[UPDATE: 23/1/19] The federal gomen decided to cancel the Telom Dam project, according to Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister, Yeo Bee Yin. Apparently, the ministry made this decision in October last year that this dam won’t be included in the ministry’s plan. And, no, this is reportedly not because of the by-election since Yeo Bee Yin didn’t know that Pos Lanai is under the constituency of Cameron Highlands. [END OF UPDATE]
With the Cameron Highlands by-election coming up, most people would be busy reading about the by-election candidates, campaigns and some exotic local recipe involving strawberries cos… why not, right?
But we found out another news about the mossy highland, and chances are you might’ve missed it- it’s about a dam project by Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) on an orang asli settlement in Kampung Pos Lanai, Kuala Lipis. This settlement reportedly falls under the Cameron Highlands parliamentary constituency so it could be related to the by-election la.
It was also reported that this project would environmentally affect 7,600 hectare of land which belonged to the Pos Lanai orang asli. Dammit, another dam scandal!?
Before we go into the real issue, we actually found out that…
Cameron Highlands is not only known for strawberries… but also hydroelectric dams!
Apparently, hydroelectric dams have been built in Cameron Highlands since 1959! In fact, TNB mentioned in its annual report that Cameron Highlands is a LANDMARK in the history of hydroelectric technology in the country and region. TNB built hydroelectric dams to generate renewable energy and this move is in line with the gomen’s plan to reduce dependency on fossil fuel source.
“Considering that hydroelectric projects comprise some of the largest power generating facilities in the world – with some even eclipsing the largest nuclear power plants – it is only natural that Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) has leveraged its expertise to manage and operate a variety of such projects in the country.” – TNB on why it builds hydroelectric dams.
But from reports, it seems that TNB has allegedly been disturbing the orang asli in Pahang since the first dam was built (Ulu Jelai hydroelectric dam). This dam could supply 186MegaWatts (MW) of energy. That would mean if 1MW can supply enough energy to roughly 1,000 homes, then the energy produced by the Ulu Jelai dam can cater enough energy for 186,000 homes!
In the process of building this dam, TNB had reportedly relocated three orang asli villages in the Ulu Telom settlement (not to be confused with the Telom dam) which were originally situated nearby the project site. The orang asli, who would later lose their homes and crops, were compensated by TNB. Although it was reported that the amount of compensation given by TNB wasn’t being disclosed, we actually found out that TNB compensated RM4.4 million. Okay… but how does this piece of info relevant to the Pos Lanai orang asli??
Well, while all this was happening, TNB actually saw a potential area to build another dam in the Pos Lanai settlement which would be called the Telom dam. In a 2015 World Water Forum, TNB listed 18 places in Malaysia that have potential to become hydro power plants and that includes the Telom dam which is expected to produce 132MW of energy.
“This project will also serve as a pilot study for the development of a public acceptance model that will address the social and environmental impact of hydropower stations.” – TNB on expanding its hydroelectric dam project which includes the Telom dam.
However, unlike when TNB built the Ulu Jelai dam, the orang asli in the Pos Lanai settlement have been against this idea la. According to the Pos Lanai action committee chairman, Jeffry Hassan, there were about 1,500 orang asli in the area that depended on the land for drinking water, farming and fishing. He also added that the land is an ancestral land cos they have been living there even before the Malayan Emergency!
In fact, the Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Pahang coordinator Shafie Dris said that, based on Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the orang asli have rights to defend their land:
“The orang asli had rights to the lands, territories and resources that they had traditionally owned and the government must recognise and ratify the rights officially.”
But TNB trespassing the ancestral land is only the start of the problem.
TNB reportedly used a ‘sneaky’ way to ensure the Telom dam is built
We mentioned earlier how TNB compensated the orang asli when it relocated them to build the Ulu Jelai hydroelectric dam. And TNB might’ve thought that it could do the same with the Pos Lanai orang asli. Here’s where it gets tricky.
In 2012, the Pos Lanai orang asli were relocated to a new settlement by the Department of Orang Asli Development (JAKOA). Yea, yea, this is just like moving to another house, right? So, what’s the issue here??
Well, the problem was JAKOA didn’t inform the orang asli a huge chunk of information which was that they weren’t able to go back to their original settlement. TNB had only informed the orang asli that they couldn’t return to their original settlement as it was taken to build the Telom dam a year after they were being moved(!).
And… uh… ofcos la the orang asli were upset when they found out about this. They actually demanded their rights by submitting a memorandum to the then Pahang Mentri Besar, Dato Seri Adnan Yaakob. Adnan Yaakob assured them that he would review the memorandum and raise the matter to TNB and the federal gomen. But, at the time of writing, we couldn’t find any evidence that he did any of those things.
In 2015, the orang asli community filed a suit claiming that they were moved under fraudulent circumstances. And they filed another suit against TNB, the Pahang state gomen and federal gomen to stop the project. The orang asli also did this to obtain a declaration from the high court that the land belonged to the villagers. It was reported that this temporary injunction was filed at the Kuala Lumpur High Court.
But if you think TNB just sat down and did nothing, then you might wanna think back.
After a year of putting the project on halt, TNB filed a clarification from the high court if it can continue with the project anot… by using a ‘sneaky’ way to resume the project (words of a lawyer on the case, not ours).
TNB reportedly brought the case from the Kuala Lumpur High Court to the Temerloh High Court and put an injunction against Jeffry and the orang asli to stop them from disrupting its measurement work on a second, separate project in Pos Lanai. It was reported that the said project was the Ulu Jelai dam. However, when we checked, the Ulu Jelai dam was almost completed in 2016 and began its operation in 2017.
And although the orang asli were fighting hard to reclaim their land…
The orang asli finally withdrew their case against TNB
As it turns out, that is the case. At the time of writing, the orang asli reportedly received a letter from the Attorney General Chambers (AGC) to pay RM12,000 to the court on the grounds that they fought for legal rights. However, some other sources stated that they were required to pay RM9,000. But whichever amount they were asked to pay, the orang asli didn’t have the money to pay la.
The AGC had decided to waive the amount that the orang asli had to pay to the court after receiving a memorandum from them. It was reported that the Pahang state gomen, JAKOA and the federal gomen (aka all defendants la) have agreed to waive the payment except for TNB.
“The AGC has requested TNB, the first defendant, to take the same position.” – The AGC statement quoted from MalaysiaKini.
And we found out that the orang asli withdrew this case cos they disagreed with the court’s decision to move the case from Kuala Lumpur High Court to Temerloh High Court. But although they withdrew the case, Jeffry noted that the orang asli’s struggle against the dam project was genuine la.
And although TNB puts the project on halt, the orang asli are still hoping that the gomen would take a stand in this case, especially with the Cameron Highlands by-election coming up. But while some people may view TNB’s effort as beneficial to the society since building hydroelectric dams can support the continued growth and development of Malaysia, some may also feel that it would be unfair to the orang asli community. Well, this might seem like a case of dam if you, dam if you don’t.