Saturday, August 14, 2010

THE CURSE OF BAKUN (REVISITED)

Bakun dam to be much worse than PKFZ scandal

Kua Kia Soong
Malaysiakini | September 22, 2009

Nearly 50 years after independence for Sarawak, we see a comparison with the 'Highland Clearances' in Scotland during the 18th century when the highlanders were driven off their lands for capitalistic sheep farming.

The English did it with brutality and thoroughness through “butcher” Lord Cumberland and even obliterated the 'wild' Celtic mode of life.

What we have seen in Sarawak recently has the same capitalist logic, namely, to drive the indigenous peoples out of their native customary lands so that these lands can be exploited for their commercial value and the indigenous people can be “freed” to become wage labourers.

Thus, even though the accursed Bakun dam had been suspended in 1997 due to the financial crisis, the government still went ahead to displace 10,000 indigenous peoples to the Sungai Asap resettlement camp in 1998.

Well, there is a reason for this - the contract for the Sungai Asap camp had already been given out to a multinational company. After all, the whole Bakun area, which is the size of the island of Singapore and home to the indigenous peoples, had already been thoroughly logged.

All this happened while Dr Mahathir Mahathir was the prime minister. Wasn't he a liability to the BN government then?

I was part of the fact-finding mission to Sungai Asap in 1999 and even then we could see the destruction of so many unique indigenous communities and their cultures, including the Ukit tribe.

There was only one word to describe what had been done to these indigenous peoples and their centuries-old cultures... wicked!

Banned from my own country

As a result of my concern for the indigenous peoples and the natural resources of Sarawak, I was told at Kuching airport in August 2007 that I could not enter Sarawak. So much for 1Malaysia! So much for national integration! So much for nearly 50 years of independence! I was not even welcome in my own country.

But the contracts for the resettlement scheme and the logging are chicken feed compared to the mega-bucks to be reaped from the mega-dams. Even before the Bakun dam ever got started, Malaysian taxpayers had to compensate dam builder Ekran Bhd and the other “stakeholders” close to RM1 billion in 1997.

How much does it cost to pay our 'mata-mata' (police) to investigate the alleged scandalous rape of our Penan women?

The contracts from building the Bakun dam and the undersea cable run in excess of RM20 billion. Malaysian taxpayers won't know the final cost until they are told the cost overruns when the projects have been completed.

But if the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal is anything to go by, the leaks and non-accountability all along the line will result in Malaysian taxpayers paying billions for the same kind of daylight robbery.

In the early 90s, when the government was trying to assure us that there would be no irresponsible logging in Sarawak, I pointed out in Parliament that if the government could not monitor the Bukit Sungai Putih permanent forest and wildlife reserve just 10 minutes from Kuala Lumpur, how did they expect us to believe they could monitor the forests in Bakun?

Likewise today, if the government cannot monitor a project in Port Klang just half an hour from Kuala Lumpur, how can they assure us that they can monitor a project deep in upriver Sarawak and through 650km of the South China Sea?

How can we be assured that we will get to the bottom of politically-linked scandals when the Sarawak police tell us they don't have the resources to investigate the rape of Penan women and girls?

How can we be assured that the Sarawak state government cares about its indigenous peoples and its natural resources when NGO activists are banned from entering Sarawak to investigate a part of their own country?

It makes no economic sense

In 1980, the Bakun dam was proposed with a power generating capacity of 2,400MW even though the projected energy needs for the whole of Sarawak was only 200MW for 1990.

The project was thus coupled with the proposal to build the world's longest (650km) undersea cable to transmit electricity to the peninsula. An aluminum smelter at Sarawak's coastal town of Bintulu was also proposed to take up the surplus energy.

In 1986, the project was abandoned because of the economic recession although the then PM Mahathir announced just before the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil that this was “proof of Malaysia's commitment to the environment.”

So what happened to that commitment, Mahathir?

