Do we believe what the Penan Penghulu said he told Sarawak Energy’s Torstein Sjotveit:
“Once you get back to Kuching or Kuala Lumpur you can tell the Chief Minister or the Prime Minister bring all your soldiers and weapons and kill all the Penan of this area”. … then you can go ahead and build the Murum Dam”.
or the SEB boss’s own account of the community’s feelings about his planned dam?
“I was received with open arms and the hospitality was genuine and sincere, which triggered a soft spot in my heart….A sense of relief came to me knowing that development was on the way to them.”[Torstein Sjotveit]
The quite shocking duplicity of Sarawak Energy (SEB)’s full-force propaganda drive has been exposed once again by a simple film.
In this latest documentary from Tegulang, the resettled Penan from Murum have been allowed to speak for themselves, instead of having SEB and Bernama speak for them to tame journalists.
And the very Penan leader, Penghulu Pao Tului, whom SEB portrayed for months as the man who willingly negotiated with them, has gone on camera to slam the way his community has been treated.
Far from being delighted at a “better future” and “massive and immediate improvements in standard of living”, the former Penghulu describes how the energy company and state government consistently refused to negotiate or meet his people’s demands, as they were driven unwillingly from their sacred forest lands.
And he says that when a team from SEB first came to his now destroyed village of Long Wat he had told them they didn’t want the dam:
“we met with one YB and three foreigners. They even stayed at my old longhouse. So, I told them before I left, “once you get back to Kuching or Kuala Lumpur you can tell the Chief Minister or the Prime Minister bring all your soldiers and weapons and kill all the Penan of this area”. That is what I told them before the dam was built. I told them “after you have killed all the Penan then you go ahead and you can build the Murum Dam”. But finally we were not able to stop them building the Murum Dam.”
One-sided negotiation between a state-owned company and indigenous people
Speaking in the dusty and insanitary building site, into which the people of Long Wat have been forcibly ‘resettled’, the Penghulu explains how Penan were so desperate, after years of attempted negotiation with SEB, that they finally dropped their compensation demand from RM500,000 (US$150,000) to merely RM100,000 (US$31,000) per family, because they thought maybe the government didn’t have enough money!
But, even then SEB has refused this compensation.
So, desperately they dropped again to RM3,000 per month per family as a living allowance.
But, in the end the state-owned company has offered only a below minimum living allowance of RM850 per month per family and merely for 4 years, despite having moved the hunter-gatherer community to an area in which they have no practical likelihood of being able to make a living in such a short time period.
Shocking new conditions by SEB
Even more shocking is the Peghulu’s new revelation that the community have just learned the bulk of this pathetic payment will be handed to them “in kind” and that they are only to expect a penurious RM250 in cash each month to cover all their expenses, including transport in this isolated area miles from the river!
So, now we know the meaning of SEB’s often repeated claim that they are offering the Penan “items worth more than RM600,000″ in compensation for the loss of their lands and livelihood. Clearly, this is merely a subjective figure arrived at by the company, in a one-sided calculation of the costs incurred, owing to the inconvenience of having to relocate these tiresome human beings.
The actual financial compensation offered is RM250 a month per family for 4 years. Live on that yourself Torstein Sjotveit!
The only possible explanation for this conduct is vicious meanness on the part of those very decision makers, who are going to the UN and to journalists and weeping crocodile tears about their mission to improve the lives of the indigenous people of Sarawak.
That this pathetic community were left wondering if the wealthy State of Sarawak and the company which has borrowed RM30billion for its dam building programme could afford to provide them with even a minimum wage is sadly laughable.
Torstein Sjotveit, meanwhile, has made sure the money is flowing at over a million dollars a year into his own salary package and hundreds of millions are being diverted into the family companies of his boss, the Chief Minister Taib Mahmud.
Propaganda that just doesn’t stand scrutiny
The testimony of Penghulu Pao Tului quite simply means that the all self-congratulating nonsense put out by the likes of the Sarawak Energy Chief,Torstein Sjotveit, is completely untrue.
Torstein has displayed a gallery of photos of himself with the Penghulu and people of Long Wat, gushing about how he is helping them by destroying their landscape and flooding their sacred sites. He has implied they are delighted at his kind interventions:
“A sense of relief came to me knowing that development was on the way to them. Development that would address the prime issues of amenities, education and jobs.”[Torstein Sjotveit, ‘My Visit To Long Wat‘]
And it is particularly telling that this very Penghulu Pao Tului, who spoke so bitterly last month, continues to this day to be portrayed by SEB and in the media as a staunch supporter of the ‘kind’ actions of the state government and its energy company.
