Questions For SEB’s Tasmanian Vice-President For Corporate Social Responsibility
10 Nov 2012
Nick Wright is the Australian from Tasmania who acts as Vice President at Sarawak Energy Berhad in charge of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSR).
In particular, he is in charge of the ‘re-settlement’ of tens of thousands of indigenous people due to be flooded from their homes by the damming of 12 major rivers.
So, surely it is time we heard from Nick about what he thinks of the appalling charade that has taken place in recent weeks with the response to the blockade at Murum by the local Penan people?
Five years after this dam project got under way and just a few months from completion, these people have still not been given their rights to proper negotiation and settlement.
These rights are internationally recognised under UN protocols signed by Australia and Malaysia and now over 60 Malaysian and International NGOs have signed petitions condemning the project.
Does Nick Wright consider it suitable that the response of the Sarawak authorities so far to the blockade has been to drag ‘representatives’ of the Penan to press conferences in order to present them with an arbitrary sum of money and declare the issue closed?
To bewildered people who have no cash economy to speak of, the handing over of RM3.4million to their community (in return for destroyed grave sites) must have seemed too good an offer to turn down.
But, where were their lawyers in these negotiations and what proper provision has been made for these people’s futures now that their traditional livelihoods have been so rudely taken from them?
If the Penan had been given rightful access to proper advice, they would have learnt that this sum of money is nothing near what is needed to ensure the survival of their whole communities into the future.
And, of course, any money that is paid should be carefully allocated and invested by professionals engaged to represent their interests. In fact, there are already concerns about what exactly has happened to this RM3.4million supposed to benefit the whole community!
Stop the window dressing and do things properly
Nick Wright’s appointment appears to be part of the major secondment of staff organised by the Tasmanian state owned energy company Hydro Tasmania, which has been “essential” to implementing Taib’s pet SCORE projects, according to SEB.
He has come straight from Tasmania’s Department of Energy, which is headed by Deputy Premier Bryan Green, who is a vocal supporter of controversial logging in the state by another Sarawak Company linked to the Chief Minister, Ta Ann.
In fact, when Ta Ann located two factories in Tasmania in 2008, Chairman Hamed Sepawe (Taib’s cousin) joked that he had taken care to put one factory in Bryan Green’s consituency and the other in the then Premier Paul Lennon’s constituency!
Hydro Tasmania has attempted to portray the secondments as a minor involvement in SCORE, consisting of merely advisory support.
They even plead that their motive is primarily a high-minded attempt to ensure that Sarawak starts to manage these projects in a more acceptable manner in terms of CSR and the environment.
If so, what has Wright achieved in terms of improving the way things are done?
He arrived at SEB in 2010 and took over the CSR job January 2011. Yet it was almost two years later in September 2012 that Sarawak Report released a leaked copy of the so-called Re-settlement Action Plan, which should have been made public BEFORE construction began.
We ask why was it left to us to do what was plainly Nick’s job in ensuring that the legal rights of the indigenous people were being protected and why have we yet to hear a squeak out of this fellow, who is also supposed to be Head of Communications, on this subject?
What became obvious from the leaked report was that the compensation terms planned by SEB and Sarawak’s BN-dominated state government were so mean that the displaced peoples would have no hope of survival within their existing communities.
Over the past week there has been a storm of protest from Malayian NGOs deploring the appalling violation of indigenous rights over Murum, so again we ask why did Nick not address all these issues far earlier?
Among the key issues is why has the fact that these people did not want their forests to be logged out and then flooded been totally ignored?
Under the UN protocols their views should have been listened to and respected. Sarawak Energy (SEB) and the Sarawak Government should have been obliged to come up with an overwhelming argument as to why this dam was needed in the face of these objections and the catastrophic environmental consequences.
Yet there is no good reason at all for building Murum, beyond Taib Mahmud’s dictatorial fantasies about ‘mega-industrialisation’. Sarawak has too much electricity already and far more than it can sensibly use for the foreseeable future.
Following benchmark CSR principles, which is what Hydro Tasmania claims it does, Murum should have never been started.
So, what has Vice President Nick Wright been up to instead of rectifying these violations of CSR by his company?
It appears his main efforts have been directed towards window dressing in his further capacity as Head of ‘Brand’ and External Relations (CV above). His key achievement appears to have been his role in getting Sarawak Energy accepted as a Board Member by the International Hydropower Association, which now proposes to hold its 2013 Annual Meeting in Kuching.
In his only published remarks since taking on the job Nick Wright is quoted expressing his view that:
“With the IHAC 2013 SEB will be able to work towards effectively managing issues faced by hydropower development, counteract negative historical experiences and address dated issues about the hydropower industry’s approach to sustainability”
We contend that instead of making false showcases Nick should have focused on doing the right thing by the Penan in Murum. They are not an outdated issue, they are right now being appallingly treated by the Murum Dam project which is a negative current experience that shows just how far the hydropower industry is from achieving sustainability in Sarawak.
Instead of allowing the disgraceful attempts to buy off protests, which we have seen the past weeks, Nick Wright and his Norwegian boss Torstein Sjotveit (who paid an outrageous salary worth millions of ringgit) should be directing SEB to move to protect the rights of the Penan, who have received so little from this multi-billion ringgit project.
First step, provide the Penan people with immediate and adequate legal representation which is fully paid by the state. Dealings between political figures and ‘community representatives’ oiled by cash handouts should stop.
Second step, suspend the dam construction until agreement is reached.
Third step, ensure all these indigenous people are given immediate access to their birthright by issuing long withheld Identity cards, birth certificates and voter registration rights.
The refusal of Taib Mahmud to enfranchise or even recognise the right to state benefits of people who have been made victims of his greedy logging and land grabs represents one of the most disgraceful human rights violations of his regime.
Nick Wright and Hydro Tasmania have no right to claim they follow the “highest benchmarks of Corporate and Social Responsibility” until they insist on these basic steps.
Sarawak Report would like to add that the lesson the people of Murum should take from these events is that protest works. Would the Sarawak BN Government have offered what the Borneo Post likes to describe as a “delayed” payment last week if the construction of Murum had not been held up by the Penan’s wholly justified blockade?
No they would not have offered it, but of course this is all too little, too late.
And look what the “kind hearted” people of BN and “Corporate Agencies” have also been up to in the meanwhile, once our revelations and the Penan protests drew attention to their condition!
After two years of not caring very much “corporation and government agencies” suddenly found it convenient to make the effort to bring a bag of stuff to Long Luar. The Penan people do not deserve charity, they deserve proper respect and support.
Our Murum appeal raised nearly 10,000 ringgit. We have already made one distribution to the affected villagers and we will return with a further food distribution to their villages. We will continue to campaign for them to receive proper legal representation and IC and voter registration as well as proper compensation for the disastrous destruction of their livelihoods. On their behalf we thank all you caring donors.