A westerner who defends Taib’s dams

Torstein Dale SjotveitTorstein 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.

penan blockade in sarawak loggingThe 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.

Excess electricity

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.

azlanSarawak’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.

NONEAccording 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 keruah_usit@yahoo.com.

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1 Response to A westerner who defends Taib’s dams

  1. Abang says:

    This Norwegian guy thinks he is still a Viking who can go around raping plundering & burning!? Don’t mean to be abusive dear readers. But who does he think he is?

    Of course he has to defend his bosses to justify his job… But in this modern age most Europeans are savvy about what happening to the third world & HUMAN RIGHTS. This guy is till living 100 years back in time…with his colonial mentality.

    Mr. Torstein Dale Sjotveit-I ask you is “Development” through oppression and dispossession of poor people “development” SHAME ON YOU!

    Suggest that you go to the ulu areas without your “hard earned” luxuries and try to live there & see if you can survive…? Do you have any insight into the long suffering people’s position to understand what’s going on and not be part of or defend the Taib repression machine?

    It is incredible that the totally irresponsible Taib Gov’t should squander millions paying this guy’s salary instead of giving it to the people he is squashing down with his jack boots care of KL’s FRUs!

    Would Taib give us free electricity as an election incentive?

    By the way Rio Tinto is a MAJOR environmental polluter abuser of human rights & colonial plunderer of other people’s resources. Its name stinks- check on the Net what bad deeds it has done in other “underdeveloped countries”….

    Read below what I found on the Net- from Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. Sounds familiar eh?? The Papuan N Guinean Gov’t is just ike BN UMNO. It sent in the police after the poor villagers. We can learn something from the Bougainvillians.

    “Residents of the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea (PNG) filed suit against Rio Tinto under the Alien Tort Claims Act in US federal court in 2000. The plaintiffs allege that:

    * Rio Tinto was complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the PNG army during a secessionist conflict on Bougainville;
    * environmental impacts from Rio Tinto’s Panguna mine on Bougainville harmed their health in violation of international law; and
    * Rio Tinto engaged in racial discrimination against its black workers at Panguna.

    Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that improperly dumped waste rock and tailings from the Panguna mining operations harmed the island’s environment and the health of its residents. They allege that Rio Tinto engaged in racially discriminatory labour practices at the mine by paying local black workers lower wages than white workers and by housing black workers in poor conditions. In 1988, residents from the Panguna region began protesting Rio Tinto’s labour and hiring practices as well as the environmental harm caused by the mine; eventually these protests escalated and some became violent. The PNG Government responded to this uprising with an attack against civilians. A decade-long civil war followed (1989-99), in which Bougainville sought independence from PNG and during which the plaintiffs allege that Rio Tinto was complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity by the PNG army

    More info below- PNG Gov’t persecuted anti-Rio Tinto people by putting bounties on their heads!– You can replace the words “PNG Gov’t” with “KL Gov’t”

    US court hears suit over Rio Tinto PNG mine
    Author: Reuters
    Dated: 21 Sep 2010
    Mining giant Rio Tinto…tried to persuade an appeals court on Tuesday to dismiss a long running human rights lawsuit…The lawsuit, a proposed class action, involves Rio Tinto’s operations on the island of Bougainville in…Papua New Guinea…According to the lawsuit, Rio Tinto decimated the island and forced its native workers to live in “slave like” conditions. When workers sabotaged the mine, Rio Tinto allegedly goaded the Papua New Guinea government into exacting bloody retribution against residents of Bougainville…In a hearing…Rio Tinto attorney Sri Srinivasan said the plaintiffs should have tried to bring their lawsuit in Papua New Guinea…Steve Berman, who represents the Rio Tinto plaintiffs [said] his clients could not have filed the lawsuit in Papua New Guinea because they left with bounties upon their heads.

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