James Masing’s ‘No Dam, No Road’ An Irrational, Damning Statement


COMMENT: I am extremely disappointed with the ‘No Dam, No Road’ statement by DCM James Masing that was reported in Friday’s newspapers.

Firstly, with this statement by James Masing, what is the implication on the late Adenan Satem’s statement in May last year that: “The reason (for scrapping the dam) is that I have examined the matter. There’s no need to have another big dam. We can have mini dams and so on, but not a big dam especially when we don’t supply (power) to west Malaysia anymore,” as reported in Channel News Asia?

I am sure the late chief minister was sincere in saying we do not need any more dams. Yet less than half a year after his demise, the Sarawak government appears to have forgotten his words and is actively pursuing the dam-building programme again. Why build more dams when we already have an underutilized Bakun Dam? What happened to Team Adenan? Who is it going to benefit to build more dams? Certainly not the people displaced by the dams, judging from the troubling reports on the resettled people of the Batang Ai, Bakun and Bengoh Dams.

Secondly, this statement by James Masing displays a warped rationale that should be a concern to all right-thinking Sarawakians. Why should the people of Baram have to give up their homes and lands in order to have a road? Does this mean that every community that requests a basic amenity such as a school or a clinic from the government must sacrifice something? A government should look after the people’s needs, not engage in bartering and deal making.

James Masing’s statement is not only morally wrong; his excuse about the “complexity and difficulty to just build expensive roads to cater for a few longhouses only” is also unacceptable and incorrect. Why should the people of Baram be discriminated against in the provision of a road, and on top of that be so dismissively treated and told to sacrifice their lands? The problem with the BN politicians is that they make excuses for the past failures of the government instead of addressing the needs of the people.

This photo by BMF was used in Malaysiakini

The fact of the matter was that an allocation was already made for the road under the 10th Malaysia plan. By diverting the RM700mil approved by the Federal government, the State government is effectively punishing the Baram community for protecting their lands.

I had said this twice before: development of an area should not be conditional upon the building of dams or some other sacrifice by the people. At the very least, the people have the right to proper roads so that the towns nearby are easily accessible, and they are able to avail themselves of the facilities in the towns.

A World Bank Policy Working Paper (Road Infrastructure and Economic development: Some diagnostic indicators, Cesar Queiroz and Surhid Gautam, 1992) reports that road infrastructure is a necessary element in the development process and concludes that that there is a statistically significant relationship between road infrastructure and economic development on a worldwide basis. One of the researchers quoted in the World Bank paper stated that ‘highway construction can be conceived as the laying down of a “prerequisite” for further development. As such, it permits and invites, rather than compel, other activities to follow suit.’

Another report has shown that China’s heavy investment in building expressways and intercity highways was a major force in China’s economic transformation during the 1980s and 1990s, making it now one of the world’s largest economies. An analysis of the contribution of road investments to China’s successful transformation has shown that road development, together with agricultural R&D, irrigation, education, electricity, and telecommunications, made significant contributions to economic growth and poverty reduction. [Road Development, Economic Growth, And Poverty Reduction In China, Shenggen Fan And Connie Chan-Kang, Research Report 138, International Food Policy Research Institute Washington, DC, 2005]

In other words, the first thing the Chinese government did when they decided to develop their economy was to build roads. Once the road infrastructure was complete, economic activities followed. This is a simple cause and effect scenario that applies everywhere.

If the government builds proper roads for the rural areas, agricultural and economic activities would become economically rewarding and trade would flourish. In places like Baram, proper road infrastructure would enable tourism to become a game-changer for the people. Foreigners would flock to Sarawak in the thousands if more attention was paid to developing tourism and eco-tourism, protecting and showcasing our diverse flora and fauna instead of pushing for the destructive mega dams that will only benefit a few players.

Dams are not the be-all and end-all. Ministers should not make excuses for the failure of the government and more importantly, they should not engage in blackmail of the rakyat.

  • Baru Bian is Chairman, KEADILAN Sarawak / State Assemblyman for Ba’ Kelalan