 years!
One Sarawak academic expert, who declined to be named, told Sarawak Report after reading through the leaked document:
“This Resettlement Plan amounts to a total and deliberate genocide of the Western Penan. The only way that individuals can hope to survive this treatment is to make their way to the outskirts of towns like Miri and live off the rubbish heaps. The effect will be the total obliteration of these people and their cultural heritage, along with their environment. Their communities will be wiped out. It seems that this is what Taib wants so that people do not stand in the way of his plans to destroy the jungle and ‘develop’ the state”
Sham exercise! – We release the documents
Despite its destructive impact, the 168 page Resettlement Action Plan document, which was drawn up for the State Government by the local company Chemsain Konsultant Sdn Bhd, attempts to assume the language of legitimacy and to acknowledge international protocols.
This is presumably in order to give the impression that proper consultation has taken place and legitimate compensation has been proposed.
However, in practice it clear to see that this exercise is a sham. The angry reaction of the affected Penan has shown why
Because, despite the many promises in the report, there has been no disclosure, no consultation, no training and advice, no schools, no medical care, no maternity care, no improvement of living standards and no compensation or alternative sources of income for the Penan:
“They told me the dam is almost complete and they are in the dark about what is to happen to them. They don’t know what is going on and are just waiting for the water to flood them” explained an observer who travelled to the area for Sarawak Report this week.
New ‘farm lands’ already taken for oil palm !
One key weakness in the plans , for example, is the leaked claim that each Penan family will be given a minimum of 14 hectares of farming land in the resettlement area and proper agricultural training to assist them in the transformation from hunter-gatherers into growing their own food:
“The MDHEP reservoir will inundate virtually all the community agriculture land…Thus, it is estimated that a household requires at least 14 hectares of land for food production and cash crop planting, with 6-8 hectares of land for swidden cultivation of hill rice and the rest for the other crops”.[4.2.4 Resettlement Action Plan - leaked document]
However, maps already show that the poor quality lands that have been chosen for the two so-called resettlement zones of Tengulan and Metalun have already been taken over by oil palm plantations!
One community whom officials took up to see the proposed site have refused to be moved there:
“It is just yellow earth and already bulldozed flat by the oil palm people who have started to plant already. How can we live there? We need our jungle. This area is already given to oil palm” they told the Sarawak Report representative this week.
Neither have the claims made in the RAP that each family will be given adequate agricultural training been carried out, despite the fact that the dam, which has been under construction for over 5 years is now on the point of being flooded:
“The say they don’t know what is going on, they don’t know how to plant things, they have had no agricultural training, nothing” says our investigator, “They were only told they have to move up river. They still want to hunt, they have just learnt how to plant rice, but they depend on food from the jungle. They are very angry because the jungle is almost gone”
Compensation of just RM500 per family per month runs out after 4 years!
This state of affairs is worrying enough, however it is the outrageous financial settlement that has most incensed the Penan who have been waiting for years to hear how much value the state will put on the destruction of their hunting grounds, their forest products and their way of life. The Action Plan claims there has been full consultation on this matter:
“The RAP has been prepared in consultation with the communities and with public disclosure of the decisions and agreements reached between the government and affected communities and is consistent with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) Handbook on Preparing a Resettlement Action Plan.”[1:2 RAP Leaked RAP Report]
These claims are made despite the fact that there has been NO PUBLIC DISCLOSURE until we received a leaked copy of the Resettlement Action Plan this week!
Our reporter, who visited many longhouses, found that until he unveiled the plans in the report the Penan had no idea whether they would be compensated or not.
According to the schedule of planned compensation each re-located family will be entitled to just RM850 a month to get them started in their new farming professions.
This is the lowest official poverty threshold for Sarawak, lower even than in mainland Malaysia where the cost of living is less!
However this compensation is scheduled to last just two years as the tribes attempt to start growing their crops on the land they have been allocated (which is already being planted by the oil palm companies who have likewise been allocated the same lands).
After this the state assistance per family will be reduced to a pitiful RM500 per month for a further two years.
After four years of this beggarly income, The Chief Minister of Sarawak (who has made himself Malaysia’s richest man out of razing the jungle belonging to the Penan and other tribes) has decided that the state assistance should cease!
This desperate situation is one where the indigenous people of this area for generations have been given no alternative and no choice.
This is in spite of claims in the Resettlement Action Plan that the Sarawak Government and Sarawak Energy have abided by all the international protocols and human rights provisions laid out by the United Nations, World Bank and International Finance Corporation Standards.
One of the most damning statements repeated in this RAP report is the admission that:
“During the preparation of this SIA [Social Impact Assessment], no project alternatives were considered because the construction of MDHEP had already commenced at the time of the report writing.” [2.2 Project Alternatives - Murum RAP Report]
Taib’s pernicious strategy of starting the project in complete secrecy, ripping out the jungle and blowing tunnels through mountains without any environmental or social impact assessments, has thus enabled him to avoid the inevitable uproar that would have occurred if he had warned the Penan and the outside world about what he was planning to do.
Now he says there is no alternative for the Penan people. And yet the RAP has dared to claim that the project is being carried out under established, legitimate procedures!
