“Baram people are ignorant”: Norwegian energy manager offends Sarawak natives in dam row
(KUCHING/MALAYSIA) Torstein Dale Siøtveit, 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 Sarawak’s 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 “dialogue session” 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 “just making noise“. “Some of them take advantage of the Baram people’s ignorance”, The Borneo Post reported Torstein as having said. The Sarawak Energy CEO confirmed the proposed dam would flood “about 38,900 hectares” and affect “24 villages and longhouses along the Baram River”. 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 “welcomed us” during a recent visit “and they were curious to know what Sarawak Energy was doing”. He admitted though having seen “13 persons making known their opposition against the dam project”.
The Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) calls on Torstein Dale Siøtveit to apologize for his dismissive remark over the Baram people’s “ignorance” and to comply with international dam planning standards. ”If anyone is ‘ignorant’ over the dam plans, this is a direct consequence of Sarawak Energy’s refusal to release necessary information on the dam such as the Environmental Impact Assessment”, BMF wrote in a statement.
It is widely believed that Torstein’s job is on the line should he fail to sell the Sarawak state government’s controversial dam plans to international investors.
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