LAUNCESTON, Tasmania, Australia, December 5, 2012 (ENS) – Hydro Tasmania will pull its personnel out of the Malaysian state of Sarawak by the end of 2013, the company’s chief executive promised an indigenous delegation Monday. The indigenous leaders are touring Australia to demand that the Tasmanian government corporation stop participating in Sarawak’s plans to dam most of the state’s rivers.
Hydro Tasmania is a dams operator and consultancy firm owned by the government of the Australian state of Tasmania. Hydro Tasmania’s professional services business, Entura, provides engineering and management services to the Sarawak electric utility, Sarawak Energy Berhad, SEB.
Hydro Tasmania CEO Roy Adair said in a meeting with the Sarawak campaigners on Monday that Hydro Tasmania will leave Sarawak by the end of 2013.
In the meantime, they will fulfill their “remaining contractual obligations,” Adair told indigenous leaders Peter Kallang and James Nyurang from the nonprofit group Save Sarawak Rivers and Peter John Jaban from Radio Free Sarawak during their meeting in Launceston.
Adair told the indigenous leaders, “Our role is diminishing and there is no plan to replace our current secondees. Our secondees are reducing to four at the end of this year and the others will be phased out over the next 12 months.”
The Sarawak state government under Chief Minister Taib Mahmud plans to dam most of the rivers in the state’s interior, with planned investments of up to US$105 billion by 2030. The dams constitute the core element of the so-called Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, SCORE.
In a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra last week with supportive Australian Greens Senators Nyurang said, “Hydro Tasmania’s involvement in Sarawak will help to flood thousands of hectares of land belonging to the indigenous peoples of Sarawak.”
“This will spell the end of our heritage, our means of livelihood, custom and culture,” said Nyurang, a village headman from the Baram River Region. “We will not stand by while our homes, our rice fields, our fruit trees go under water.”
The anti-dam campaign mounted jointly by the Sarawak coalition of NGOs Save Rivers, the Bruno Manser Fund based in Switzerland, the Australian Greens Party and the Huon Valley Environment Centre is declaring victory.
During the campaign more than 5,700 people sent emails to Adair, asking the Hydro Tasmania CEO to get out of Sarawak.
“This result is a huge success and is giving Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud a big headache – the very reason why he recently accused the NGOs of ‘economic sabotage,’ said the Bruno Manser Fund in a statement today.
Adair’s statement means “a significant u-turn in Hydro Tasmania’s position over the Sarawak dams” which it has been defending in recent TV broadcasts, said the Bruno Manser Fund.
The campaigners are pleased that Hydro Tasmania has withdrawn Andrew Pattle, senior project manager of the nearly completed Murum dam, and former project manager for the Baram 1 and Baleh dams.
As the indigenous leaders head home to Sarawak on Thursday, Hydro Tasmania officials will be before the Tasmanian Parliament in Hobart facing questions about why the company got involved in Sarawak in the first place. They will also be called to account for why international dam-building standards were not applied with the Murum dam construction, in which Hydro Tasmania staff had a key role.
Adair issued a statement on Monday after the meeting in which he accuses the indigenous leaders of “misrepresentations” of Hydro Tasmania’s involvement.
“We sought to provide those involved in the campaign with accurate information about our role, which I hoped they would take on board,” said Adair. “While I am realistic enough not to expect a change in their position overnight, I had expected that they would stop ignoring simple matters of fact.”
During the meeting Adair emphasized that Hydro Tasmania is not a key player in the Sarawak hydropower program – the SCORE program – and Hydro Tasmania is not undertaking any work on the Baram Dam.
“Other consultants, including other Australian businesses, are doing more work in Sarawak and have a far greater presence and influence on the future of the project than Hydro Tasmania has ever had,” Adair said.
“We urged the Sarawak visitors to air their grievances and concerns about the Baram project with SEB [Sarawak Energy Berhad] as part of the consultation process now underway that SEB states has been designed to be consistent with world’s best practice,” said Adair.
“We particularly drew to the attention of the visitors the opportunity for extensive involvement and dialogue with SEB through the consultation process in order to have their concerns satisfactorily addressed,” said the Hydro Tasmania CEO.
“Allegations of corruption made around the hydropower project are being investigated by the Malaysian authorities. Rather than pre-judge the outcome, the business awaits the findings,” said Adair. “In the meantime, our people working in Sarawak will continue to adhere to our values, code of ethics and commitment to sustainable development as they would no matter where they are working.”
On Tuesday Australian Greens Leader Senator Christine Milne again called on Hydro Tasmania to distance itself from Sarawak Energy.
“The people of Tasmania are with you and do not want to see Hydro Tasmania displace 20,000 people,” said Senator Milne. “That is a shocking thing that Hydro Tasmania would be taking people out of their villages and destroying their livelihoods.”
Milne told the indigenous leaders, “We’ll be working with you and with other Green parties around the world to do what we can to not only save only forests around the world and rivers but livelihoods of communities and local cultures and saying to Hydro Tasmania ‘Get out of Sarawak now.'”
Upon meeting with the indigenous leaders, former Australian Greens Leader and Senator Bob Brown, who represented Tasmania in the Australian Parliament, said, “Here in Tasmania, no more hydro dams are being built because of community opposition. But we learn that people from Hydro Tasmania are in Sarawak helping develop massive and quite destructive dams.”
“It is my responsibility, having fought against destructive dams in Tasmania, to see that people who are affected by these dams are not only being heard but their wishes met,” said Brown. “That’s not happening at the moment.”