MIRI: The government must listen to the voices of people affected by the Baram Dam project, especially elderly folks and residents in Baram who have much to lose.
Some RM5 billion is to be spent constructing Baram Dam, which will lead to a loss of homes, buildings, landmarks and good agricultural land besides Baram River.
“The government must listen to the voices of those affected by the Baram Dam, and not claim to speak for all of them,” said a former four-term Baram councillor Anthony Lawai Karing, 72, recently.
Anthony comes from Long San which is the heart of the Kenyah homeland under threat of destruction from the mega dam project.
He lamented the potential loss of his clan’s properties in Long San which included businesses like lodging house, canteen, MAS ticketing agent office, and his PBB service centre when he was a councillor and PBB Baram information chief.
Irreplaceable and priceless landmarks like the two-storey historical fort of Long Akah built in Rajah Brooke’s era near the Baram River are also threatened.
“Where can we go, if the dam is allowed to destroy our land and buildings?” asked Anthony who wondered how the government would relocate so many people estimated at 20,000, and compensate them for their sacrifices and heavy losses.
He is concerned that with so many affected, there are few options for them to be relocated as the remaining places are either occupied by other communities like the Penans, or are too hilly and rocky to plant anything.
“Already the Penans have hinted that we will not be welcomed to share their lands should we be forced to go elsewhere, which may even lead to fights or disputes, or worse, bloodshed,” he said.
He pointed out that Long San’s population had increased from 200 to about 800 people since 1950 when the Orang Ulu community first embraced Catholicism.
“We must think of our expanding population when relocating to other places in Baram,” he said.
Anthony hoped the government would not force them to move out without their consent and feedback, which would cause much unhappiness. That could translate into loss of confidence and support for the government.
“We are directly affected by the Baram Dam – the government cannot simply ignore our voices, and claim to represent us,” he added.
Meanwhile ex-Penghulu Tama Paya Ding, 87, from the Kayan community of 60-door Long Naah on the Baram Dam construction site, recalled being stopped from addressing fellow villagers in his longhouse during a function organised for Senator Lihan Jok.
Born on Aug 4, 1924, Ding had served 30 years as penghulu of Long Naah before retiring five years ago.
He felt it was disrespectful of Lihan to take the microphone away from an elderly leader like him just when he was about to speak on an important matter like the Baram Dam.
Ding was told to speak to Lihan in private later, which suggested the government was only interested in telling villagers what to do, and not listening to what they have to say, he said. Despite old age, Ding is still active and would occasionally stay with close relatives in Taman Tunku, Miri, if not with his children in Long Naah.