EXCLUSIVE: Taib's Norwegian aide to leave Malaysia!

EXCLUSIVE: Taib's Norwegian aide to leave Malaysia!

Sometimes NGO work requires patience. But it is never too late to SCORE a victory!

We are very happy to learn today that the work contract of Sarawak Energy CEO Torstein Sjøtveit, a Norwegian national, has not been renewed and will expire at the end of October 2016. Mr. Sjøtveit will leave Malaysia and return to Norway.

The expiry of Mr. Sjøtveit's contract is a direct consequence of Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem's decision to cancel the plans for the 1500 MW Baram Dam, Mr. Sjøtveit's pet project during his six year tenure as Sarawak Energy CEO. Obviously, Mr. Sjøtveit has failed to gain trust from Sarawak's new political leader. He will be replaced by Sharbini Suhaili, a Sarawakian from Kuching, who is currently PETRONAS Group Vice President for Health, Safety, Security and Environment and a member of Sarawak Energy's Executive Committee.

Mr. Sjøtveit, a trained civil engineer, took over his public office in late 2009 under then Chief Minister Taib Mahmud to whom he became a willing servant. During his first three years in office, Mr. Sjøtveit granted contracts worth over $220 million to companies linked to the Chief Minister's family, namely Sarawak Cable, Naim Holdings and Cahya Mata Sarawak.

Mr. Sjøtveit failed to convincingly rebut corruption allegations made by the Bruno Manser Fund in its 2013 report "Complicit in Corruption. - Taib Mahmud's Norwegian Power Man." As a consequence, the Bruno Manser Fonds filed a complaint under criminal law against Sjøtveit with Okokrim, Norway's economic crime agency.

In February 2014, Okokrim decided not to initiate criminal proceedings against Mr. Sjøtveit, stating that "even though this case regards allegations about gross corruption it is a matter of fact that all actions have taken place in Malaysia and as such the case must be handled by the authorities in Malaysia." However, Okokrim informed Malaysia's Anti Corruption Commission, MACC, about the case.

Mr. Sjøtveit's greatest blow came in late 2015 when Chief Minister Adenan Satem decided to put on hold the construction of the Baram Dam, a key project of Sjøtveit's plans for Sarawak's enforced energy development. In March 2016, the project was definitely stalled and the lands gazetted for the Baram dam were returned to their indigenous owners.

Sjøtveit had personally driven the Baram Dam agenda and angered indigenous communities when he participated in a controversial "miring" ceremony to "bless" the dam in April 2012. However, Sjøtveit failed to develop a thorough understanding of the indigenous communities' rights and needs and obviously underestimated their resolve in stopping the Baram dam.

When Sarawak hosted the International Hydropower Associations's World Hydropower Congress in May 2013, Sjøtveit attempted to bar indigenous leaders and NGO campaigners from participating. Instead of engaging in transparent and fair negotiations with civil society, he refused to meet with indigenous leaders and NGOs whom he named "groups with irrelevant agendas". As a consequence, Sarawak Energy failed to secure international funding from the Asian Development Bank in March 2015 for a power line connecting the Sarawak grid to Kalimantan.

The Bruno Manser Fund welcomes the non-renewal of Mr.Sjøtveit's contract and hopes that the appointment of a new CEO will mark the start of a period of new transparency and accountability for Sarawak Energy.


Large dams can only serve as last resort, acknowledged the Malaysian Ministry of the Environment.




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