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Fear of manipulation their main concern

Posted on November 6, 2013, Wednesday

NO ENTRY: People from the affected villages at the entry point manning a blockade with protest banners, refusing to allow consultants to enter the village.

ULU PENAMPANG: The main concern of the Anti-Kaiduan Dam Taskforce members and communities of the nine affected villages regarding the recent attempt by a team of consultants to conduct a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) at Kg Terian last Friday, was fear of manipulation and misuse on the part of the government agency that hired the consultants.

This of course, is other than the lack of transparency on the part of the government on the proposed Kaiduan Dam project, since it was first announced in February 2008 for a feasibility study to be conducted, and the subsequent appointment of WCT Bhd to undertake the project.

A member of the task force, Mary Giun, said through their exposure visits to other communities affected by mega dams, including those affected by the Bakun Dam in Sarawak, it was learned that none of the recommendations and concerns reported through the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and SIA were heeded as contractors proceeded with the respective projects regardless of the reports.

The task force and the villagers refused to allow entry to the consultants on Friday, who were halted by a blockade formed by the villagers at the juncture leading to Kg Buayan and Kg Terian, despite being given the assurance that the consultants were from an independent body, albeit appointed by the Sabah Water Department.

“You could be independent and you could come up with the best of reports that will represent the communities. However, our concern is not about what you report. It’s about how the report will be used by the people that appointed you.

“Even we have been hired by a private company to carry out a SIA for a project before and we conducted what we deemed to be right by recording and reporting the communities’ concerns and recommendations.

“To our surprise, none of these concerns and recommendations were taken into account and that particular company went on with their project on their terms.

“We have met with those affected by the mega Bakun Dam and also our close-by neighbours affected by the Babagon Dam in Penampang, and learned that despite having cooperated with the appointed consultants when the SIA was conducted, the government pursued the dam projects anyway.

“Blame us for being uncooperative but having seen what the initial SIA studies had done to those who have been affected by dam projects, and fearing what it could do to us if we let them, we refuse to allow any of these studies to take place in our villages, unless we’re given the assurance that they will truly voice out our concerns,” stressed Mary.

Chairman of the task force, Nousi Giun, disclosed that most of the doubts and growing anger surfaced from the government’s refusal to have a dialogue with the communities despite being invited numerous times and being fully aware of the sensitivities revolving around the issue.

“There had never been clear information from the government made known directly to us since the beginning. We only knew that our homes and lands would potentially be flooded if the Kaiduan Dam proceeds, in late 2009 through word-of-mouth which we followed up with our own researches and studies.

“And whatever announcement the government had regarding the dam, we only knew about it when reading it in the newspapers. We have asked them to have a dialogue with us, but the invitations were never even met with a reply.

“Further, there had been confusing information that the dam project has not been approved, yet, the contractor had already started to enter the affected villages to conduct EIA,” said Nousi.

The lack of transparency included the ‘hastily-arranged’ visit by the consultants last Friday, following a brief meeting with the District Officer and village chiefs a day before (Thursday), which were not preceded with prior and informed consent by the villagers.

“With houses located between long distances from each other, some of which takes hours and even more than a day to reach, not all of the villagers managed to make it to the blockade site and neither could the task force gather the sufficient items to present to the consultants to make our stand on the issue,” Nousi explained.

Further suspicion arose when the consultants refused to provide any names and avoided answering the task force when they were asked which agency they were from, though they jotted down names and contact numbers of Nousi, Mary, and The Borneo Post reporter who followed the events on Friday as they unfolded.

However, the protest ended peacefully after negotiations between the consultants and the villagers resulted in the agreement that future intent to conduct SIA in the communities will be preceded with a procedure on the communities’ terms.

The Kaiduan Dam project was proposed to be built at Ulu Papar and the interiors of Penampang. The state government had granted approval in February 2008 to carry out a feasibility study and submit technical proposals for the implementation.

It was listed as one of the proposed 16 dams under the Sabah Water Resource Management Master-plan as announced in the 1990s by the then Chief Minister Datuk Osu Sukam, on the grounds that the West Coast of Sabah will be facing acute water supply shortage in near future.

The Anti-Kaiduan Dam Taskforce had submitted a memorandum to the state government with a list of alternatives to the dam, including to accelerate efforts to reduce Non Revenue Water (NRW) which exceeds 50 per cent , upgrade old water pipes to avoid leakages and wastage, and to ensure that water theft is brought under control.

Should the project proceed, nine communities will be directly affected, namely Terian, Buayan, Babagon Laut, Timpayasa, Tiku, Pongobonon, Kalanggaan, Kionob, and Longkogungan, where about 1,400 people reside.

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