In 1993, with the upturn in the Malaysian economy, the government once again announced the revival of the Bakun dam project. To cushion the expected protests, then Energy Minister S Samy Vellu gave Parliament a poetic description of a “series of cascading dams” and not one large dam as had been originally proposed.

Before long, it was announced that the Bakun dam would be a massive 205-metre high concrete face rockfill dam - one of the highest dams of its kind in the world - and it would flood an area the size of Singapore island.

The undersea cable was again part of the project. There was also a plan for an aluminum plant, a pulp and paper plant, the world's biggest steel plant and a high-tension and high-voltage wire industry.

Have feasibility studies been done to see if there will be adequate local, regional and international demand for all these products?

Six years later, after the economy was battered by the Asian Financial Crisis, the government again announced that the project would be resumed albeit on a smaller scale of 500MW capacity.

Before long in 2001, the 2,400MW scale was once again proposed although the submarine cable had been shelved. Today we read reports about the government and companies still contemplating this hare-brained undersea scheme which is now estimated to cost a whopping RM21 billion!

More mega-dams to be built

The recent announcement that the Sarawak government intends to build two more mega-dams in Sarawak apart from the ill-fated Bakun dam is cause for grave concern.

Malaysian taxpayers, Malaysian forests and Malaysian indigenous peoples will again be the main victims of this misconceived plan. We have been told that some 1,000 more indigenous peoples will have to be displaced from their ancestral lands to make way for these two dams.

Apart from the human cost, ultimately it will be the Malaysian consumers who pay for this expensive figment of Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud's wild imagination. Indeed, enough taxpayers' money has been wasted - Sarawak Hidro has already spent some RM1.5 billion on the Bakun dam project.

Right now, the country is being fed conflicting reports about energy demand. There is supposed to be a 43 percent oversupply of electricity capacity in peninsular Malaysia. Experienced Bakun dam watchers will tell you such conflicting and mutually contradictory assertions have been used by the dam proponents to justify every flip flop of this misconceived project.

Apart from the economic cost and the wastage, how are investors supposed to plan for the long-term and medium term? What is the long-term plan for Bakun? Can Bakun compete with the rest of the world or for that matter, Indonesia?

The suggestion for aluminum smelters to take up the bulk of Bakun electricity have been mentioned ever since the conception of the Bakun dam project because they are such a voracious consumer of energy. Even so, has there ever been any proper assessment of the market viability of such a project with the cheaper operating costs in China?

Does it matter that the co-owner of one of the smelters is none other than Cahaya Mata Sarawak (CMS) Bhd Group, a conglomerate controlled by Taib's family business interest?

Sarawak's tin-pot government

Clearly, Bakun energy and Sarawak's tin-pot governance do not give confidence to investors. First it was Alcoa, and then Rio Tinto - both giant mining multinationals - had expressed second thoughts about investing in Sarawak.

Concerned NGOs have all along called for the abandonment of this monstrous Bakun dam project because it is economically ill-conceived, socially disruptive and environmentally disastrous.

The environmental destruction is evident many miles downstream since the whole Bakun area has been logged by those who have already been paid by Sarawak Hidro.

The social atrophy among the 10,000 displaced indigenous peoples at Sungai Asap resettlement scheme remains the wicked testimony of the Mahathir/Taib era. The empty promises and damned lives of the displaced peoples as forewarned by NGOs in 1999 have now been borne out.

The economic viability of the Bakun dam project has been in doubt from the beginning and the announcement to build two more dams merely reflects a cavalier disregard for the indigenous peoples, more desecration of Sarawak's natural resources and a blatant affront to sustainable development.

When will Malaysians ever learn?

Dr KUA KIA SOONG is director of Suaram. He was member of parliament for Petaling Jaya from 1990 to 1995.

Friday, August 13, 2010

An open letter to Najib Tun Razak

"I am shocked by the behavior of the leadership of my nation. I find it patronizing, archaic, oppressive, blatantly and self-righteously elitist and top-down. I do not experience your administration as democratic, transparent, open, accountable or responsible. There is a deep incongruence between what you are projecting externally and what we have experienced internally. I can only surmise that you intentionally run your administration in this manner. Otherwise, it would mean that your leadership is incompetent and ineffective."

