By Erik Hagen
This English translation was published on 17 March 2010
Photo: Anja Lillegraven/Regnskogfondet
On 1 November 2009 the Norwegian Torstein Dale Sjøtveit took over as the head of the Malaysian energy company Sarawak Energy Berhad. Dale Sjøtveit has experience from Hydro from 1981 to 2006 and has during the past 2 years been the head of Hydro’s business venture in aluminium metal.
The energy projects on the Malaysian part of Borneo are extremely controversial. Sarawak Energy Berhad plans to flood tens of thousands of hectares of rain forest, entailing that thousands of the indigenous population must be moved. Hydro withdrew from a melting project in Malaysia last year after, among other things, having been in touch with a series of environmental and indigenous people’s organisations in the country. The Rainforest Fund has demanded that the construction stop.
Dale Sjøtveit nonetheless claims that the industry is a blessing for the country.
“Is it worth the price, Dale Sjøtveit?”, Norwatch queried.
“It is evident that it is worth it. We shall be able to produce 40-50 terawatt hours of clean and renewable energy for the greater society, which here in Malaysia consists of 25 million people. It is clearly important for Malaysia to develop its natural resources,” he told Norwatch.
Nevertheless he claims that he takes the question of the indigenous population seriously.
“It is a demanding problem which we are trying to examine as thoroughly as possible. We are collaborating closely with the authorities on this.”
He related that it is a matter of moving 1,352 people from the Murum Dam. Furthermore, somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 people will have to move if the rest of the company’s project plans are passed.
“It’s not that they will have to move to cities; they may choose where they wish to move. It is a dialogue process led by the state. That dialogue will lead to their receiving an offer of new settlements areas, which I hope they will accept,” he told Norwatch.
“But has Malaysian state previously shown itself to be well able to defend and promote the indigenous population’s interests?”
“I have no knowledge or views on that,” Dale Sjøtveit said.
He asked us to show understanding for the fact that he has only 3 months’ experience in the subject. He does not know whether the indigenous population, the Penans, who were thrown out of the Bakun Dam area several years ago, was given compensation.
“Will the Penans who are moved be able to retain their culture and their society?”
“I believe so, but anthropologists would probably be able to answer this better. As far as I know, they will be given new settlements corresponding to those they have now. This is ensured in that they themselves have great influence on where they move,” he said.
He stated further that Sarawak Energy Berhad is especially obliged to follow two main principles in its dialogue with the indigenous populations.
“First, there is to be a considerable measure of voluntariness, to make sure that a majority of the population is willing to move. Second, they are to have a great deal of influence on where they move,” he stated.
This Is the Case
• Hydro has had plans to invest in a melting plant for aluminium near Bintulu, on Sarawak, the Malaysian part of Borneo.
• Last year it pulled out from these plans after meetings with local institutions and organisations.
• Now it seems rather as if Rio Tinto and the local company Cahaya Mata Sarawak (CMS) will take over the aluminium plans. CMS is controlled by the local governor’s family.
• The aluminium plant was to receive electricity from the Bakun Dam, which is controlled by the energy company Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB), which since November 2009 has had a new manager, Torstein Dale Sjøtveit.
• SEB’s Murum project is audited by the Norwegian company OEC Consulting.
• Several thousands of the indigenous population were put to flight when the Bakun Dam was constructed. In addition, 1,352 members of the indigenous population will be moved from the Murum area, according to SEB. The company is planning another six to twelve dams. Many of those who so far have lost their homes have still not received compensation.