Tambatuon folk fear Bakun fate

By Michael Kaung
June 24, 2011 | Free Malaysia Today

PENAMPANG: The villagers of Tambatuon are anxious to avoid the heartbreak that the people of Bakun suffer, according to testimony before Suhakam commissioners who are conducting a study on Native Customary Land Rights (NCR) issues.

Jahim Singkui, who heads the Tambatuon Villagers’ Action Committee, told the commissioners today that the government had ignored pleas against its plan to build a RM450 million dam in the village, which is in the Kota Belud district.

The project would submerge ancestral lands, he said.

Jahim, the son of a former village head of Kampung Tambatuon, said he went to Sarawak to talk to the people forced out of their lands to make way for the Bakun Dam.

All he heard from them were tales of disappointment, he said. “They have been short changed by the government.”

He said the Tambatuon villagers were not interested in any offer of compensation because they did not want to end up heartbroken and bitter like the Bakun folk.

Furthermore, he added, the government had disappointed them before. Some years ago, he explained, the villagers asked for assistance to implement an irrigation scheme so that they could harvest paddy twice year. They also asked for a road to connect their orchards to a main road. These requests were ignored, he said.

“Now we are looking after ourselves without any help. All of us, about 900 people, are very comfortable in our own land. We have about 300 acres of paddy fields, nearly 1,000 acres of rubber and about 50 acres of fruit.

“We are opposing the dam because Tambatuon is the only village we have lived in for the past 14 generations.”

Suhakam began its inquiry in Sabah on June 17. It will have sessions in different districts of the state until July 15 before moving on to Sarawak and the peninsula.

Villagers not consulted

Jahim recounted to the commission the how the villagers learnt about the Tambatuon dam project two years ago.

He said a few people went to the village claiming to be tourists interested in research about the area.

“We found out these individuals were lying when we read in the newspapers that they were appointed by the government to carry out a study in our village about the proposed dam,” he said.

“Since then, we have not allowed any outsider to come to our village to do any research for this particular project.”

Jahim said there had been no effort to consult the villagers about the project.

“We are very upset with the statement of certain leaders who only use the media to explain the project to Sabahans in a language that none of the people from the village can understand.

“Why don’t they come to our village and explain it to us?”

He said some government leaders, including Deputy Chief Minister Yahya Hussin, finally visited the village last June 10, but did nothing to engage with the residents.

“They came just for a little while, feeding fish in our river and taking pictures. And then they left. But we managed to hand over a memorandum opposing the project. There has been no response.”

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