Photo courtesy of SCANE (Sarawak Conservation Alliance for Natural Environment) of Penan peaceful demo - objecting to Murum dam construction last year.

“Rakyat Didahulukan, Pencapaian Diutamakan,” or “People First, Performance Now” apparently resonate pretty well across Sarawak.

Ordinary Sarawakians – from the Penan in upper Belaga, to the Malay fishermen in Santubong try to relate and respond to the message of ‘change’ that Najib try to bring. They hope the inclusive nature of his 1Malaysia concept would transform into real ‘people first’ substance.

To the Penan communities in the state. They are hopeful that the Prime Minister’s 1Malaysia message of “People First Performance Now” would translate into a more meaningful – people oriented form of development to their communities.

Dam is certainly not a ‘people first’ kind of development project they said. Learning and seeing first hand of it damaging social and environmental impacts – many are now resorted to against it.

The Penan communities were probably the hardest hit by the rapidly changing environment – both physically and mentally. Unaccustomed to sedentary life – their livelihood almost faltered. Unpaid electricity bills forcing the light out in many of their homes at Bakun resettlement scheme and they already being threatened of being cut-off from the treated water supply.

It was something they wouldn’t have foreseen while still living in Balui river or Long Gang. Hence, it hardly surprising to learn, they are now picketing to stop another dam project in Murum.

Photo of Uvang Kulleh (left) and Ujang on the right

It is their hope that the Penans in Murum wouldn’t have to succumb to the same pains, hardship as they have to endure after accepting the so called ‘development’ brought to them by their leaders.

“While we still in Balui areas (will be submerged underwater soon) life was difficult,” said Uvang Kulleh from the Penan Talun community who were relocated to Sg. Asap-Koyan after Bakun dam construction in an interview with SCANE recently.

“But at least there it was easier to search for fern, rattan, fish and wild games.

“Here (at Bakun resettlement scheme areas) it was far harder – if you don’t work – there will be no money – no food to eat. Sometimes we end up starving for days.

Echoing Uvang Kulleh sentiment, Ujang – a Kayan from Uma Bawang said “if possible they wish to return to their former places or longhouses.”

“I felt like crying living in this resettlement area after the Bakun Hydro construction,” he said over government sincerity and inability to fulfill their promises.

Ujang said government cajoled them to move to Sg. Asap and Koyan while promising better future, infrastructure, living standard and opportunities. But it hardly what they’re getting since moving to the resettlement areas.

“Look at those who develop the oil palm plantations in Sg. Asap up to Bakun junction in Bintulu. All are big companies, outsiders.

“We feel not only like an adopted children – but also marginalized by the way government had treated us.

Ujang however insisted that he wasn’t against developments or other development projects brought by the government.

He said has a brief message to all Sarawakians – “don’t let them build dam in your areas.”

“We don’t want you to suffer like we do here in Sg. Asap and Sg.Koyan, Belaga.

Photo by Awang kassim Awang Ahmad

In another part of Sarawak – hundred of kilometers away – Santubong. A fishing community – who are mostly Malays. They Lived in a much better place, environment than the Orang Ulu communities in Sg. Asap and Koyan.

Yet their wishes are similar. They want sincere government – people oriented development. Their wish to Najib under his “People First, Performance Now” slogan would be translated in a form of better infrastructure for them to unload their cargoes.

A decent wharf wouldn’t cost government that much but will definitely meant whole lot of things to these ordinary folks – of fishermen.

Thank to Hakim of Sarawak Update for sharing Awang Kassim photo.