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Friday, December 19, 2008

> Bidayuh villagers reject payment

Some turned up to receive their compensation happily; many others were there to protest, carrying placards to express their dissatisfaction and unhappiness with the government.

This was the scene at the community hall in Bengoh, a largely Bidayuh settlement an hour’s drive from Kuching, which greeted the entourage of VIPs at the cheque presentation ceremony yesterday.

State Public Utilities Minister Awang Tengah Ali Hassan was there to officiate at the ceremony, accompanied by several Bidayuh state representatives including minister Michael Manyin, Dr Jerip Susil, James Dawos and Peter Nansian.

The compensation was for three Bidayuh villages - Rejoi, Pain Bojong and Taba Sait - which were directly affected by the construction of the RM320 million Bengoh dam meant to be the main source for Greater Kuching’s water needs up to 2030.

The protesters, from two of the three affected villages, are prepared to forego the handsome  payments, in some cases as much as RM200,000 or more for each recipient, and prefer to keep the ancestral land where they have lived and farmed on for decades, planting  pepper, cocoa and padi.

They protested peacefully outside the community hall carrying placards - some of which read ‘Kerjaan Penipu’ (Government is cheating) and ‘Kami tak mau pindah’ (We don’t want to move).  Scores of policemen were present.

Naim Cendera again

The cheques totalling about RM15 million also included compensation for a fourth nearby Bidayuh village, Semban. Although Kampung Semban is not going to be submerged, it forms part of the resettlement plan.

The Bengoh dam project has been awarded to Naim Cendera, a company linked to close associates and relatives of Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, and sub-contracted to a mainland Chinese company, Sino Hydro.

The main grouses of the protesters, comprising more than 50 heads of families from the three villages, were unsuitable relocation sites, inadequate compensation and non-recognition of their NCR land.

Group spokesperson Simo ak Sekam, 48, said they were not interested to move to a new 332-acre site, about 10km away and presently inaccessible, at Jalan Bau/Semadang.  

Apart from the financial compensation for their lands and other properties, they have also been offered a 0.15 acre plot each family for housing and another three acres for cultivation, together with other facilities and services.

Awang Tengah described it as a development-oriented resettlement site, urging all villagers from the four kampungs to accept the plan  and not oppose the project as it would be beneficial in the long run for the people in Greater Kuching.

All in, 199 families with a total population of about 1,300 will be displaced by the dam project from the four villages.

According to a brief from Naim Cendera distributed to reporters covering the cheque-presentation ceremony, three villages - Taba Sait, Pain Bojong and Rejoi - will be submerged when the dam is fully completed in July 2010.

The villagers will start moving out in May 2009 and to be resettled by June 2010 before the diversion tunnel is plugged and impoundment begins.

The government’s financial compensation is for all land within the designated reservoir area, including all crops, buildings, fish ponds, etc in the three villages. Compensation is also to be paid for Kampung Semban and all cultivated areas outside the designated reservoir area.

All graves are to be exhumed and reburied at the designated new burial ground in the resettlement area, but the protesting villagers say the 20.5 acres reserved for this purpose at the new resettlement site will not be big enough.

About 100 students from the two primary schools within the dam catchment area - SK Taba Sait and SK Semban - will be  transferred to SRK Bengoh.

One intriguing aspect 

Malaysiakini also learnt that there are proposals for the private sector to develop hill resorts in the Bengoh area and that studies have already been carried out for this purpose.

The dam covers an area of about 1,600 hectares.

Meanwhile, lawyer and PKR  Stampin division head See Chee How, acting for the villagers, told Malaysiakini that an intriguing aspect of the resettlement site at Jalan Bau/Semadang is that an area of about 3,000 hectares has been leased to a company known as Salcra Jaya Sdn Bhd, a RM2 company with Deputy Chief Minister and Salcra chairperson Alfred Jabu listed as one of the two directors and shareholders.

The other director/shareholder is Salcra general manager Vasco Sabat Sinkang. It is learnt that the Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Salcra) will hold a certain amount of shares in Salcra Jaya Sdn Bhd.

Locals say the timber stand in the area leased for oil palm cultivation is premium grade and of maximum girth and has never been logged before. The land has to be cleared first before planting of oil palm.

At yesterday’s ceremony, the headmen from the four affected villages as well as nearby two villages - Bengoh and Danu - also received from Naim Cendera Sdn Bhd RM2,000 in cash in a brown unmarked envelope in RM100 bills.

This was believed to be for the villages to celebrate Christmas next week - Malaysiakini.