Chief Minister Taib Mahmud
KUCHING: With Hydro Tasmania succumbing to public pressure and committed to phasing itself out of Sarawak following a damning national-level Australian campaign launched last week over its involvement in the Murum dam project and the ill-treatment of native communities here, focus is now on Sarawak Energy Bhd’s (SEB) Norwegian CEO Torstein Dale Sjotveit and Norconsult, another key player in the project.
Save River network, a coalition of Sarawak NGOs, and the Swiss-based Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) want Sjotveit and Norconsult out of Sarawak for the same reason they pushed for Hydro Tasmania’s pullout.
Having successfully mobilised Australians to pressure their government into compelling the pull-out of state-owned Hydro Tasmania from Sarawak, the group is now seeking to use the same modus operandi to purge Sjotveit and Norconsult from the state.
The coalition’s success with Hydro Tasmania was closely linked to it having anchored the support of Australian Greens party. The Greens are in a formal alliance with the Australian Labor Party in the Tasmanian Parliament.
The party together with Save Rivers launched a campaign last week which led to Hydro Tasmania’s announcement that it would withdraw from Sarawak by the end of 2013.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, BMF said they will continue with the campaign to save the rivers and the natives.
“We will continue with the campaign. The spotlight will now focus on the role of Norwegian expats and consultants in the Sarawak dams programme, such as the Sarawak Energy CEO, Torstein Dale Sjøtveit, and Norconsult.
“[We want to know] why are Sjøtveit and Norconsult involved in a project that Hydro Tasmania found unfit to support? ” said the statement.
Norconsult, which described itself as the “largest consulting engineering company in Norway” is assisting SEB in the development of the Sarawak Corridor for Renewable Energy (SCORE). It is a pet project of Chief Minister Taib Mahmud.
Hydro Tasmania CEO Roy Adair, when making the surprising announcement on Monday, said it was not an “essential” player as described by SEB.
Adair said Hydro Tasmania’s “role is diminishing”.
The statement was a shocking U-turn by Adair who had earlier in the year saw this as a “major opportunity” and praised SEB and its business, safety and sustainability standards on Australian television show Dateline.
But Adair’s enthusiasm for SEB backfired when it was discovered that Hydro Tasmanian personnel who held key roles in the development of the dams had knowingly supported SEB which faltered on several aspects of its “sustainability” standards.
Violating native rights
A well-publicised series of blockades mounted by frustrated Penans on the access road into the Murum dam construction site in September led to embarrassing revelations, which Hydro Tasmania has since attempted to distance itself from.
SEB has come under heavy attack on several fronts including violating the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People (UNDRIP) to which Malaysia is a signatory.
“We want to know why they [SEB, Sjotveit and Norconsult did] not comply with international dam-building standards and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” BMF said.
Sjotveit himself has also been accused of corruption, having allegedly awarded contracts to Taib’s family.
He allegedly granted contracts to companies belonging to Taib’s son Mahmud Abu Bekir. SEB chairman is Taib’s cousin Hamid Sepawi, who incidentally also helms Ta Ann, a major logging company in Sarawak and which is now under attack in Tasmania.
Several reports have been lodged against Sjoveit with the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission by the opposition and Save Rivers coalition members.
BMF, on its part, said it would seek to pressure Norwegian financial watchdog OKORIM to deal with Sjotveit.
“Norway’s corruption watchdog, Økokrim, will be pressured to deal with the corruption complaint against Torstein Dale Sjøtveit over his granting of projects to companies linked to Taib’s son Mahmud Abu Bekir.”
Save Rivers and BMF have been at the frontline battling to save Sarawak’s rivers and indigenous communities against wide-scale deforestation under the name of development.
• Wednesday, Free Malaysia Today: Hydro pullout: SEB contradicts Taib’s statement