First, let me make myself clear – I am not against development and what I am writing here is just what an ordinary Iban would think when we read the news on 28 November 2006 (Star, page 28 – Bakun power for Peninsular and NST front page â€“ Worldâ€™s Longest Undersea Power Link).
When Malaysia decided and successfully built the Batang Ai Dam, it was a big news for the industries in Sarawak. We then saw the emerging industrial areas in Kuching and later extended to other towns in Sarawak up to Miri. We gave the investors a warm welcome and they created big manufacturing plants in Samajaya, Kuching and created vast employment opportunities for the people of Kuching. Kuching City need the population to sustain their own economy. It is amazing to see the impact of Batang Ai Dam to Sarawak during the last 15 years.
On the other end, due to the construction of Batang Ai Dam, a lot of Iban communities were shifted to new areas upstream. The government was kind enough to build new longhouses and introduce oil palm plantation managed by SALCRA. Land is scarce and based on the Iban culture, it need to be sub-divided among family members as it is passed down to the new generation. Employment opportunity is there but at a very low price. RM12 per day to work for SALCRAâ€™s oil palm plantation.Â The immediate impact was the mass urban migration into towns like Sibu, Miri and Kuching in search of better living.
Today, it is sad to see that this younger generation are scattered in the urban areas (which was why we have the Ministry of Urbanisation – maybe to look after these trend of migration). What is left in Batang Ai and Lubok Antu today remain a question mark to many. Have the construction of the dam benefit the people of Batang Ai?
Yuppp.. Sarawak has a new ministry â€“ Modernisation of Agriculture, which at the moment have higher priority to the coastal areas. Probably the first large-scaled farming was in Gedong for paddy. I remember mentioning large scale farming to YB Sylvester Entrie and the now ex-Pengulu Ujih about the possibility of having a commercial large scale padi plantation in Kejaman, Baram, where the soil is suitable. And.. the next thing I know â€“ our Agriculture Minister (that time was Datuk Patinggi Jabu) launched Gedong Paddy Plantation.
Again, the people in Lubok Antu is sidelined of a big economic project. Please do not mention the oil palm, it did little to upgrade the standard of living to the residents there. Please do not mention the Batang Ai Hilton because it only benefits the travel agents who are mostly Kuching based. But do mention the influx of Indonesian plantation workers who brought with them a set of norm which have changed the way of life of the people in Lubok Antu.
And now, the Malaysian Cabinet will decide whether or not to revive the Bakun Power Link project and channel the power to West Malaysia. Before we even see the dam, we have seen and read of the various social, economic and other problems facing the people of Sungai Asap and Belaga in general. Will this be another Lubok Antu?
Yes, indeed Malaysia need vast resources of power, but do we need to sacrifice the minority?
Why can’t these minorities enjoy the fruit of development beside the merely very basic infrastructure development projects?
While writing this article, my longhouse has not enjoyed the electricity generated through the Batang Ai Dam, although the power lines are passing by high above our heads. Imagine the profit generated from the industries powered by the dam and the shareholders are laughing their live in luxury while the people of Lubok Antu and rural Sarawak suffer in darkness.
Yes of course, we do have generator set to power our longhouses, but itâ€™s not becoming cheaper these days with the increasing price of diesel. Our fellow Malay Malaysian gets the benefit of subsidized diesel due to the fact that they have the Malay representatives fighting for it. Bearing in mind that the Malays are the majority in the Cabinet, of course they comes first. Again, we are deprived of the badly needed cheaper diesel to fuel our homes and schools.
When the Education Minister announced during their UMNO Convention that all the school will be provided with water and electricity by end 2007, the community in Sarawak just give him a smile and say, “itu Laut pandai cakap saja! Suruh dia datang sini lar, baru cakap lagi.”
I don’t blame the Penan for all the blockages, if this is how the Malaysian government treats them. Pity of course for my fellow friend, YB Nelson Balang, for the heavy duty job of convincing the Penan not to create the blockage. We know deep inside of him, sad huh YB.
We can write and write all these, and at the end, all we ask for from the so call ‘speak for all Malaysian, Prime Minister’ is just a piece of the benefits of these natural resources that they (the Peninsular) have been harvesting all these years. From oil to gas and now electricity.. while they enjoy the benefit and leave us our basic state.
Forget about the lack of economic activities in these rural areas, but remember you are gaining from our resources in Sarawak. The Peninsular would never enjoy it if Tun Jugah didnâ€™t sign on the dotted line.
What more do they want from us to justify for an equal standard of living? We have the resources and they have the population!