Promises of development versus the reality of poverty and theft
Idealistic statements in the RAP (see above) present positive promises towards the Penan by a generous state in return for the surrender of their forests and way of life. However, our reporter concluded that these gentle people have every good reason for their mistrust the government of Taib Mahmud:
Taib made the same promises of ‘progress and development’ when he first destroyed the forests through logging. However, thirty years later the Penan have seen no benefit at all from the removal of their timber. Indeed, whereas they once had plentiful food and forest products off which to survive, they are now starving with little forest left and with no more fish in the rivers.
It is Taib Mahmud who has reaped the benefit, becoming Malaysia’s richest man thanks to timber kickbacks!
Our reporter collected some statements from the Penan about the problems caused by Taib Mahmud and his logging and oil palm obsessions:
“For years we have asked for schools for our children, but they have sent no teachers.” ”Our women give birth without help and often they or their children die.” “We have no medicine.” ”We find it hard to find food now that the jungle is destroyed”. “Our women used to make baskets and mats to sell, but now there is not rotan to collect, because there is no jungle left. We site idle and we can make no money”
All of these issues are acknowledged in the secret Resettlement Action Plan report, which paints an accurate picture of the desperate plight of the starving Penan. Anyone but perhaps the Chief Minister of Sarawak would be shamed by the desperate livelihoods recorded in the report such as below:
Appendix Seven: day-to-day accounts from a few households:
Household 1: a nuclear family living in an apartment by themselves. The wife was 8 months pregnant at the time; the children were less than 7 years old.
16/10 Sold fruits for MR40. Bought rice, cooking oil, chicken
17/10 Ate rice and cassava leaves. Then made MR20 from selling durian, bought chicken and instant noodles
18/10 Asked for rice and cooking oil from the wife’s sister’s household; ate fish
20/10 Ate rice, fruits, ferns. Asked for salt and ajinomoto (giver unknown)
22/10 Made MR30 from selling parang; ate rice with bought chicken and fish
23/10 Ate rice and cassava leaves, asked for cooking oil from Pengulu Pao
24/10 Drank coffee only
Household 2: young family, the husband actively working for the timber trader. They share an apartment with multiple other households. This was the household most appearing in others’ accounts as a source of food items
16/10 Ate cassava leaves
17/10 Made MR200 from timber; ate rice with bought fish; gave cooking oil to two other households
18/10 Sold durians for MR20; ate rice with bought vegetables
19/10 Ate rice with fish and cassava leaves; gave rice and cooking oil to two other households; then earned MR50 from the timber; bought rice, cooking oil, and fish
20/10 Another household got cassava leaves from them; they were not interviewed.
22/10 Earned MR100 from the timber; ate rice with bought chicken, coffee, and sugar
23/10 Ate rice with fruits, cassava leaves, coffee; two households got cooking oil, salt and ajinomoto from them
24/10 Claimed coffee as their only food for the day; gave coffee and sugar to another household
Household 3: middle-aged couple living with their daughter; shares an apartment with two other households, one of whom is old and the other young.
16/10 Ate cassava leaves (presumably with rice, though not reported so); gave rice to an in-law
17/10 Ate rice, cassava, sago pith; asked Household 2 for cooking oil
18/10 Sold cassava and ferns (undisclosed sums); ate rice with bought chicken and cooking oil
19/10 Sold rambutans for MR30; bought rice, cooking oil, fish.
22/10 Sold durians for MR10; ate rice with bought instant noodles
23/10 Asked for rice from another household; ate that with ferns; gave cooking oil, salt, and/or ajinomoto to three other households
24/10 Ate rice and cassava leaves; asked for coffee and sugar from another household; gave cooking oil to an in-law
Household 4: middle-aged couple with many children. They share an apartment with young children and 4 other households, including the husband’s father.
16/10 Ate rice with ferns
17/10 Made MR20 from selling fish; ate rice mixed with sugar, no vegetables. Later they harvested some cassava and ate that with rice
18/10 Ate rice and cassava leaves
19/10 Ate rice, kangkong, and rambutans. Then sold cocoa pods in Asap, made MR50. Used it to buy chicken and rice
20/10 Ate rice and fish
21/10 Again ate rice and fish.
22/10 Ate rice, bought fish and cooking condiments with the MR30 made from selling durian.
23/10 Made MR20 from selling durian. Ate rice and cassava leaves, and then rice and fish. Got some cooking oil from another household.
24/10 Made MR30 from selling fish. Ate rice and vegetables then got coffee and sugar from Household 2.
The reporter from Sarawak Report who visited these communities this week discovered that they were too impoverished to offer any food to their visitors, who went hungry for 3 days.
The Sarawak Government has made promises to help the Penan as part of the Murum resettlement, however during the 5 years of construction these people have been merely left to slowly starve as their forests have been replaced with oil palm.
What right has Taib Mahmud to expect anyone to trust that he will help them now or help any of the other natives of Sarawak whom he plans to displace through his further dams?
Meanwhile, Sarawak Report demands a response from the State Government of Tasmania, whose former Senior Advisor to the Department of Energy, Nick Wright, is now the Vice-President of Sarawak Energy, in charge of Corporate and Social Responsibility (including Resettlement Plans).
Why has their state-owned concern, Hydro-Tasmania, which is now in partnership with SEB implementing the SCORE dam projects in Sarawak, allowed such a disgraceful neglect of basic standards of consultation, transparency and social and environmental responsibility in its dealings in Sarawak?
Sarawak Reort will shortly be releasing the full Murum Resettlement Action Plan in the interests of proper disclosure, including further exclusive revelations about Taib’s plans for SCORE.