Just two days ago, Bernama and the Borneo Post were quoting this respected veteran Penan leader as having shown agreement that the community’s grievances had been “solved through negotiations and dialogue” in an article entitled “Penans in Murum build their lives for a better future” and blaming absent NGOs for the blockade protests!
This same article recycles the SEB propaganda about “immediate massive improvements” at the Tegalung site, which filming has now exposed to be a half-finished building site with zero amenities.
“They [resettled Penan] are also to be given free housing of one unit of the longhouse per family of 1,300 sq ft, clean and stable water supply, electricity supply with subsidised monthly allocation of RM40 per family, free Astro Njoi package (Malaysian cable television) for every longhouse, integrated community halls with chapel and kindergarten, school, own garden plot per family and medical assistance.”[Borneo Post]
However, the film makes it perfectly plain that none of these facilities exist and Penghulu Pao Tului confirms the community have been given no information about whether or when they will ever be actually provided.
Meanwhile, he and other spokesmen make plain the community is living in discomfort and uncertainty, with disrupted services and precious little cash compensation.
Could this be the reason why the man who led the Penan negotiations with SEB for the past years; who went to Kuching last year and who has represented his increasingly frustrated community, has now just been stripped of his position by the state government?
Are they seeking to punish Penghulu Pao Tului, while attempting to present him as their supporter at the same time?
If so, it is clear that the only punishment he fears is that of his own ancestral spirits for failing to pray proper forgiveness for the disruption of their once flowing river and sacred places. The Penan have yet to gain the opportunity to hold their ceremony and SEB have not even provided the money to buy small sacrifices to make to these troubled spirits and ancestors.
The words of Penghulu Pao Tului (in answer to yards of SEB propaganda in Malaysia’s BN newspapers)
“At the very beginning we had meetings with the authorities and I didn’t allow a dam to be built in this place. We have been negotiating for several times. There was a time we met with one YB and three foreigners. They even stayed at my old longhouse. So, I told them before I left, “once you get back to Kuching or Kuala Lumpur you can tell the Chief Minister or the Prime Minister bring all your soldiers and weapons and kill all the Penan of this area”. That is what I told them before the dam was built. I told them “after you have killed all the Penan then you go ahead and you can build the Murum Dam”. But finally we were not able to stop them building the Murum Dam.
“So we asked them to pay RM500,000 per family instead. We waited for years but our demand was not fulfilled. Recently, on 23rd February 2013 we had another meeting in Kuching. At that meeting I offered to reduce by RM200,000 then another RM100,000 then to RM100,000. Since they had refused to pay us RM500,000 for such a long time. I reduced the price in order for the government to be able to pay. I thought they were not able to pay RM500,000 because we had been given a free [replacement] house and free water and a free electricity supply [not guaranteed]. Maybe they can’t afford to pay that much? Yet, till today October 23rd they have not fulfilled our demand. It made us so frustrated we felt we just wanted to call the government and tell them “give us whatever you want!” On 24th July 2013 we were having a meeting at Long Menapa and the Government proposed they will pay RM850 per month per family. That payment will last 4 years. This subsidy will stop after we get payment from agricultural schemes.. But most of the Penan don’t want this. Our initial demand was RM500,000 then when we ask for only RM100,000 it is still being rejected. So, now we would like to ask for RM3,000 per month per family for life. If they cannot afford to pay RM3,000 per month they must pay us RM850 in cash and not RM250 in cash and the rest in goods ‘worth’ RM600, as mentioned by some.
“If they cannot afford to pay RM3,000 per month they must pay us RM850 in cash and not RM250 in cash and the rest in goods ‘worth’ RM600, as mentioned by some” – why no one should trust the government of Taib Mahmud.
“It should not be limited to 4 years, it should be a life-time payment”, says the exasperated Penghulu on behalf of his helpless and vulnerable people who have attempted to negotiate with the ruthless state government and Torstein Sjotveit’s SEB.
The former Penghulu, now in his 80s, then speaks of his sorrow at the destruction of the community’s sacred places – places which SEB have implied they went to great lengths to preserve in their PR material. The film then discusses the material benefits promised by the company in return for the community’s resettlement and the destruction of their homeland:
“When are they going to build the schools, medical and other facilities? ” “I am still waiting for an answer on this.6th June 2010 YB Billy Abit Joo briefed us on this in Sungai Asap. He said they would build a clinic, primary school, secondary school and even a market, that is what he said. .. “Do they have a time frame to carry out the plan?”. No we don’t know, we don’t even know the place”.
Torstein Sjotveit and SEB have already failed on their public promises, which were that these facilities would be in place for when the Penan moved to the new sites. They are not and chances are that SEB are hoping that once the fuss has died down they can leave the Penan to rot in the slapdash site they have created on the side of an oil palm plantation and described as the “highest benchmark of good practice” in resettlement.