Thursday, July 7

Bakun and A Lover’s Complaint


From off a hill whose concave womb reworded,

A plaintful story from a sistering vale,

My spirits to attend this double voice accorded,

And down I laid to list the sad-tuned tale …


A young woman was weeping at the edge of a river, into the water she threw sheds of torn-up letters, pieces of broken lover’s rings and poured her sorrow to the wind and rain. A former lover had pursued and seduced her, but finally abandoned her.

She recalled his infectious eyes, the fire of his cheeks, the thunder from his heart, the breath from his lungs, his motions that forever remain with her though he is gone, but she conceded that she would willingly fall for his false charms again.


“Would yet again betray the fore-betray’d,

And new pervert a reconciled maid!”

The poem A lover’s Complaint was arguably written by William Shakespeare. I believe so, because Sim Kwang Yang said so. Yes, he read them all and knew the background, the plots and the reasoning of these great pieces of literature. He was a walking encyclopedia at the time when Internet access was limited on our shores and there was no Wikipedia.

“William Shakespeare was brilliant. Look at the politicians today.”

Oops, politics is not what is on my mind today.

I thought about the late SKY and The Lover’s Complaint when I read the writing of one of my favourite columnists in a national Chinese daily yesterday about the Bakun ‘buy-back.’

The columnist, together with those others living in Sibu, Sarikei, Bintangor, Kanowit, Song and Kapit were proud children of the mother river of Sarawak – the Rejang. Writing from Sibu, she conveys a vivid picture of many of these children weeping by the river, pondering the river’s fateful twist.

For hundreds, and even a thousand years before our nature and resources were indiscriminately exploited, the Rejang and its headwaters were one of the birth places, perhaps the most important one, of our rich unique culture that is Sarawakian. More than that, its natural endowment of the world’s oldest rainforests with diversity and expanse of indigenous species of flora and fauna was unrivalled.

“Rejang river water was green and it was clear as we dove in to bathe and catch fishes,” Wong Meng Chuo recalled and he never failed to remind me of the days and years our fellow Sarawakians of all races enjoyed and benefitted from the natural beauty of this mother river. I can only imagine the rare beauty of that lady lover in Shakespeare’s poem.

The charming lover boy called Bakun came with irresistible vows: cheapest and cleanest power for Sarawak, rural development, flood mitigation and control. A project, involving more than a couple of billion ringgit, was rare 30 years ago. More than the misty eyes and pink cheeks, the dowry was simply irresistible.

Undeniably, logging in the Rejang headwaters had started before the decision to construct the dam. But once the greenlight was given to put up the gigantic Bakun hydro electric power dam, logging escalated to cut the reservoir, the size of Singapore, up the Balui and Linau, dislocating all the indigenous communities in the watersheds and river basins and devastating our pristine natural rainforests of invaluable flora and fauna.

It is no exaggeration to compare the destruction of our irreplaceable environmental and ecological system, the incessant costs for flood mitigation and maintenance for the safety of this gigantic dam to the chastity of the lady in Shakespeare’s poem. Who would not have wept for the Rejang, now murky and polluted? Even the fishes have shunned their once delightful sanctuary.

Bemoaning the reality check which includes the natural calamity and the fact that cheap hydro power did not translate into lower power tariffs in the state, the good columnist grieved over the unpleasant flooding of Sibu, Sarikei and Bintangor on the eve of the state’s announcement to acquire the hydro-electric power dam facilities from the federal government.

Liken it to a pay-off for the perpetrator, the wisdom of the ‘buy-back’ was questioned.

My learned friend, who had also read the column, offered a justification – the perpetrator is here to stay, to remain on Sarawak’s soil forever, that unless we are to carry out a humanly impossible act to drain the more than 17 million cubic metres of water and earth filling the reservoir, the beast in it may cause irreparable damages to Sarawak. Better it be owned and controlled by us than somebody else.

Indeed, more than our willingness to fall for false charms again, to reject the lover boy is simply not an option.

I do not envy our Right Honorable Chief Minister who is now to justify that the acquisition is a good bargain. He put the price of the “buy-back” at RM2.5 billion but undeniably, the company and the hydroelectric dam is laden with long and short term financial commitments of RM6 billion which will now be borne by us.

Even in my wildest dreams, it would not occur to me that the federal government would bear the RM6 billion liabilities and allow Sarawak to take the dam at a clean RM2.5 billion.

I do believe it was ‘hard bargaining’ with the federal government, particularly the Ministry of Finance which had initially asked for a ‘golden share’ as revealed by our CM, in his disclosure that the acquisition of Bakun HEP dam was not an easy process. Our honorable members of the State Assembly are certainly looking forward to the coming sitting to be enlightened on the negotiation.

The Bakun HEP dam was approved in 1986 at an estimated cost of RM2.5 billion. The series of delays due to questionable decision-making, ownership changes and substitution of contractors as well as in carrying out the packages of works had caused the overall actual costs to balloon to RM15.325 billion though the federal government is only willing to admit to the official expenditure figures of RM7.4 billion. The dam came into operation in 2014, ending a work-in-progress of 28 years.

In 2005, even before its completion, Bakun had earned an obnoxious reputation as one of the world’s ‘Monuments of Corruption’ from anti-graft watchdog Transparency International.

The Monument is on our land. Many have toiled for it. Some have made fortunes out of it. More brilliant is the idea of a Sarawak ‘buy-back.’ In the least, no one can accuse Putra Jaya of selling all our strategic assets to one particularly rich neighbour.

But, is it a reckless or wasteful extravagance?

How will Bakun benefit us?

How are we to bear its liabilities? How are we to clear its notoriety?

For the irreparable losses, we will continue to weep at the edge of the great Rejang. No Sarawakians can reject Bakun. Our arms are opened, nonetheless, not without plentiful lovers’ complaints.