Penan villages in Sungai Patah, Baram, facing a double threat from logging and the proposed construction of Baram Dam

SAM (Sahabat Alam Malaysia) has been informed by Penan villagers in Sungai Patah, Baram that their native customary land is now confronted by a double threat simultaneously. The first threat comes from the attempt of a logging company to encroach into their communal forest reserve which has been successfully protected since the people’s last blockade in the area in 2008-2009. The proposed construction of the Baram Dam meanwhile poses another looming threat to their lives.

In Long Daloh, the villagers are now forced to halt the logging encroachment by once again erecting a blockade since March 2, on the road leading towards their communal forest reserve. This action was taken after the people had written to complain to the Sarawak Forests Department, lodged a police report in Marudi and written to the Marudi District Officer to inform the office of the setting up of an Action Committee in Long Daloh.

According to the villagers, prior to this, the logging company had conducted some negotiations with certain individuals from their village. As a result, an agreement was signed in secrecy between the party ‘representing’ Long Daloh and the company, without the consent of other residents. The people also alleged that the company had attempted to convince the party concerned that the village stands to lose even more if an agreement was not signed, as the forest in the area will eventually be submerged by the Baram Dam.

Meanwhile, in the neighbouring village of Long Lutin, at present, no logging encroachment has occurred. Although the logging company had allegedly attempted to negotiate with the Village Headman since January this year, no such agreement has been signed by any village ‘representative’. Similarly, Village Headman Tangan Anyi and his committee members also wrote to the Sarawak Forests Department on February 6 to complain about the threat of logging encroachment and have subsequently erected a notice board near their communal forest reserve to warn against encroachment by any party.

Apart from the above, the two villages are also living under pressure as a result of the proposed construction of the Baram Dam. Since January, the people stated that they have rejected to cooperate with representatives from the Sarawak Energy Berhad who had thrice attempted to visit them. The people claimed that the visits were conducted to provide briefings for the people on the necessity to construct the dam and its benefits, as well as to collect information from each family. However, all these failed to be carried out as the villagers are totally opposed to the construction of the dam.

As with many other parties, SAM is also of the opinion that the proposed construction of such costly dams, which will destroy priceless ecosystems and cultural heritage, has been developed without the consent of affected peoples and the public. Conducting briefings at a time when a decision has been made is certainly not a consultative process to determine whether consent is given by affected communities. The construction of the Baram Dam will neither benefit affected communities, who will be involuntarily relocated from their ancestral territories, nor the state of Sarawak, which already has an excessive supply of energy with the completion of the Bakun and Murum Dams.

SAM would like to urge the state and federal authorities to pay swift attention to the native customary land rights and welfare of the Penan communities in Sungai Patah.

Firstly, the people have long demanded that their communal forest reserve be gazetted to protect it from encroachment. Secondly, they have also long appealed for a medical centre to be built in Long Lutin to accommodate the seven Penan settlements in Sungai Patah.

Last but not least, the poverty of the Penan communities needs to be meaningfully resolved through ways that can actually benefit them. Agricultural assistance and maintenance of roads must be given priority by the authorities. For how long must the people continue to be dependent on logging companies to solve their road and transportation woes – is it not the responsibility of the government to provide such services to its people?

Press Release, 13 March 2013