It has emerged that many of the families forced from their longhouses at Murum have found there is no replacement housing for them after all, in the half-built resettlement areas they have been bundled into by Sarawak Energy.
Visitors last week spoke to families in Tegulang, all of whom had been given supposed vouchers for a home in the new longhouses, but who found there was not enough room.
Such families are being forced to beg space off relatives, with as many as three families now crowding into the same pintu.
Under such circumstances they turn out to be little better off than those who have remained to protest outside the Murum Dam site itself, camping on the side of the road.
Dumped on a building site with some bags of rice
The callousness with which these native communities are being treated contrasts heavily with the pious claims by such individuals as Datuk Torstein Sjotveit, CEO of Sarawak Energy.
Datuk Sjotveit has lectured critics on how the forced resettlement will modernise and improve the lives of these reluctant refugees.
Yet the available evidence shows they have been treated appallingly.
The families were driven suddenly and unexpectedly from their homes last month, after the impoundment was begun without notice.
Their longhouses were then razed to the ground by Sarawak Energy and burnt, along with many of their prized possessions, such as motors for their boats and private family belongings, which they had been promised they could later collect.
They have now found themselves in the middle of nowhere, on an abandoned oil palm plantation, with none of the promised amenities such as schools or clinics for miles around.
There are no hunting grounds within reasonable reach and these people can hardly afford transport on the miserable RM800 proposed for each family a month.
So, for sustenance, Sarawak Energy (SEB) has dumped bags of rice outside their half constructed billets, sufficient they say to last the community for a month.
Is this how to treat children who are in need of a balanced diet?
These native people would once have been able to receive better nutrition from their forests and rivers, now destroyed and flooded by the Sarawak State Government.
“SEB gave rice and cooking oil. That was all that I could see, as shown in the picture. The Penan people say that was all they get” [visitor to the site]
As one of the Penan explained to this visiting photographer last week, animals would surely have been treated better?
Protestors no worse off?
The plight of people in Tegulang demonstrates that those who have stayed behind to protest the move have been proved right in their belief that they could not afford to trust the unwritten promises of SEB or the Chief Minister, Taib Mahmud.
Numerous families, who have bravely remained at their camp site next to the blockade for several weeks, are now suffering sores and illnesses in many cases, say the visitors.
They are living off unsuitable rations like biscuits and noodles, provided by kindly supporters.
But they are holding out for an acceptable, written compensation agreement, before they dismantle their blockade of the Murm dam site.
Who can blame them?
Is not a written compensation agreement, guaranteeing a reasonable livelihood, the very least anyone should expect in their circumstances?
After all, if SEB could build a dam such as Murum, could they not also build a reasonable resettlement area for the indigenous natives of these territories driven out of their lands by the project?
Instead, photographers have indicated that a contingent of the feared FRU riot police has now been deployed to the area, on top of the hoards of local police, to intimidate them into moving without a single guarantee over their future.
Reports have also been fed back from the Penan community that there have been a number of incidents of drunkenness amongst these armed guards.
For the tribespeople, who do not drink, this has added to the fear and tension of the situation they are in, facing a large number of police carrying guns.
Meanwhile, another visitor who returned recently from the resetttlement site at Tegulang had this to say:
“It felt as artificial as the plastic siding that lines the buildings. To me it smacked of some kind of Stalinist nightmare: soulless and slipshod buildings thrown into a devastated landscape, an insult to the heritage of a beautiful and unique people. This resettlement is an example of the way colonial powers treat indigenous peoples. What a shame to be treated as refugees in your own country.”[Borneo Project visitor]
Corporate Social Responsibiity?
It is a situation that has left onlookers asking what sort of a job does Sarawak Energy’s imported Tasmanian Vice-President in charge of ‘Resettlement’, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ and ‘Community Consultation’ reckon he is doing?
The gentleman in question, a certain Nick Wright, was seconded two years ago by Hydro-Tasmania to oversee the resettlement of the Murum natives.
His job is to apparently ensure that the “highest benchmarks of good practice internationally”, as boasted on TV by Hydro-Tamania’s boss, Roy Adair, are adhered to.
Some good practice!
He and his family are currently living the good life in Kuching, on what is without doubt an inflated ex-pat salary with all perks included.
And, while the Penan kids are suffering from sores in poor accommodation with no medical treatment and no schools within hours, his own children are currently attending the top school in Kuching.
As they enjoy their lazy weekends on Sarawak’s tropical beaches, the Kuching social life and the comforts of a fat salary, do the Wright family ever think of those Penan children in tents, who are facing police with guns at the Murum dam site?
Do Nick and Mrs Wright ever consider the resettlement misery of the Penan families stuck with a bag of rice on a building site and wonder if Nick might have made a better fist of his responsibilities to move these families?
After all, Nick is there to implement the internationally laid down protocols that demand full agreement and consultation and fair compensation (at the very least). And he has been promoted as a great expert, seconded by Hydro-Tasmania to dazzle the world with Sarawak’s best practice in such matters.
We can certainly be sure that if Mr Wright, or indeed his boss, Taib’s cousin Hamed Sepawi, or Taib himself, were ever required to make way for a mega-project, they would be hot on the case for their own full and fair, fat compensation package.
Do we think that Mr Wright, Sepawi or Taib would agree to pack up and move with no more than a scrap of paper promising a non-existant home at the other end of the journey?
Or on some vague promise that the state would save them from starvation on rations considerably less than the minimum wage in Malaysia?
Yet, while Wright’s own family have received fat rewards for his efforts and live in extremely luxurious and fortunate circumstances, this is what his company and the State of Sarawak are forcing the Penan at gunpoint to accept.
Mr Wright has the excuse of working for an unusually vicious and vindictive politician in Taib Mahmud and a peculiarly deluded boss in Datuk Torstein Sjotveit.
But, when facts speak for themselves in this way, we say it is time he stood up to these bullies and got a better deal for the Penan.
The world is watching.