Published: Sunday 15 March 1998

  Many such families are still The swirl of rumour, assertion and denials which has long surrounded Malaysia's Bakun Dam continues despite Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed's late-1997 announcement of the project's indefinite postponement. The 10,000 people living in the reservoir zone continue to live under total uncertainty as to their future.

In October last year, Malaysian energy minister Leo Moggie told the press that the project might be given the green light early this year pending negotiations between the Malaysian company in charge of the dam, Ekran Berhad, and a new construction consortium including Siemens, Germany, and Alcatel of France. Moggie said that this new group would replace the consortium led by Swiss multinational abb, whose contract to construct the dam had been terminated by Ekran. The minister also said that work on diversion tunnels at the dam site was continuing. Weeks later, the postponement of the Bakun was included in the annual budget. The situation worsened with abb chief executive Goran Lindahl's comments that the company's contract with Ekran was still in effect.

Meanwhile, the people whose homes and lands would be flooded by Bakun reservoir continue to suffer complete uncertainty over their future. They were told in 1996 that they would have to relocate, then the relocation was delayed by a year. Despite the delay in project construction, the authorities still claim that resettlement is imminent and according to local press, a resettlement site is being built for a population of 12,000, suggesting that the official figure of 10,000 people only indicated the authorities' ignorance about the actual number.

The most serious impact of the uncertainty over the resettlement has been the lack of food in the affected communities, as people have not grown their usual crops believing that they would soon lose their fields. Leaders of these communities have expressed concern over the inadequate compensation offered for their lands and assets. Discontentment is also rampant over the fact that when relocated, these people will have to pay for their new homes. Many have refused to accept the compensation package offered and vowed that they will not leave their lands.

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