Dams a ‘monument of corruption': Baru Bian, new leader of Sarawak’s People’s Justice Party

/ Jeremy Hance

In an interview with the Bruno Manser Fond, the new leader of the Malaysian state Sarawak's People's Justice Party (PKR), Baru Bian, spoke out against the state government's plans for mega-dams in the middle of the rainforest, as well as continued rainforest destruction and corruption.

In an interview with the Bruno Manser Fond, the new leader of the Malaysian state Sarawak’s People’s Justice Party (PKR), Baru Bian, spoke out against the state government’s plans for mega-dams in the middle of the rainforest, as well as continued rainforest destruction and corruption.

Baru, a lawyer by trade, stated that the indigenous communities “very existence and livelihood is being threatened” by the dozen mega-dam projects, which would flood vast areas of rainforest land.

“The state government’s plan for twelve new dams is a pretext for extinguishing native land rights in our main rivers’ watersheds in the name of a public purpose,” Baru said, adding that the nearly-completed Bakum dam was a “monument to corruption”.

Instead of building massive industrial projects, such as the dams, Baru proposes empowering rural populations to develop locally through agriculture. He advocates indigenous people having greater access to education, developing roads for native communities, and providing power through mini-hydro dams, which would have far less environmental impact.

Mist rising in Malaysian rainforest in Borneo. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Baru is an expert at native law: his law office has long-represented native communities against the state government. He states that he would put an end to timber and plantation industries invading native lands by setting up a land commission to investigate native rights to disputed land, issuing land titles where rights are confirmed.

In addition, Baru states that the preservation of Sarawak’s remaining rainforests is essential: “[Rainforest preservation] is a global concern, and we must take it on. I look forward to proper forest management, and we must also achieve clean rivers and sustainably managed forests once again.”

Baru blames Sarawak’s problems—from a shortage of funds to a lack of indigenous rights—on corruption at the local level and a ‘colonial’ mentality from the federal level in peninsular Malaysia.

“We are living under another form of colonialism, whereby the colonial power is in West Malaysia,” he said. Although Sarawak is rich in oil and gas, the vast majority of the money from these industries goes to the federal government, leaving Sarawak one of Malaysia’s poorest states.

Baru says that he could fund numerous rural development plans by demanding Sarawak’s fair share from its oil and gas industries. Currently, the state receives only 5 percent of the royalties from its oil and gas industries.

“We are prepared to fight for the oil and gas royalties. With this money alone, we could do plenty of things for Sarawak,” Baru told the Bruno Manser Fund.

For the full interview: http://www.bmf.ch/en/news/?show=193

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