“Baram people are ignorant”: Norwegian energy manager offends Sarawak natives in dam row
(KUCHING/MALAYSIA) Torstein Dale SiÃ¸tveit, the Norwegian CEO of Sarawak Energy, a state-owned electricity supplier in Malaysian Borneo, is feeling the heat over growing opposition against the planned 1,200 MW Baram dam, a hydro power project that would displace 20,000 Borneo natives from their traditional lands in the Borneo rainforest.
In a statement published today by The Borneo Post, Torstein defended the planned mega dam against criticism by Sarawakâs Save Rivers Network, a coalition of eight indigenous organizations. Earlier this week, Save Rivers lodged a police report against Sarawak Energy over illegal activities by company geologists on native lands. Save Rivers also criticized Sarawak Energy for failing to inform transparently on the dam plans and for exerting pressure against dissidents. During a so-called âdialogue sessionâ with affected locals, Sarawak Energy had prohibited a high-ranking indigenous leader to voice his concerns over the project.
In a press conference held yesterday, Torstein said that indigenous leaders who were opposing the Baram dam were âjust making noiseâ. âSome of them take advantage of the Baram peopleâs ignoranceâ, The Borneo Post reported Torstein as having said. The Sarawak Energy CEO confirmed the proposed dam would flood âabout 38,900 hectaresâ and affect â24 villages and longhouses along the Baram Riverâ. After a few hours, the online version of The Borneo Post article was removed from the paper's website.
Despite strong opposition against the dam, Torstein claimed that most of the Baram natives âwelcomed usâ during a recent visit âand they were curious to know what Sarawak Energy was doingâ. He admitted though having seen â13 persons making known their opposition against the dam projectâ.
The Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) calls on Torstein Dale SiÃ¸tveit to apologize for his dismissive remark over the Baram peopleâs âignoranceâ and to comply with international dam planning standards. âIf anyone is âignorantâ over the dam plans, this is a direct consequence of Sarawak Energyâs refusal to release necessary information on the dam such as the Environmental Impact Assessmentâ, BMF wrote in a statement.
It is widely believed that Torsteinâs job is on the line should he fail to sell the Sarawak state governmentâs controversial dam plans to international investors.
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