22nd January 2000

Joint Press Statement

Bakun: Revival of Another Folly

We are horrified by recent press reports which suggest the revival of the Bakun Hydroelectric Project (HEP).

The Bakun HEP is a thoroughly discredited project. It is not viable. It is massively expensive. Its capacity is highly debatable. Promises made on its behalf have already been shown to be wrong. For example, the promise that it would provide the cheapest electricity for Malaysians was shown to be entirely fallacious, when Ekran signed a deal with Tenaga setting the price at around twice the price of Tenaga's own production costs and easily the highest of any IPP deal.

Its social and environmental impact has already been disastrous. The EIA process was described by even the Malaysian mainstream press as a 'farce'. The Bakun resettlement scheme, affecting the nearly 10,000 indigenous people who originally lived in the catchment area and beyond, has been an utter shambles. Original promises were broken without any apparent shame. The people were moved to a site where the vast majority are now in debt, without jobs and living in sub-standard housing for which they have been forced to pay exorbitant amounts. Following a report on the scheme, promises were made by James Masing and others to look into grievances. Nothing has been done.

The promise that privatising the project would mean the government would not have to pay a single cent for Bakun similarly turned out to be nonsense (as critics correctly forecast). There were few investors willing to put money into such a controversial project whose benefits remained seriously unclear. The lack of transparency in the privatisation process and wild claims by Ekran (for example, that it could finish the project in five years) undermined any confidence there might have been in the project. Even the main contractor, ABB, pulled out of the project because of confusion over responsibilities and costs. To sum up, it was nothing but disaster after disaster, for which us Malaysians were having to pay.

Now there is talk of reviving it!

And yet again, we, the Malaysian public, are being given contradictory, vague and/or demeaning statements about the project's basis. The whole saga is starting again. Sarawak does not need the electricity, so who is going to buy it? Why should the Malaysian consumer be asked to pay for a project which makes no economic sense, let alone social or environmental sense? Scrap it now, before it costs us, ordinary Malaysians, more and more wasted money that could be far better utilised elsewhere.

It is extremely sad that this talk of revival comes so soon after the publication of the World Commission of Dams report on large dams. This report makes it very, very clear that large dam projects like Bakun have consistently overestimated production, underestimated costs, and have had severely negative impacts on the communities they displace as well as on riverine ecosystems and economies. The Report states that while large dams may have a benefit , these benefits go to the rich rather than the poor. This is Bakun all over.

The Malaysian people have a right to know exactly the basis for decisions about Bakun - after all, we will be paying for it foe years and years to come. The government at least must provide the following, for public feedback before the project is re-started:

- full details of what the project is actually for, who will buy the electricity, and for how much, before any work is started;

- full details of costs, tenders and financing be given to the Malaysian public, so that no one is in any doubt as to who will pay (including for cost overruns);

- The implications for public monies via EPF or other publicly-funded institutions or agencies need to be made clear from the start. This was not the case last time, where original denials that such monies were to be used were painfully wrong.

- A new EIA be undertaken, by the Federal government. This is necessary as costs will have changed and the whole basis and viability of the project (already highly questionable in its 1993 form) needs to be re-assessed. The EIA also is necessary because original data and basis for assumptions have changed. For example, what is the effect of siltation on the dam's viability, following the clear-cutting and then abandonment of the reservoir area? What are the costs and viability for removing any biomass that has accumulated since the postponement of the project? What will be the effect of any changes in the project's intention (transmission to Sabah, for example, which has huge environemental implications)?

- The EIA should be done following accepted international procedures (not the case last time) with comparison to alternative options included. It must be made public and allow for public comment and feedback. The transfer of the EIA to Sarawak last time was a disgraceful tactic to avoid this.

The project has already cost the Malaysian public some RM950 million, paid out as 'compensation' (the phrase 'bail out' may be better) to Ekran and other companies. Just imagine what could have been done with this money.

It has cost indigenous people their land, their autonomy and their right to determine their own future. Indeed, before anything at all is done with regard to reviving the Bakun HEP, the grievances of these people must be dealt with speedily and justly.

The best thing, the wisest thing, the action which makes the most financial, economic, environmental and social sense is to scrap the project. Now. Otherwise we can look forward to further years of misleading promises, huge costs, wasted public money, huge and disastrous environmental and social implications, all for hugely expensive electricity which can be far better sourced from elsewhere.

1. Suara Rakyat Malaysia
2. International Movement for a Just World
3. Parti Sosialis Malaysia
4. SOS! (Save Ourselves)Penang
5. Malodi (Malaysian Local Democracy Initiative)
6. POF (Penang Organic Farm)
7. Save Our Sungai (SOS) Selangor
8. Tholilaliyin Tholar
9. IDEAL (Institute for Development and Alternative Living), Sarawak
10. Partners of Community Organisations (PACOS Trust), Sabah.
11. Indigenous Peoples Development Center,Belaga,Sarawak. (IPDC)
12. Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)
13. Perak Consuers' Association
14. Persatuan Hakam
15. Parti Rakyat Malaysia
16. Womens Development Collective
17. Community Development Centre
18. Suara Warga Pertiwi
19. Alaigal
20. Angela Hijjas, Chairman Selangor Branch, Malaysian Nature Society

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
tel: 60-3-77843525 fax: 77843526
email: suaram@geocities.com website:http://www.suaram.org