By Norshazlina Nor’azman
BAKUN: Although almost two decades have passed since the various ethnic communities living near Sungai Balui, here were relocated to make way for the massive Bakun dam and hydroelectric power station, various quarters continue to hurl allegations that neither the state government nor the dam operator are taking care of their welfare.
Sarawak Hidro Sdn Bhd General Manager (Corporate Services) Faisal Shahbudin has dismissed the allegations, saying that the company has implemented various projects as part of its corporate social responsibility initiative to look after the welfare of the displaced communities and ensure their survival.
He said last year alone, RM1 million was allocated for the projects concerned and that a similar amount may also be set aside this year to, among others, boost their economic activities and provide education aid.
The Bakun dam is operated by Sarawak Hidro, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Minister of Finance Incorporated.
“We are doing our utmost best to help them in all aspects through the programmes we have planned for them. Now we’re looking at how we can improve their economic status… this includes getting them to make unique handicrafts.
“We’re also drawing up a programme to adopt certain schools to help students (from various ethnic communities) to do better in their studies so that they can get better grades in their SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia) examination. We’re planning to start with Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Bakun before extending our programme to other schools,” Faisal told reporters who participated in a recent media visit to the Bakun Hydroelectric Power Plant, here, organised by the Information Department.
Some 10,000 indigenous people belonging to the Kenyah, Kayan, Lahanan, Penan and Ukit ethnic groups in the Sungai Balui area were relocated to modern longhouses in Sungai Asap – about 60km away from the dam site – in 1998 and 1999.
The Bakun dam is located on Sungai Balui in the upper basin of Sungai Rajang and its catchment area covers nearly 14,759 square kilometres (sq km), which is about 12 per cent of Sarawak’s land mass and almost as large as Kelantan.
The power plant, developed at a cost of RM7 billion, completed and commissioned in 2014, is the largest in Southeast Asia. At 205 metres high, it is the third-highest power plant in the world, with a reservoir that has a surface area of 695 sq km, which is approximately the size of Singapore.
OPERATING WITHOUT A HITCH
Faisal also said that Sarawak Hidro gave priority to members of the relocated communities when hiring workers for the power plant. Currently, 35 per cent of its 210-man workforce comprised people from the Sungai Asap longhouses while the rest consisted of other Sarawak-born residents.
“We are employing people who have the qualifications but we’re giving preference to those who were forced to shift from Hulu Balui to longhouses at other settlements… currently, a majority of our workers from Sungai Asap are from the Kayan ethnic community and some from the Kenyah and Lahanan communities as well,” he said.
Sarawak Hidro, meanwhile, is poised to contribute to the transformation of Sarawak’s economy as its Bakun power plant is envisioned to play a catalytic role in the state’s industrial growth.
Sarawak Hidro General Manager (Operations and Maintenance) Anuar Abu Bakar said the power plant was currently only generating 1,150 to 1,450 megawatts of power, well below its 2,400-megawatt capacity.
“Currently, Sarawak’s power requirements range from 2,200 to 2,400 megawatts, so our supply only meets 50 to 60 per cent of the state’s needs. The rest of the state’s power requirements are met by other power stations, like the one in Murun.
“But Sarawak’s power requirements can increase any time. If it goes up to 3,500 megawatts, for instance, we will hike up production (at our power plant) because we have the capacity. Currently, we’re operating at half our capacity,” he said.
He said the eight turbine generators installed at the Bakun power plant have been operating around the clock since July 2014. Four of the units were acquired from France and the rest, Argentina.
The electricity generated at the Bakun Hydroelectric Power Plant is supplied to Sarawak Hidro’s sole customer, Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) which, in turn, supplies power to consumers in Sarawak, Sabah and even Kalimantan.
SEB also serves the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) – located in the central region of the state and about 170km from Bakun – which is a major initiative undertaken by the state government to accelerate economic growth and development.
“Samalaju (which has been identified as one of the five new growth nodes within SCORE) is expected to attract more investors. With rapid development, Sarawak’s economic growth will soar,” said Anuar.
Anuar also pointed out to Bakun dam’s tourism potential, saying that the 30-odd islands – covering a total of 6,000 hectares – that have formed in the reservoir area afford spectacular views.
“I’m sure we can attract hordes of tourists if it (Bakun) is turned into a tourist attraction. Other activities like mountain climbing, trekking, bird watching and fishing can also be offered,” he said.
On the sprouting of floating houses, or “jelatong” as they are more popularly known locally, on the reservoir in Bakun, Anuar said Sarawak Hidro was forced to clean up the waters as garbage like empty plastic bottles was being dumped into the reservoir.
“To prevent contamination of the water, we’re also helping these jelatong owners to build a sewerage system for proper waste disposal,” he said.
The floating houses are wooden structures that are nailed onto logs or soldered on empty oil barrels. They are usually used as temporary dwellings by anglers or those rearing fish in cages. The more enterprising owners rent out their units to tourists.
According to Anuar, there were now more than 320 floating houses on the reservoir but some of them were rotting away in the water. The authorities concerned had embarked on clean-up operations since April 2011 to remove planks and other debris that were left floating on the reservoir.