Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sarawak natives go to court over controversial dam construction

KUCHING – Six villagers from two settlements in upper Bengoh district have gone to court in an attempt to stop the building of the planned RM310mil Bengoh dam, covering about 1,600ha.

Once completed, the dam would store about 144.1 million cubic metres of water, which will be supplied to the Batu Kitang treatment plant. This would increase the plant’s current capacity of 786 mega-litre per day (MLD) to 2,047 MLD for use by consumers in Kuching and Kota Samarahan.
However, it will also affect four settlements - Kampung Tebak Sait, Kampung Bojong Pain, Kampung Rejoi and Kampung Semban, involving some 394 families.
Villagers Simo anak Sekam, Tasek anak Ayau, Eddie anak Aheng, Bodui anak Dayu, Bungai anak Bengem and Sirus anak Jon filed a suit at the Kuching High Court registry Monday morning to stop the authorities from continuing to construct the dam, alleging it affects their native customary rights (NCR) land.

Claiming on behalf of affected families

The six filed the suit, on behalf of themselves and 25 other families, proprietors, occupiers, holders and claimants of the NCR land situated at Kampung Bojong and Kampoung Rejoi. They were accompanied by lawyer See Chee How of legal firm Baru Bian Advocates and Solicitors.
See said later that the area has now been leased to a company known as Salcrajaya Sdn Bhd, a two RM2 company with Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Alfred Jabu listed as one of the directors.
The other director is Salcra general manager, Vasco Sibat Singkang. The six villagers filed their legal action against construction team Nain Cendera Sdn Bhd (a company linked to close associates and relatives of Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud), Kuching Division superintendent of lands and surveys, the Sarawak state government and the Government of Malaysia, to stop them from continuing the construction of the dam.
“We want a prohibitory injunction restraining the first defendant (Naim Cendera) and/or its employees, servants and/or agents from trespassing, clearing, using or occupying the NCR land,” the villagers said.
They also want a mandatory injunction against Naim Cendera to cease operations and to remove all structures and equipment as well as machinery from the land concerned.

Wrong and unlawful to complete dam

In their writ they also want the court to declare that it was wrong, illegal and unlawful of the company as well as the state and Federal governments to construct and complete the proposed dam.
The villagers also want a declaration order from the court that the contract between the Federal Government and Naim Cendera to design and construct the dam, which covers the natives’ NCR land, is unlawful, improper, unconstitutional and therefore null and void.
Alternatively, they want a declaration that the contract between Federal Government and Naim Cendera that the design and construction of the proposed project does not affect the plaintiffs’ NCR title.
The villagers claim that the construction of the dam impairs the plaintiffs’ rights to property in a manner which is discriminatory and unfair.

Against the Federal constitution

They added that it was also based on criteria which are not applicable to the right to property acquired and held by non-natives.
Further and in the alternative, they said the contract between the fourth defendant (Federal Government) and the first defendant (Naim Cendera) to design and construct the dam was unconstitutional as it was issued on violation of Article 13 of the Federal Constitution (no confiscation of property without adequate compensation.)
The villagers claim damages, exemplary damages; alternately aggravated damages, interest, costs and such further or other relief the Court deems fit and just.

The villagers use historical information and documents to back their claims.

Under the plan, families affected by the building of the dam will be resettled at an area of 3,000ha near Kampung Semadang not far from Bau.
(13 October 2009)

By Joseph Tawie,

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