Dear Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak,

I write to you as a deeply concerned and saddened citizen of Malaysia. For most of the 45 years of my life, I have been proud to be Malaysian. Recently, I have become heartbroken to be Malaysian.

I am profoundly grateful to write this with the support of both my local communities in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo and California, U.S.A., and a larger world community. That said, I take full ownership of and sole responsibility for the views articulated in this letter; I express them from my stand as a mother, an earth citizen and a leader.

I founded and lead a public charity and non profit organization both in Malaysia and in the U.S., to bridge between worlds and build partnerships for ecological conservation. I have been at the front lines of the founding and mobilization of Green SURF (Sabah Unite to RePower the Future), the civil society movement opposing the construction of the 300 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Lahad Datu, Sabah, on the edge of the Coral Triangle, one of three of the world's most bio-diverse ecosystems. You know. You signed the 6-nation declaration between Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Solomon Islands to collectively protect this 1.6 billion acres of ocean. You also know of course of your pledge at Copenhagen to reduce carbon emission intensity by up to 40% by 2020. You likely also know that the plant will displace fishing communities who have been there for a long time - irreparably contaminating their livelihoods forever. And if you listened, you would also know that they do not want the "development" that your government is imposing on them.

One of the priorities of Green SURF was to study clean energy alternatives to the coal-plant, and propose them to the government. We collectively invested tremendous time and resources to identify and commission the expertise of Professor Daniel Kammen at Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory of University of California, Berkeley to conduct the Clean Energy Options for Sabah report. We had no notion of the outcome of the study, and results showed that Sabah is in an exceptional position to shift towards clean energy due to the availability of natural resources. We are in fact in an opportune position to lead the nation and the region in clean energy - the kind of leadership the world so urgently needs now. I wonder if you know that Sabah is the last coal power-free frontier of Borneo. FYI, the 5 core NGOs in Green SURF are amongst the largest, oldest and most recognized conservation groups in Sabah and Malaysia - collectively responsible for most of the conservation work in the nation, with partnerships that span the world.

We have tried every avenue available to communicate to you the results of our findings and to engage in discussion about the future of energy for Sabah. After months of unsuccessful attempts to meet with you, I can only conclude that you do not want to meet with us. This confuses and disturbs me. Your words in public are about listening to the rakyat (people) and hearing their views. A sizeable portion of the rakyat of Sabah has been doing everything within their power to be heard by you. To no avail. We have given you the benefit of the doubt that word is not getting to you, and yet we have met with those around you who promised they would convey our message to you. Many months, memos, reports, letters, faxes, emails and phone calls later, and we have not received a single response from you or any member of your administration. We also did our best at state level government, and have huge support from within the government but ultimately the message is that this is untouchable because "ini Najib mau" (Najib wants this).

Sir, my most consistent experience of your administration is stone walls, arrogance and insincerity. I am shocked by the behavior of the leadership of my nation. I find it patronizing, archaic, oppressive, blatantly and self-righteously elitist and top-down. I do not experience your administration as democratic, transparent, open, accountable or responsible. There is a deep incongruence between what you are projecting externally and what we have experienced internally. I can only surmise that you intentionally run your administration in this manner. Otherwise, it would mean that your leadership is incompetent and ineffective.

I am angry, and I am not willing to accept systemic disempowerment of our people. I am writing this open letter as a last resort. Sabahans are speaking up because we are deeply troubled and scared about the fate of our ecological and cultural legacy, and what we will be able to hand down to our future generations. Please show true leadership and listen. You and your administration have much to do to regain a modicum of respect amongst many Sabahans. If 1Malaysia is more than a PR campaign and is truly intended "to provide a free and open forum to discuss the things that matter deeply to us as a Nation", please walk your talk.

