Torstein Dale Sjotveit (right) , the Norwegian boss of Sarawak’s privatised electricity monopoly, Sarawak Energy Bhd, has alleged that European environmentalists protesting against mass displacement of Sarawakian natives are against “economic development”.
In an interview with radio station BFM aired yesterday in the Klang Valley and parts of nearby states, Sjotveit attacked the NGOs for defending the land rights of natives displaced by the Bakun and Murum dams.
Sjotveit claimed that European NGOs, such as the Basel-based Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), harboured hidden motives for opposing the building of dams.
He condemned “these guys sitting in Switzerland, or wherever” for opposing the natives resettlement schemes, saying the NGOs had no right to stymie Sarawak’s development. He said the Europeans rejected Sarawak’s development in order “to continue enjoying their lifestyles”.
His contention was that Europeans were trying to obstruct development in the third world so that greenhouse emissions would not increase, thereby saving Europeans the effort of reducing their own carbon footprint.
The BMF has called on Sjotveit to resign, saying his annual salary of US$1.2 million (RM3.7 million) and travel perks were unpalatable for the vast numbers of poverty-stricken Sarawakians.
The group has worked with local NGOs advocating forest people’s rights, highlighting many issues causing suffering among native communities, including sexual abuse by loggers and violence against land rights protestors by police.
Survival International, a global NGO representing tribal peoples, pointed out that resettlement schemes have been questioned by the press in Sjotveit’s native Norway.
According to Survival, Penan natives in the catchment area for the Murum Dam had been told they have no choice but to leave their land in contravention of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, an international commitment signed by Malaysia.
Sjotveit had claimed the natives in Murum had been “consulted” regarding their displacement.
He however did not mention that the environment impact assessment (EIA) for Murum, required by law, has never been published, although work on the dam began three years ago.
The Norwegian also conceded that Sarawak Energy’s plans to build 12 new giant hydroelectric dams throughout Sarawak will generate electricity in vast surplus to Sarawak’s current requirements.
Sarawak’s second minister for planning and resource management Awang Tengah Ali Hassan announced on Feb 17 that “by 2015, the state hopes that it could generate up to 6,000 megawatts (MW) to cater for the needs of Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (Score), the interconnection project with Brunei and the potential export to Peninsular Malaysia.”
Sjotveit downplayed the set target, saying the generating capacity would depend on feasibility studies for the new dams, and may be less than 5,000MW by 2015. He also accepted that the grandiose plan for electricity transmission under the South China Sea is too expensive, since the technology demanded would be unprecedented.
The Sarawak Energy CEO claimed the planned megaprojects in Score will be able to use the excess electricity. He said international investors were “very interested” in building giant smelters for aluminium. When pressed by BFM regarding contracts already signed, Sjotveit admitted only one such contract has been completed, with the relatively small Press Metal smelter in Mukah.
According to DAP MP for Kuching, Chong Chien Jen, it is unfair that “Sesco, a unit of Sarawak Energy Bhd, is selling electricity to Press Metal Bhd at a cheap price of about RM0.10 per KwH, while local consumers, businessmen and industrialists have to pay approximately RM0.30 per KwH for electricity”.
Singing Taib’s tune
Sjotveit answers directly to Sarawak Energy chairperson Abdul Hamid Sepawi, cousin to Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.
The anti-Taib Sarawak Report website has publicised the conflict of interest and significant environmental risks in a proposed aluminium smelter project to be set up by mining multinational giant Rio Tinto in partnership with CMS, a Sarawakian conglomerate controlled by Taib’s family.
According to Muhin Urit, a Sarawakian land rights advocate, “An import (from Norway, Sjotveit) is now singing the same tune as Sarawak government officials when trying to rebut legitimate criticism. The Norwegian CEO has obviously been infected by the unintelligent and shallow cancer spreading throughout Sarawak for decades, when singing the same tune of Western bashing.
“If the Norwegian CEO cannot produce better arguments to try to defend gross human rights abuses and a corrupt regime, then his fat pay is being wasted – he is either only able to sing praises to his paymaster, the chief minister, as everyone under the CM must do, or he is outright unfit to be on the Sarawak taxpayers’ payroll.”
Muhin repeated the call for Sjotveit to resign, and emulate the recent decision by Norway’s pension investment fund to boycott Sarawak timber company Samling shares. An investigation by the pension fund, the largest in Europe, had found Samling business practices in Sarawak are unethical.
“Sjotveit’s pay is tainted with human rights abuses and he will be associated with projects that are corrupted to the core,” Muhin concluded. – Malaysiakini
KERUAH USIT is a human rights activist – ‘anak Sarawak, bangsa Malaysia’. This weekly column is an effort to provide a voice for marginalised Malaysians. Keruah Usit can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.