Monday, August 10, 2009

Development Plans For People Affected By Dam Projects Poorly Implemented - Suhakam

BINTULU, July 23 (Bernama) -- The current state of the indigenous people affected by dam projects in Sarawak shows that the development programmes planned for them have been poorly implemented.

Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) commissioner Datuk Tunku Nazihah Tunku Mohamed Rus said the poor implementation could have been due to lack of monitoring or enforcement by the relevant authorities to ensure that the development programmes were executed according to plans.

"On paper, the planning looks good but when it comes to implementation on the ground, there is a glaring gap that needs to be addressed," she told a news conference at the end of a forum on "Implementing Hydroelectric and Reservoir Dam Projects While Preserving Human Rights and the Environment", here, Thursday.

She hoped the shortcomings in the services rendered by the government to the Bakun people who were moved to the Sungai Asap resettlement scheme, about 175km into the interior from here, would not recur in the current or future resettlement programmes.

Another Suhakam commissioner Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng expressed disappointment that the living standard of some of the Bakun people had worsened after being moved to the resettlement scheme.

She said during her visit to the resettlement area yesterday, she learnt that new requirements such as paying utility bills had caused a number of the resettlers to become poorer that they had to sell off the longhouse units allocated to them.

"As a result, there are units shared by three families each," she added.

Chiam who made two previous visits in 2001 and 2005, said the people there had also not been able to overcome the psychological effects of being displaced and resettled.

"I learnt today that the birth rate there had dropped to 1.6 per cent, much lower than their birth rate before, and of course, mental problem can affect fertility," she added.

Suhakam commissioner Datuk Khalid Ibrahim is concerned about the Penans in Long Jaik, one of the villages affected by the Murum Hydroelectric project, should they be relocated without their registration and basic problems being addressed first.

He said from the over 1,000 known villagers in Long Jaik, only two possessed identification documents and the rest would be bound to face difficulties to go to school or look for a job should they be resettled to a different place.

Khalid said the people there needed transparent decisions and actions from the government whom they felt should focus more on their needs rather than being "project-oriented".

Datuk Dr Michael Yeoh Oon Keng, also a Suhakam commissioner, expressed hope that the Social Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) study to be carried out on the Murum hydroelectric project would be able to identify the social needs of the affected people better than through the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study adopted in the past.

He said requiring the SEIA was a step forward by the state government in its effort to improve the living standard of the indigenous people without hampering the development programmes.

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