Yours sincerely, for the children,

Cynthia Clare Ong Gaik Suan
IC#650423XXXX

c.c. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
United Nations General Assembly
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Human Rights Watch
Amnesty International
The Parliament of Malaysia
Suhakam - Human Rights Commission of Malaysia
Professor Daniel Kammen, Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, U.S.A.
FaceBook, Twitter, blogs and websites
Local, national and international mainstream and alternative media


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (passed by United Nations General Assembly, 1948) Article 21.
* (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
* (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
* (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.


PLEASE SIGN THIS PETITION TO STOP JIBBY THE HUTT FROM SODOMIZING SABAH.


Best Cartoon of the 20th Century?

My friend Dennis sent me this today. I'm not sure it qualifies as the Best Cartoon of the 20th Century, but it certainly is topical and absolutely relevant in the light of - or, rather, the darkness of the last days of Umno/BN misrule.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Anwar and my daughter share a birthday!














HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY, #2 DAUGHTER BELLE... AND #7 PRIME MINISTER ANWAR!



Behind The Scenes: PROJECT LAZARUS

In March 2007 I bumped into Daniel Tang (left, disguised as a brain surgeon), an old friend who used to work in Rediffusion as an audio engineer and who is now a senior partner at AddAudio in Petaling Jaya. I mentioned my desire to rescue hours of music from analog oblivion and Daniel impulsively offered his expert help with digitizing my archives.

Despite a very busy schedule, Daniel put in laborious hours lovingly removing mold from 20-year old acetate recordings - some on ¼-inch open-reel, the rest on compact cassette. He was assisted by film editor Kate James, whose patience proved a great asset when it came to manually unwinding and respooling yards of fragile acetate.

The project was delayed by weeks when Daniel discovered that their old Studer A-807 MKII open-reel deck needed repair and realignment before it could be used. Fortunately, Daniel had the foresight to document the painstaking process by snapping these images which he later uploaded on Picasa.

There's no way I can adequately thank Daniel Tang (and Kate James) for helping me raise my music from the dead, thereby making it available to posterity. Daniel's photos below show how the musical resurrection was accomplished...

Tools of the trade: ¼-in. splicing tape, Ampex 10in. metal spool, 3M 6in. plastic spool, Isopropyl alcohol in red bottle & paint brush.

¼-in. open-reel master with most of the tape unwound (the tape had not been wound on a metal spool and the yellow leader was where the tape had split into two separate sections). It was a tedious 2-3 hour job to rewind the tape by hand so as not to damage the edges of the fragile magnetic tape.

Re-inserting the core of the spool: sections of the tape were carefully removed and old splices were inspected to make sure they still held, a process that took hours (with many coffee breaks in between).

Winding the magnetic tape by hand using sheets of paper to keep the edges from being damaged.

Film editor Kate James kindly volunteered her help as angelic tape rewinder - or Daniel would have been stuck all night in the studio!

Studer A-807 MKII 2-track deck on slow wind to keep the tape spooled as smoothly as possible. This was done multiple times to compact the spooled tape before actual playback and digitizing could proceed.

Tape oxide residue on the Studer after playback of a 20-year-old reel. The heads had to be repeatedly cleaned with Isopropyl alcohol.

The 1988 "Padang" recording (a 30-min contemporary ballet commissioned by Ramli Ibrahim) arrived in its original Rediffusion box. Incredible to hear an audio master from 20 years ago, still pristine & sounding great!

A hand-written note from Antares accompanied his moldy open-reel masters...

Oh no... here we go again! Thank goodness this one was still attached to its core...

Good exercise for the wrist - like a 2-hour meditation on time and eternity.

Some of the outtakes still sounded magical, so Daniel decided to digitize all of it.

A Digital Audio Research OMR 8 audio workstation was used to digitize the audio from the Studer ¼-inch 2-track recorder.

The first digital re-issue of the Antares Musical Archive will be my 1986 2nd Coming album. For more info, please click here.